Not everyone shared lip gloss, of course, and these were probably the lucky few who avoided the schoolwide outbreak of oral herpes during my sophomore year. But for the cohort of women who did, the sticky goop was as much about intimacy as anything else.
Real friends knew one another’s favorite kind and whether it came from the drugstore (Lip Smackers, Wet n Wild) or a department store (Juicy Tubes) or later, Sephora (Lip Venom, which had cinnamon to supposedly make your lips plump). And each group had its own manner of gloss-related quirks: the friend whose tube was always covered in grime, the one who stayed loyal to Carmex (shudder), the friend too eager to share, probably because she felt left out.
Lip gloss came into our lives at a delicate age: We were too young for heavy makeup (Clinique Black Honey didn’t count!) but old enough to have some sense that the coming years were going to test our social skills and relationships in new ways. Amid this tumult, lip gloss was a language we spoke to one another.
“Total symbol of your friendship tier,” said my high school friend Anna, now a therapist, and with whom I shared lip gloss as recently as last Friday. “I just remember feeling kind of sad for girls who didn’t share it.”
The linguist Deborah Tannen, who has studied girls’ communication patterns (but who has never shared gloss with her gal pals), notes that it is common for adolescent girls to communicate and bond using these unspoken rituals of closeness. She likened the sharing of lip gloss to the way girls share secrets — as a way to signify mutual vulnerability and trust.
Which brings me back to Kate and Meghan.
We’re all adults now and perhaps have more respect for hygiene than we once did; maybe British girls had more sanitary bonding rituals. Still, for those of us who grew up swapping Lip Smackers or Juicy Tubes, there was something extra-poignant about that moment. Maybe Meghan really needed some lip moisture, sure. Or maybe she was just one girl reaching out to another, gently testing the boundaries of their relationship with a simple question: Can I borrow your lip gloss?
Or maybe I’m projecting.
I did recover a tube of grubby Vanilla Birthday Cake gloss a few years back, shoved in the back of a drawer at my parents’ house, next to a Softlips, which had managed to survive two decades and a move. That syrupy-sweet smell, like day-old frosting — if you …….