The key to 1920’s Makeup

May 21, 2015

The 1920’s

As the austerity of the Edwardian period drew to a close & with the First World War ending in 1919 & prohibition enacted on new years eve 1920 (who ever thought that was a good idea…) the world went wild! The jazz age had begun and with it came a major societal shift that saw dramatic changes in style, fashion & the expectations of women. No longer did woman feel restricted, they had had their first taste of being apart of the work force (due to the men heading off to war) and they were ready for more. Having previously been hampered by long skirts and complicated hair styles, hem lines & hair became much shorter as women prepared themselves for a more active role in society.

1920’s Makeup started out as a wash of pale earthy colours all over the lid but soon progressed to something far more dramatic mainly due to a little thing we now call ‘celebrity’.  Even though silent films began production as early as 1895 it wasn’t until the 1920’s that the idea of ‘celebrity’ came into being.  It is with this that we then see the iconic vision of the makeup look of this period.  The dark dramatic eyes, perfectly curve (not arched, but more slanted downwards) & extended brows, pale, matt complexion & dark Cupid bow lips were born out of the silent film era.

Due to the limitations of the film technology of the time (remember it was in it’s infancy and was thought by many to be no more than a passing fad!) the makeup styles of the actors became quite stylised.  The harshness of the lighting added to the graininess of the black & white film tended to ‘washout’ the features of the actors therefore they had to wear heavy makeup to define their features so that they could convey their messages with only a look. As has happened in every age since women adored these silent movie stars, stars such as Mary Pickford & Clara Bow (famed for those lips) women wanted emulated their favourite actresses dark, dramatic looks.

It was in 1920 that Max Factor, a pioneer of Hollywood movie cosmetics, began selling his line of Society Make Up to the public. This ushered in a new era of acceptance for lipstick, and cosmetics in general – even his blatant use of the word “makeup” was then new. Before the decade was out, he had also invented lip gloss (1928) and introduced the first commercial lip brush to the public (1929).

Believe it or not even the history of nail polish is interesting, even though the idea of decorating or colouring nails has been dated as far back as the 9th century when nails were tinted with scented red oils & then in 13th century China where a combination of beeswax, egg whites, gelatine, vegetable dyes, and gum arabic were used to paint nails with colour intended to define social ranking, it isn’t until 1920 that we see the kinds of enamel we know today.  Originating in France & inspired by high-gloss car paint, makeup artist Michelle Menard adapted the enamel used for cars for use on nails. Her creation was popular among flappers who generally only painted the middle of the nail, leaving the cuticles and tip bare in a style known as “The Moon Manicure.”

Joan Crawford1

For more wonderfulness on the history of this style of manicure please visit Marija at Purple Pinky Honey!

The main thing to think about when trying to achieve a 20’s inspired look is this… don’t be afraid of colour or intensity! Take a look at these beautiful images for some inspiration.

Key Features of 1920’s makeup look:

Eyes: Dark, smokey, heavily lined, you’re trying to achieve a heavy lidded or ‘sleepy’ affect.  Focus is at the inner corner to centre of the eye, opposite to modern makeup styles where we emphasis the outer corners. Kohl was used to line & common household products such as petroleum jelly (Vaseline) was mixed with soot or coal (I would not recommend you trying this now though!). The mid to late 20’s saw the development of mascara in the form of various styles such as cake, tube, wax, and liquid applied with a brush

Eye brows: Low, thin, angled down (towards the ears) & extended, it almost gives a look of sadness or melancholy.

Foundation: Pale, matt (although Chanel accidentally made tanning fashionable when she fell asleep in the sun one time). Early in the decade powders were generally white & ivory.  Sadly ceruse, made from white lead, was still popular at this time and was most famously used by Merle Oberon well into the 30’s & 40’s to hide her Indian heritage.  This product, as you can imagine, was discovered to be toxic and caused a range of issues such as pitting and other such damage to the skin but also for those who used it consistently it caused physical problems including facial tremors, muscle paralysis, and even death.

Cheeks: Bright & ‘rosy’, rouged in reds & pinks, focus on the apple. Popular forms available; creams, powders, liquids, and rouge papers.

Lips: Red, from brights to dark, Cupid bow which focuses on the centre of the lip leaving the outer corners untouched. Around 1915, lipstick started to be sold in metal containers, with various push-up tubes. The first swivel-up tube was patented in 1923, in Nashville, Tennessee. This packaging then enabled manufacturers to create stylish and seductive packaging options for the express purpose of enticing the consumer, and so the love affair with packaging begins! I’ll own it, I’m a sucker for a nice box!

I am thinking of doing a video tutorial on this look so stay tuned!

Next week we’ll look at the 1920’s hair options… until then I dare you to try out a 20’s inspired look and post some pics!

Follow InVintaged Miss’s board 1920’s inspired makeup on Pinterest.



photo credits:
Drucilla Strain via photopin (license)

joan crawford, hat and nails via photopin (license)

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: