Beauty Through The Ages
1900s & 1910s
In the 1900s and the 1910s, makeup wasn’t very popular for regular use. The only women who wore it regularly were screen stars and “ladies of the night”, so you can imagine the connotation makeup had amongst the public. Tans were even considered trashy— a “proper” woman stayed in, avoiding the sun. This doesn’t sound like a very fun era to me, although their skin must have thanked them! A highlight of the decade for makeup came in 1914, when Max Factor started pushing movie makeup to the public. In 1915 another highlight occurred: the invention of mascara. It looked a lot different than it does now, though— it was originally a distilled formula of coal and petroleum jelly, made into a cake that one would add water to use.
The 1920s bore bold and growingly independent women— we earned the right to vote in the United States and began to create our own wealth! Think of flappers, speakeasies in Prohibition, and more. This was a rebellion against earlier Victorian standards, and the makeup was no exception. Women caked on their mascara, and red or crimson lips with profound cupid’s bows dominated. Rather than touting the natural hair of previous decades, they coiffed their locks in highly stylized bobs to top off the look.
In the 1930s these trends continued— though eyebrows grew paper-thin and those who could afford it added pale pastel eye shadow and thin black eyeliner. While researching for this article I actually learned a bit about what brought eyeliner to the 1930s, and the answer will surprise you: In 1922 Englishmen Howard Carter and George Herbert uncovered the ancient Egyptian tomb of King Tut. Within, they discovered Egyptian kohl liner and its depictions in artwork. Newspapers highlighted this in discoveries, and a new fascination for eyeliner was born.
In the 1940s it was all about pinup girls: sexy, fresh, youthful, and natural. A gorgeous look, of course— but this had a deeper meaning. With the start of World War II, women were going to work in droves, taking on jobs that had once belonged to men. If the 1920s were a rebellion against the norm, this was a dashing one. Women no longer had time to be dainty, so sparse foundation, light pink blush, and minimal eyeliner/mascara was on the rise. Still maintaining femininity, red lipstick made its mark here as a dashingly bold sentiment on demure faces. In a testament to focusing on bigger things, women let their brows grow thick— and thank god for that. Almost no one looks good with pencil-thin brows anyway!
The looks of the 1950s were defined by their icons: namely Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. Their winged eyeliner, thick brows, thick foundation, and red lipstick made their mark on our culture for decades to come. Everyone wanted to look like their favorite movie star. With the rising economy came the concept of spending where many women hadn’t before: in their skincare. Palmolive soap was used as a facial cleanser (so much for caring about fragrance), and it promised the clear complexion women saw on screen. Facial steaming and spa days were suddenly popular luxuries— but moisturizers and serums were nowhere to be seen. As someone with dry, sensitive skin, I can only imagine what others like me were going through… It can’t have been pretty.
The 1960s brought around iconic makeup looks that I could stare at all day. London defined the era, with its “mod” fashion boutiques and falsie-wearing socialites. False lashes were a must-have in this decade to create a wide-eye look bordering on cartoon. This, paired with a white-and-black cut crease and nude lips, created a show-stopping look that comes into resurgence every few years or so. The clumpy “spider leg” mascara makes my eyes itch just thinking about it— but I’d be lying if I said my high school makeup wasn’t hyper-inspired by this decade. Cleansing creams were emphasized for removing makeup, followed by the same soap of the 50’s. This is where we started to see the double-cleansing system! I watched a tutorial from 1969 that stated “don’t use alcohol on your skin— it robs the skin of important nutrients.” They were truly on to something back then— and it’s a wonder how some companies still use denatured alcohol in their products! Women didn’t seem to use moisturizer at this time, but sunscreen was introduced as a way to prevent aging. I stand by the 1960s— they were starting to figure out skincare for sure!
