Bow Lips and Bold Eyes: Secrets of the '20s Makeup Look

While the flapper look is dramatic, it's still popular as a modern evening look.

Throughout the ages, we humans have tried all sorts of things in an attempt to make ourselves a little fancier and alter our appearance, from simple things such as berry-stained lips to the more daring (and dangerous) lead-based eye makeup and face powders. And we keep trying, even today (anyone remember the Preparation-H to reduce under-eye puffiness craze?). In fact, the February 1920 issue of McCall's Magazine shared a few eye-brightening, and thankfully outdated, tips from the flapper decade, including trimming your eyelashes every six months to promote their growth, and adding a daily eye wash of boric acid, camphor and water to your routine. While we may no longer recommend eyelash trimming and camphor to promote beautiful eyes, the '20s Flapper look is one that never completely goes out of style.

It was during the 1920s that cosmetics really hit the scene and stuck. Young American women wanted to look like the Hollywood starlets they saw at the movies -- beauties such as Clara Bow and Louise Brooks -- and by the second half of the decade, the flapper look popularized on screen was popular with the young generation as well.


The classic '20s face is framed by bobbed hair and thin, long eyebrows -- brows that were often completely plucked out and drawn back on. Until Coco Chanel appeared in public with a tan, making tanning popular, women preferred their skin to be pale -- very, very pale -- with rouged cheeks. The look was defined by dramatic, smoky eyes entirely and thickly rimmed and smudged with black grease pencil. A mixture of petroleum jelly and coal dust was often turned into mascara, and heated to give a girl beaded eyelashes. And then, there were the lips.

Bold red Cupid's bow lips were in style in the '20s, a makeup style that emphasizes the natural curve in your upper lip. Lips were done only in red lipstick (and you may be surprised, but it did come in a smudge proof formula even then).

During the '20s, women had access to liquid nail polish, foundation makeup, powdery blushes and concealers for the very first time, and by the end of the decade (1927) Max Factor, who had been developing makeup for actors, introduced the first line of mass-market cosmetics [source: Bio].


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More Great Links

  • Bio. "Max Factor Biography." (Sept. 7, 2012)
  • Crawford, Holly. "Time-warped Beauty." Elle. 2009. (Sept. 7, 2012)
  • Sheldon, Suzanne. "Skin Deep Yet Deeper." McCall's Magazine for February, 1920. (Sept. 7, 2012)
  • Terrell, Ellen. "Guide to the Business of Beauty: Selected Information Resources." Business & Economics Research Advisor (BERA): A Series of Guides to Business and Economics." Vol. 17/18. 2010. (Sept. 7, 2012)
  • WebMD. "History of Makeup." 2012. (Sept. 7, 2012)