Makeup trends go in and out of style, like everything else in fashion. A look that is considered beautiful today might be considered terrible a few years from now. Still, while fashion might be subjective, there are some clear standouts throughout history of both good and bad makeup styles. Some of these beauty looks are classics and have been around for generations. Others, however, fall short and are so odd we have to wonder how they ever became popular in the first place. Some of the worst makeup trends are even downright dangerous.
Thankfully, for every makeup trend we wish never happened, history has also blessed us with some phenomenal ways to apply cosmetics, giving us some impeccable makeup styles that have transcended time to become beauty staples. Ranging from the iconic to the bizarre, here are the best and worst of history’s makeup trends. Did your favorite looks make the list?
Best: Winged eyeliner
The winged eyeliner look is timeless. One of the most popular styles in recent years, this look is so classic that it has been around for centuries. Yep, centuries. Women have been trying to get the perfect winged eye (also known as the cat-eye) since ancient Egypt, as noted by Vogue Arabia. In those days, women lined their eyes in black and green not just because it made their eyes stand out, but also because they believed it protected them from the evil eye.
Around the same time, Bedouin men and women were applying kohl around their eyes to protect them from the desert climate, and this look eventually ended up morphing into a fashion statement. In the 1950s, the invention of liquid eyeliner made achieving the perfect wing easier than ever. The decade saw Hollywood stars like Sophia Loren and Elizabeth Taylor rocking the trend. With so much history behind the sophisticated look, it doesn’t seem like winged eyeliner is going anywhere, and we wouldn’t want it to!
Okay, glitter is pretty, and we can’t blame anyone for wanting a bit more sparkle in their lives. However, actually applying glitter to your face is a pretty terrible makeup trend. Those little flecks might catch the light and add pizzaz to your look, but they can also blind you. Since each piece of glitter is pretty much a tiny piece of plastic, it can scratch your eye and, in extreme cases, lead to infection and even blindness.
If that isn’t enough to scare you off glitter, here’s another not-so-nice tidbit: Glitter is terrible for the environment. While there are non-plastic types of glitter, the stuff’s usually made from plastic or aluminum foil, neither of which are biodegradable. Every day, 8 million tons of plastic enter our oceans. Since glitter is so tiny, even small organisms can swallow it. In fact, it’s not uncommon to find tiny pieces of plastic in fish because of pollution, which is something to consider the next time you’re thinking of applying glitter to your face.
Best: Red lipstick
The perfect ruby red lips are an iconic look that don’t seem like they’ll ever go out of style. Evoking sophistication and sensuality, red lips have long been associated with femininity and have even been embraced as a feminist statement (via Style Salute). In the early 20th century, beauty mogul Elizabeth Arden supplied red lipstick from her business to women fighting for their right to vote, and, as such, it became an identifying mark of the women’s suffrage movement.
But red lipstick goes back even further than that, as noted by Bustle. Ancient Egyptians crushed bugs to color their lips crimson. Prostitutes in ancient Greece stained their lips with wine to signal their profession. In the Middle Ages, makeup was frowned upon unless it was used for the express purpose of making a woman more attractive for her husband. Queen Elizabeth I rocked ruby red lips, and she even believed that lip color had the power to ward off death. Red lipstick’s long and fascinating history make it not just one of history’s best makeup trends, but one of its most enduring!
Worst: Overdrawn lips
Don’t get us wrong: lipliner can be a powerful thing — but there is a limit to how much should be applied. Just what is that limit, you might ask? Generally speaking, if your liner is too far from your actual lip line, things are going to get messy. Sure, you can make your lips look a little bigger with exaggerated liner, à la Kylie Jenner, just know that you’re not tricking anyone into thinking that’s your natural lip line.
The trend dates back to the 1930s, when actress Joan Crawford started to broadly line her upper lip in a style known as “The Smear,” as noted by Revelist. The look was surprisingly popular, leading to a 1,500 percent increase in lipstick sales that decade. Since then, many people have tried to accentuate their lips by painting them on thick, but the potential for overdoing it is huge. If you still want to attempt the look, celeb makeup artists Ash Holm and Mary Phillips told Cosmopolitan that it’s best to stick with a neutral tone, which will help keep your overdrawn lips from looking too unnatural.