With hippie culture and the women’s liberation movement on the rise in the 1970s, it should come as no surprise that minimalist makeup showed its bare, fresh face in this era. The 70s were defined by tinted moisturizers, cheek stains, clear lip gloss, and barely-there mascara. If one were to go the extra mile, they’d contour, as hollowing the cheeks with bronzer was certainly a trend. My mother describes a bronzer called “Indian Earth” that came in a clay pot with a powder puff— you can still find it at certain vintage stores. It exemplifies the earthy nature of American beauty in the 70s. Europe was a different story than the clean-faced trends of America, however! Europeans were donning bright red lips, long red nails, and pencil thin eyeliner. The distinction was bold: Americans emphasized the “girl next door” look.
The 80s were in striking contrast to the hippie look: the new decade came in swinging with bold, bright colors and heavy coverage. Women slathered on foundation and concealer after two decades without, and blushes came in bright pinks and oranges. Colorful eyeshadow— especially purples, blues, oranges, and yellows— donned the eyes of women while certain gothic trends like heavy eyeliner and mascara were worn by all genders. Red lips were back, as well as every color under the sun. This decade was a beautiful moment for skincare. The focus was on anti-aging, and collagen as well as other botanicals flooded drugstore shelves. Teenage sleepovers suddenly involved mud masks, which were promoted by the celebrities of the decade. American pores took a universal sigh of relief as skincare shifted from just bar soap and cold cream to a diverse array of products for all skin types.
1990s The 1990s was the decade of supermodels— and they paved the way for makeup trends like smokey eyeshadow, contouring, and the “heroin chic” pale complexion. By all accounts this decade was subdued in comparison to the 80s, and with it in my mind came a lack of creativity. Women in the 90s wanted to look like the people they saw in magazines and on TV— being unconventional was not an option for those in the mainstream. As far as skincare goes, the 1990s were an evolution of the specialized products the 80s bore. Every celebrity had a complex, performance-oriented skincare treatment: and if a celebrity you loved had a brand deal, you’d buy the whole shelf.
The early 2000s were huge for skincare, bringing organic brands like we have at Explore Beautiful to the mainstream. Hyaluronic acid moisturizers appeared, and there grew a distinction between daytime and nighttime skincare. I remember nearly every beauty magazine told young people to wear sunscreen— and the sentiment reflected in both makeup and moisturizing products at that time. Suddenly, foundation had an SPF of at least 15! Thankfully, skincare and cosmetics companies began to shift away from using animal-derived and animal-tested ingredients. As for cosmetics, lashes and bronzer were all the rage. The 2000s saw an emergence of the lash extension parlors we see today, and the smokey eye added emphasis to our “windows to the soul.” While this look was certainly more natural than its predecessors of the 80s and 90s, nearly everyone looked like they could hop into a music video or reality show if they wanted to. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez paved the way with beauty.
In the 2010s (not too long ago), Kim’s younger sister Kylie took the stage. She wasn’t alone, however. Suddenly, women weren’t getting their makeup looks from magazines or television shows— but from social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube. This meant that there wasn’t one set look for the era. Some women gravitated towards natural, minimalistic makeup, paving the roads for companies like Glossier to market such products. Independent brands like Jeffree Star cosmetics became cultural icons, and that intricate eyeshadow coupled with equally precise contouring and highlighting. The rise of the Instagram celebrity led to more women investing in plastic surgery— after all, nearly everyone on the site has lip injections, botox, and more. The photoshopped perfection led to a rebellion— and trends like body positivity and showing the “real you” were born. When I think of this contrast I think of the HBO show Euphoria, which captures the reality of teenagers raised on Instagram. Skincare has never been more expansive than it is now. Indie brands are skyrocketing, and as a country we are coming around to focus on non-toxic, organic ingredients. At Explore Beautiful, we’re happy to be a provider of reliably safe, clean cosmetics, skincare, and haircare— so we support this trend.
We’ve clearly come a long way from combining coal and petroleum to make mascara— and surely the next few decades will knock us off our feet. If I’ve noticed any distinct trends, it’s that we rotate between fresh-faced natural looks and bold, vibrant colors with each decade. I think the 2020s will place a higher emphasis on skincare and natural, clean beauty than ever before. And I don’t know about you, but my pores and I are both looking forward to that.