Eyebrows Through the Ages
Eyebrows are fascinating, aren’t they? We all have them in some shape or form. Some thick, some thin, some curved, some straight, some light or dark. But no matter what kind of brows sit above your eyes, they are part of who you are and are some of our most expressive features.
Sure, you can smile to show you’re happy, but your eyebrows are the perfect tools for expressing so many other emotions and through the ages you will have seen them used in movies, in advertising, music and art to convey a specific message. So, lets take a walk through memory lane to see what those messages were.
The Roaring 1920s
Think of an old silent movie from the 1920s, and the ever-glamourous Clara Bow starring with her perfectly thin and rounded eyebrows. At this time, using make-up allowed actors and actresses to visibly emote and create drama without using words to convey the emotion on screen. Clara’s eyebrows were always arched very low toward the side of her face, so it was always easy to see what she was feeling at any given time. Or maybe that was just her great acting! I still believe her eyebrows were her most powerful feature.
This particular style of thin and drawn on eyebrows has seen its day a few times over the decades, however it was the roaring 1920s during the height of flapper fashion that this really came to the forefront of female make-up trends. Women were starting to discover heavier make-up following the invention of modern for its time mascara and lips sticks, and they weren’t afraid to show their personality through use of clever shading and shapes.
With revolutionised make-up now becoming widely available to women everywhere in the form of kohl, mascara and retractable lipsticks, is it really any wonder that this fresh and independent generation of women were keen to experiment with their look? Clara Bow would certainly have been a front runner in the inspiration for thin and drawn on eyebrows using that fresh kohl liner that was all of a sudden, the hottest trend!
The 1930S and The Golden Age of Hollywood
Almost as fast as the flapper era arrived, it disappeared again making way for more demure Hollywood glamour with the likes of Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis paving the way in the 1930s and bringing yet more style and iconic glamour to the forefront of make-up.
The 1930s again saw the prominence of thin eyebrows, however starting to look more natural than theatrical and with eyebrow pencils becoming widely available, women of all backgrounds, not just the rich and famous were able to copy this trend and represent themselves in their own way. Jean Harlow and Greta Garbo kept this slim eyebrow trend alive and oozed the glamour that most envied.
Katherine Hepburn’s make-up style was my particular favourite from this era, while she comfortably carried off the thinner eyebrow trend, she would pencil in over her own arches rather than draw in a shape that wasn’t hers and it really transpired through her acting. Her natural arch always brought a sense of playfulness. This is why she was epitomised as the modern woman of the twentieth century and was the star of every room she entered.
Following the latest make-up trend was not just for the Hollywood starlets, it was a time of great depression and women were really starting to become comfortable with their own femininity, so make-up and fashion helped all women embrace their inner Hollywood glamour.
The Trailblazing ’40s
When you think of the 1940s there is usually only one thing that comes to mind. While the world was going through a heavy time, priorities shifted, and the way of life changed as the new decade came through. Rationing and conserving resources meant that fashion too was stripped back. With shortages in cosmetics, home remedies were becoming popular in make-up, and women were having to make do and improvise a little more to retain their femininity.
The 1940s saw a more classic and sophisticated way of dress and simpler shapes and the Hollywood glamour ladies had just become used to was out and practicality was now in! Fewer salon visits were perhaps partially responsible for the reason that eyebrow shapes changed. Many women were opting for a slightly fuller shape, with eyebrows being grown back in and now groomed and sleeked using petroleum jelly instead of being plucked away and then drawn back in with heavy make-up.
Women were being encouraged to retain their femininity during this difficult time but by being more resourceful with what they had to hand. This did not mean that eyebrows stopped being fabulous! You only have to look at starlets like Ingrid Bergman, with her natural beauty and fuller eyebrows or Lauren Bacall with her curiously angled arches to know that fashion and glamour was never going to be stopped.
The Rocking ’50s
The 1950s saw the rise of the hipster, the glamourous housewife and of course rock and roll! Music was a huge influence on the fashion in this decade and it did not hold back. An era where the electric guitar was starting to dominate, and posters of Elvis Presley started to adorn teenage girls’ walls everywhere.
This was the decade where life started to begin again post-war and women were not afraid to set their own trends and dress or style brightly simply because they could and not out of any necessity. Red lipsticks were bought to match the perfect red handbag, bright eyeshadows were worn to compliment a new scarf. It was a really fun time in fashion and make-up, and it was seen more in day to day women and not just the Hollywood glamour actresses.
That isn’t to say these actresses faded into the background, their style just became more achievable to the modern woman with make-up evolving yet again and becoming more widely available after the shortages of the 1940s.
Elizabeth Taylor was just one of these beautiful and inspiring women. She went from being a teenage actress just starting in the business to a young and successful woman who commanded her career as the 1950s went on. Her strong and iconic look is still epitomised today, and her eyebrows always stood out. Her timeless style proved that eyebrows really always have been and always will be a woman’s most expressive feature.