Best: Cupid's bow
Overdone lipliner might be a bad trend, but you can’t go wrong with a Cupid’s bow. This stunning style cropped up back in the 1920s. Inspired by one of old Hollywood’s most beloved actresses, Clara Bow, the Cupid’s bow consisted of red lips with the center extended vertically and the width shortened, creating a perfect pout (via LaLonnie Lehman’s Fashion in the Time of the Great Gatsby). In the beauty world, the term Cupid’s bow is also used to describe the shape of the upper lip which is in the shape of the double-curved bow of Cupid, the mythological Roman god of love whose arrows are said to evoke love or passion in their targets.
The Cupid’s bow makeup look gives a throwback feel without feeling outdated, which is what makes it such a classic trend. It also marks a turning point in cosmetics history. In the early 20th century, the word “makeup” was associated with actors, while refined ladies wore “cosmetics.” The Max Factor company began marketing cosmetics under the name “make-up” for the first time in 1920, reasoning that “every woman should desire to look like a movie star” (via The New York Times).
Worst: Beauty patches
Beauty patches are one of history’s more bizarre makeup trends. While face patches first popped up in ancient times as a way to cover up blemishes and scars, they turned into a fashion craze in the late 16th century. People began wearing black patches on their faces as an accessory. “The contrast was thought to make the skin look beautiful and to draw attention to certain parts of the face, like the eyes,” art historian Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell told Collectors Weekly. “A lot of early writers said patches were an imitation of Venus, who supposedly had a mole on her cheek.” Chrisman-Cambell explained, “She had this one imperfection that made her even more beautiful, and the patches were supposedly imitating that.”
Patches were stuck to the face with an adhesive or with saliva and were made from black velvet or silk taffeta. They could be small round dots or more elaborate shapes such as crescent moons or stars. While the fad started in France, it expanded to other parts of Europe and remained in vogue for hundreds years. Surprisingly, beauty patches were even common in the early 20th century, and actresses like Jean Harlow sported them.
Best: Cut crease
The cut crease is making a revival and it’s about time. You might not recognize the term, but you’ve definitely seen it before. The look involves a darker shade above your eyelid crease, and a lighter shade on the lid itself. As noted by Marie Claire, the eyebrow crease has been around for decades and dates back to the early days of Hollywood when silent film stars used it to make their eyes more dramatic. A cut crease helps create depth so, while the trend looks great on anybody, it works especially for people with “extra small, deep-set or hooded eyes.” If you’ve ever wanted your eyes to truly pop, the cut crease is the way to do it.
Even better is that the look isn’t too hard to accomplish. If you can put on eye shadow, then you can learn how to do a cut crease with ease. Modern makeup artists are using the cut crease as a way to play with color by adding a bright streak of color to the eyebrow crease.
Worst: Lead makeup
These days people are all about getting a tan, but for centuries people wanted pale skin (via ABC Science). This trend dates back to the days when more people had to work outdoors to make a living. Light skin, therefore, was an indication of social status that showed a person was wealthy enough to not have to labor outside. The quest for lighter skin inspired people to apply lead to their faces. Queen Elizabeth I is widely known to have used Venetian ceruse, a compound of lead and vinegar to cover her smallpox scars, and the practice continued until at least the 18th century, but the practice of using lead to lighten skin dates back as far as ancient Rome.
While lead will make your skin lighter, prolonged exposure also causes some pretty awful side effects. According to Lisa Eldridge’s Face Paint: The Story of Makeup, long-term application can lead to skin discoloration, rot your teeth, give you bad breath, make your hair fall out, and ravage your lungs. Considering that lead literally poisons its wearer, it’s safe to call this one of history’s worst makeup trends.
Contouring is basically magic. It enables you to look completely different and can downplay parts of your face while highlighting others. It’s one of the hottest trends of modern times and is already so iconic that it’s safe to call it one of the best trends ever. While the fad didn’t really catch on with everyday makeup users until the 2010s, contouring has actually been around for a while and has a pretty interesting history.
Contouring was long associated with the theater (via Byrdie). In Elizabethan England, stage actors smeared grease and soot on their faces so that audiences could better see their facial expressions. In the 1800s, the advent of electric stage lights meant that actors couldn’t get away with the soot trick and began using makeup and greasepaint to achieve the same effect. In the 1920s, Hollywood stars brought contouring magic to the silver screen. Many stars going forward sported contoured faces, but the magic of contouring still largely remained an industry secret.
