I Tried Marilyn Monroe's Crazy Lip-Contouring Trick

And all I can say is: wow.

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(Image credit: Kathryn Wirsing)

Contrary to popular belief, Kim Kardashian is not the pioneer of contouring. In fact, it's none other than Marilyn Monroe, who used the technique for her famed red pout.

To make her lips appear fuller, Monroe would apply several shades of lip color and gloss to create dimension. Because I, along with the rest of the internet, am fascinated by pop culture's current fixation on voluptuous lips, I figured it was the perfect time to have a go at the technique myself.

I looked to Laramie Glen, makeup artist and founder of Book Your Look, to break down Monroe's admittedly complicated technique. And to show just how dynamic the results of lip contouring can be, Glen initially gave me a classic matte red lip (in the middle above) which is usually what I go for. Then for Monroe's method, she applied darker reds on the outer corners and lighter hues brushed on the middle of my lips.

Here's how it looks on our matron saint of beauty:

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(Image credit: Archives)

At first, I had to get used to the bolder impact of the color and shine, as well as the extra layers of product. But what my 3-D lippy lacked in kissability, it made up for in sheer size and definition—especially in a picture. (PSA for all selfie enthusiasts.) I also appreciated that while a matte formula tends to make my lips feel like they're showing all their flaws, the layers of color in Marilyn's look counteracted any dryness or flakes.

All in all, while I can totally get behind its camera-ready effect and the wonders it worked for Monroe on-screen, I wouldn't recommend lip contouring for everyday—just special occasions where you've got time (and plenty of it) to spare. To recreate it yourself, follow Glen's steps below:

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(Image credit: Kathryn Wirsing)

After exfoliating your lips (try Fresh Sugar Lip Polish, $22.50), create the shape of the lips you want with the darkest color pencil. I like to use a deep chocolate (try Make Up For Ever Aqua Lip in 6C, $19) to give the illusion of depth.

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(Image credit: Kathryn Wirsing)

Use a brick red (try MAC Lip Pencil in Brick, $16) and fill in the lips with the pencil. Focus on the corners of the mouth and use small, short strokes from outline to the center of the lips.

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(Image credit: Kathryn Wirsing)

With your brightest red (try Nars Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in Cruella, $26), start in the center of of the mouth and use short blending strokes. Be careful not to go too close to the outline of lips (you don't want to erase the depth you created), but use this step to make sure everything is blended.

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(Image credit: Kathryn Wirsing)

Using a brush or your fingertip, press a cream highlighter (try Kevyn Aucoin The Creamy Glow, $28) into the center of your bottom lip. This adds fullness and draws the eye to the center of your mouth, making your lips look more lush.

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(Image credit: Kathryn Wirsing)

Use a rose lip balm (try BY TERRY Baume de Rose, $60) to add moisture and wetness back into your lips. Using a slick balm instead of a lip gloss will keep your lips healthy and hydrated, without going overboard.

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(Image credit: Kathryn Wirsing)

Voilà! You have lips that are fuller, shinier, and decidedly more illuminated.

You should also check out:

8 Mistakes You're Making with Your Lipstick

These Lipstick Shades Are Scientifically Proven to Get You What You Want

Pucker Up: The History of Red Lipstick

Beauty Editor

Lauren Valenti is Vogue’s former senior beauty editor. Her work has also appeared on ELLE.com, MarieClaire.com, and in In Style. She graduated with a liberal arts degree from Eugene Lang College, The New School for Liberal Arts, with a concentration on Culture and Media Studies and a minor in Journalism.