Elizabeth Taylor really rocked those full eyebrows and with such dark hair, instead of shying away from them, she used them to her power and kept them thick and groomed and filled in to accentuate her dark lashes and raven hair. Her high arches were not aggressive as the fullness took away the sharp edges and softened her face to absolute perfection! What an icon!
Local girls and housewives were not afraid to experiment with their own style, and ensuring their eyebrows were groomed was a natural part of their make-up routine. Whether it was to host a family dinner or to head to their local dance hall to jive the night away, the 1950s woman used her make-up to ooze femininity and eyebrows were never forgotten!
The Swinging ’60s
Wow! Where do you start with the 1960s? It feels like three decades rolled into one as the styles changed, political movements mapped the way and technology progressed. There are many names you would associate with style in this era. Jackie Kennedy’s style reigned during the early parts of the decade, the mod movement took over in the middle and hippy culture was largely seen through the late 1960s and through to the early 1970s.
Make-up styles changed and a more androgynous way of dress became more acceptable for women, as opposed to long A-line skirts and high button shirts.
Eyebrows in this era tended to look more natural as models like Twiggy made it fashionable to accentuate eyelashes and not overkill the look with a heavier brow on top! Blondes were more likely to leave their eyebrows slim and pencilled in with a similar shade to their hair, if pencilled in at all. Brunettes favoured a less polished look and focus instead went to hairstyles and colourful eyeshadow.
The best thing about the 1960s is that it was a free time to experiment with looks, so young women had plenty of icons and history to draw influences from and a lot of the style they had already seen through the 1950s stayed fashionable. Eyebrows didn’t disappear, they just simply toned down to allow the eyes to sparkle.
The Scandalous ’70s
Known for so much scandal rocking its very core, the 1970’s trends evolved yet again and gone were the Hollywood starlets, the coy housewives and The First Lady copycats of previous years. The 1970s were a lot more liberal and so too was fashion and make up. It was a time where convenience to the cause took precedent over obsessing over groomed lines and perfect pouts.
Eyebrows, much like in the 1960s started to take a back seat to bigger hair and even wider trousers! Disco music was on the scene, the mod era was limited to specific groups and eyebrows had a mind of their own. There was no pressure to pencil in dark lines, there was no necessity to define one’s femininity, individual styles rocked the scene and every woman started to make things work for her rather than follow one specific trend.
Eyebrow waxing was becoming popular but the shapes being drawn back in varied. The beginning of the thin eyebrow was returning, but coveting a bushy brow was also seen as trend setting so it really went either way. You only had to look at the two completely different styles of Joanie Mitchell and Cher to see how this decade separated the thin from the thick eyebrows and was heavily influenced by the music of the time.
If there’s one thing I have learned from the 1970’s is that fashion really was freedom, and no one was afraid to show their true colours by donning even brighter ones! Eyebrows or no eyebrows, it was certainly a decade to remember!
The 1980s MTV Generation
Where do I even begin with the 1980s! I may have yearned for early Hollywood starlet frocks or Marilyn Monroe curves, but the 1980s was my decade and I will forever admire the fashion that came from this time.
Eyebrows were back with a vengeance and there was no stopping the likes of Madonna or Brooke Shields when it came to their bushy brows. Women were realising that their eyebrows didn’t need to be smaller to define their femininity and were embracing luxuriously full and wider brows, so actresses and the new age of the supermodel set trends that made it easy for everyday women to follow. Of course, this meant growing them back in if they had been plucked or waxed for the last ten years, but for young teenage women, these trend-setters paved the way for fresh eyebrows to remain firmly in place and tweezers to be discarded.
When you think of Madonna in her early years, you think of her peroxide white hair and her jet-black eyebrows, she helped set the trend when bleached locks and heavy make up was a woman’s prerogative and no one could tell her otherwise.
Marilyn Monroe was the original trend setter and her influence has not faded over time, just become more pronounced and for that, we thank you Ms Monroe!
Debbie Harry was never afraid to keep her brows dark and her hair blonde and this punk style emanated in teenage girls all over the world.
Brave pops of colour were seen on many faces throughout the 1980s, with eyeshadows in blues, pinks, greens and glitters being the most popular. What was so new about this trend is it wasn’t tidy. The make-up in the 1980s was not about distinctive lines and sharp corners on wing-lined eyes. Eyeshadow would take over the whole eyelid even up into the brow where lower hairs had grown in and it really made a statement that no decade had seen before.
If only this brushed and beautiful trend had hung around forever. Unfortunately, thin eyebrows were about to make a comeback and tweezer sales were about to skyrocket into the stratosphere!