Finally, in 2012, Kim Kardashian brought the secrets of contouring to the public’s attention through her Instagram account. Thanks to the power of social media, it looks like contouring is here to stay!
If you lived through the ’80s, you’ll remember the massive trend that was neon. Why was it such a big deal? Who knows! But for a few years, it was everywhere. Neon makeup was huge during the late 20th century, with people applying not just one but multiple layers of the brightly colored hues. And some people have been trying to usher in a revival, and we can only beg them not to. Do we really want to welcome back a trend that Allure likened to “school supply highlighters?”
It’s also tricky to find a color that will mesh with your skin tone. Since neon colors are so bright, you have to be especially careful to pick a shade that will suit you. The color yellow, for example, “makes someone who’s more fair look a little sallow,” celeb makeup artist Jamie Greenberg told YouBeauty. While the bright color may look good on someone with darker skin, the effort it takes to create one of history’s most garish makeup looks seems like more trouble than it’s worth.
Best: Metallic hues
Who needs gold and silver jewelry when you can rock those colors on your face? Nothing is more rock and roll than metal — metallic makeup, that is. Metallic hues provide an edgy, modern look. Whether you’re making your eyes or your lips stand out, metallic makeup is a surefire way to draw attention. It’s not just about being on trend, either. Metallic makeup can do so much more. “Metallics are bold, vibrant, and create dimension to your lips,” makeup artist Robert Greene told Allure. Those colors can also be used to highlight your eyes when applied to the lids to make your eyes shimmer.
Popular back in the 1990s, this retro style but has been around even longer than that. Metallic hues have actually been a trend since the late 1960s, though they are now more popular than ever. Here’s hoping that the latest revival of metallic makeup is here to stay.
Worst: Pencil-thin eyebrows
Grooming your eyebrows is one thing, but there’s a huge difference between plucking a stray hair and getting rid of most of your eyebrows altogether. That’s the look that women of the 1920s went for, plucking most of their eyebrows out and then penciling in ultra-fine brows with an eyebrow pencil. Film stars helped to popularize the trend which endured for years until the 1940s brought back fuller, more-defined brows (via Vogue Australia).
While trying to look like the Mona Lisa (whose lack of eyebrows is reportedly due to faded paint and was not an aesthetic choice on the part of the model or painter Leonardo Da Vinci, according to The Telegraph) isn’t the worst makeup choice you can make, it does seem like an unnecessarily painful one. Who wants to constantly have to pluck or shave their eyebrows? Our advice is to let your eyebrows grow free — it’s less painful and requires far less upkeep.
Best: Smokey eye
The smokey eye is a sultry, sexy, and timeless look. It’s also a versatile one with universal appeal. Depending on how heavily you apply your makeup, a smokey eye can look at home on the runway, at a rock concert, or at a cocktail party. Adding some colored eyeshadow to your lids can provide a unique spin on the look, or you can stick with darker shades for a more classic beauty look.
What makes this enduring makeup trend so beloved? The smokey eye has been around for centuries and was present as far back as ancient Egypt. Research indicates that the ancient Egyptians gave themselves smokey eyes not just because they looked good, but also to protect them from illness, according to The Telegraph. The makeup they used contained lead salts which, in small amounts, actually boosts the immune system. Modern makeup formulas might not have medicinal properties, but the smokey eye still makes a powerful fashion statement.
Worst: Colorful mascara
Mascara doesn’t just come in dark shades. There’s a rainbow of mascara colors out there for the most adventurous makeup aficionado, but should there be? While certain shades of colorful mascara can make your eyes pop, most of them look more like they’d only work with a Halloween costume — not with an everyday look. While black mascara makes lashes look longer and fuller, colored mascara can look clumpy and unnatural. It’s also tricky to find the right shade to complement your eye color and complexion, which makes colorful mascara a high-maintenance and time-consuming makeup trend.
Colorful mascara might seem like a modern invention, but mauve and green hues have actually been around since the 1960s (via Marie Claire), and, from there, more shades began showing up over the years, bringing us the wide assortment of colors that are available on the market today. There was also a craze for colorful lashes during the Elizabethan era, when woman would dye their lashes to match Queen Elizabeth I’s red hair.
While colorful mascara might have some colorful historical roots, it’s still a trend we’re going to call one of the worst makeup trends ever.
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