Put On Your Black Lips and Dance the Blues

Written By Meg Elison

Meg Elison is a Philip K. Dick and Locus award winning author, as well as a Hugo, Nebula, Sturgeon, and Otherwise awards finalist. A prolific short story writer and essayist, Elison has been published in Slate, McSweeney’s, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Fangoria, Uncanny, Lightspeed, Nightmare, and Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy. Elison is a high school dropout and a graduate of UC Berkeley.

There are two kinds of black lipsticks in the world. There’s the kind you buy because it’s Halloween and you’re going as Wednesday Addams, and then there’s the kind you wear anytime you want to, because you ARE Wednesday Addams.

This is a review for that second use case. These are not the cheap waxy stagepaints of a casual coal kisser. These are the kind that go on like a starless night, last all day, and do not transfer to cup or collar.

My research spans decades of experience and favors a matte finish. Pucker up and let’s begin.

It is with exquisite pain that I inform you that MAC Cosmetics does not make the best black lipstick on the market. These people had us in a chokehold with Ruby Woo all through the aughts and tens, but roulette rules are in effect here and either red or black must win.

MAC’s retro matte liquid lip color in shade name Caviar is charming and properly dark, going on smooth with that signature MAC scent of a vanilla frosted cake being served at a birthday party in a strip club. It is relatively transfer-proof, but it flakes as the hours pass. Think of her as a friend who makes a brilliant cameo at every party, but the minute you stop paying attention to her she will sneak out the door.

Kat Von D’s liquid black matte lipstick used to be called Witches, but the shade name was changed to Black Briar for inexplicable reasons. It is a witchy shade, slightly into blue-black territory, with a light finish and a decent staying power. Like all Kat Von D formulas, this one is vegan and is not scented. Imagine a little black dress that you can wear with diamonds or your jean jacket and you won’t stun them in the streets, but they won’t criticize, either.

Sign-up for Letters From The Psychopomp

a weekly letter from The Psychopomp about Death, and the latest from

    Urban Decay offers us their Vice Lip Bond glossy longwear liquid lipstick and this ONE time I’ll wear something that’s got the same finish as the vinyl booth in an all-night diner. The shade name is Indie Sleaze: Pure Black and that’s just what she is: a black so pure that wearers of all skin colors seem paler around its outlines. If you want to look like a corpse who’s recently had a wet drink, this is the one. Another vegan formula, this lip color is richly pigmented and wears well for about four hours. She’s a good first date who makes you laugh, but somewhere underneath you know she’s going to break your heart.

    Lime Crime’s liquid lipsticks will always have a special place in my cold black heart, especially their Velvetines liquid lipsticks line. If you were a 1990s goth like I was, you might remember this being sold at Hot Topic in shades of antique gold and deep purple, but their Black Velvet is as dark as an unmarked grave. This vegan formula goes on smooth and dries immediately, but it takes all of your lip moisture with it. Think of this as a glorious night of drunkenness: everything will swim and shine with exuberant delirium, but the next day your only thought will be moisture within and moisture without.

    Now we come to the heavy hitters.

    Maybelline, that juggernaut of drugstore brands, cannot be beat in the category of matte lipsticks. Their Super Stay Matte Ink line is unmatched for range of shades, staying power, and transfer-proof hold. Their black shade is Thrill Seeker, and I can assure you that every thrill sought will be found. This stuff goes on like a hole in reality, so black and so smooth that it swallows the light on your face. It holds and holds, never needed to be reapplied if you let it dry properly. She’s your best friend, your ride or die, the one who picks up the check and gives you a wink before you’ve even got your wallet out.

    The uncontested winner of this lineup may shock you. I had never heard of Pretty Zombie cosmetics when it was recommended to me. Their website is bare-bones and their Instagram is neglected. I feared I might never receive my order after I entered my credit card details. But she did come, shade name Black Cat, and she was perfect. She is indeed a black cat; graceful, languid, laying on your lap and never moving again. This formula is basically bulletproof. Slightly blacker than Thrill Seeker, smoother than Black Velvet, and best of all: when people ask what you’re wearing, you get to tell them about a lipstick they’ve never heard of before.