Girl Power in the nineties
Having a fun-filled 1980s childhood had to pave way for my painfully adolescent teenage years in the 1990s and the memories I carry are most likely cringefully similar to most women, of that I am absolutely certain! Scrunchies, frizzy high ponytails, daringly high platform trainers a la The Spice Girls and unfortunately… the ultra-thin eyebrow.
Now, it wasn’t all doom and gloom, after all, the glamour squad of the 1920s and 1930s managed to pull this look off so its inspiration definitely drew its roots from the best of them.
The only problem this time round is a thin brow was not complimented with pouty rouge lipstick and a Chanel gown, our generation teamed this look with some wide leg denim jeans and a crop top and some loosely applied glittery lip balm.
Think Drew Barrymore, Courtney Love, they plucked their eyebrows to within a millimetre of life and then pencilled over them to accentuate their heavy make-up. It wasn’t always bad though, Kate Moss was one of the most up and coming supermodels of the time and although she sported a very thin eyebrow, she at least learned to keep the natural shape and cleverly follow her arch which actually gave way to her stunning eyes.
We can’t all be supermodels though and I doubt many women in the 1990s were experts in tweezing, which left a whole new generation wondering what to do with these new thin brows above their eyes that now refused to grow back in from a decade of torture.
The Nostalgic Noughties
The turn of the new millennium was one of the most exciting times. Technology was booming, girl power had made its mark and was here to stay, and the fashion industry had so much inspiration to draw from, that everywhere you looked was a new “It girl” or supermodel that teenagers all over aspired to be. So, with that came trends and make-up was definitely no exception!
Frosted shadows and lip balms were everywhere, foundations started getting darker, and eyebrows were starting to grow back in. The thick and full brow was still not back on trend, but rather sleek, thinner brows with enhanced curves under the arch were favoured by most celebrities. Highlight under the eyebrow arch was seen on Britney, Christina, Rihanna to name a few. It meant that the brow bone had to be immaculate and those strays were plucked while keeping the main shape of the eyebrow curvy to really draw attention to the eyes.
The noughties were an interesting decade as it seemed that fashion trends evolved faster than in previous years and nothing specifically lasted right through the whole 10 years. I remember turning up at college in the year 2000 wearing bootcut jeans with a scarf or light skirt planted firmly over the top, relying on lipsticks I got free with magazines and always bumping into girls in the bathroom frantically tilting their faces toward the light to spot any stray eyebrow hairs and tweeze them away before class started again.
But don’t forget, the noughties were a decade where hair removal in general became the norm for young women. If we couldn’t leave the house with one day old leg stubble under our jeans and skirt, how would we ever face the world with a teeny stray eyebrow hair under our freshly cut fringes!
Toward the end of the decade, it was starting to become obvious that women didn’t want to painfully extract eyebrow hairs every day, and natural looks started to take over. Pencil colours were lighter, and eyebrows started to finally look thicker!
The 2010s and the Return of the Eyebrow
So, who do we have to thank for this? Our first thoughts go to Cara Delavigne for seeing in the new decade with bushy eyebrows at the start of her modelling career. Eyebrows were back and here to stay! Thank you, Cara!
We also have the likes of Emilia Clark of Game of Thrones fame to thank. Not only for shunning the tweezers but also bringing back the dark eyebrow and blonde hair look. The statement eyebrows are now making says it is not just about having the right mascara or eyeliner anymore, brow styling is firmly a part of a woman’s make up routine.
Of course, like the noughties before it, there is not just one single fashion statement for the whole decade but many different styles depending on what suits each individual. Bleached eyebrows are widely seen on catwalk models, thicker brows and thinner, but less perfect brows are also everywhere. With amazing advances in science and technology, we are also in a fantastic position where we can have our eyebrows shaped, micro-bladed or implanted to suit our need and there are also some brilliant products on the market that encourage growth and re-growth, much to the relief of my generation that could not put down the tweezers 20 years ago.
With the rise of the contoured make-up look, so came the perfectly shaped, shaded and arched brow. RuPaul and her drag race is a staple series amongst my generation and it is no secret that fabulous drag queens from the show have been a massive inspiration on today’s generation when it comes to eyebrows. It is definitely all about that high arch and highlight!
As we have become more experimental over the decades, it is no surprise that other eyebrow trends have started to shine, whether I could rock them or not is a different story. But you can turn the pages of a fashion magazine now and see feathered eyebrows, brushed and angled eyebrows, or even eyebrows shaped into actual waves. I personally am happier with a thicker brow that arches slightly to suit my face shape, and with naturally brown hair, I tend to always still go a shade or two darker with my eyebrow pencil.
So, we have almost come full circle in our exploration of eyebrow trends over the last 100 years and hasn’t it been an eye opener! In less than a year we will be in a different set of 20s, and I for one, cannot wait to see if they are as roaring as the first-time round.