The sumptuous new movie version of Murder on the Orient Express has put vintage make-up and fashion back in the spotlight, but did it ever really go away? Beauty trends have always come in cycles, but the elegance and sophistication of the past has always provided fabulous inspiration for the present.
Let’s look at the 1920s, which is when make-up really came into its own. World War One had recently ended and women were beginning to feel more empowered. Lipstick, heavy kohl eye-shadow, mascara and cheekbone-emphasising rouge were the big hits of that decade, and silent screen icons like Theda Bara, Clara Bow and Louise Brooks were setting the fashion trend. This was the era of the ‘It Girl’, the flapper and the vamp, of Cupid’s Bow lips, Tutankhamen eyeliner and the Bright Young Thing.
The 1930s – the period in which Murder on the Orient Express is set – brought a softer and more refined look: pencil-thin eyebrows were complimented by the subtle use of eyeliner pencils, mascara was used more sparingly (often on the lower lashes only), and lip gloss and cream eye-shadow began to appear on department store shelves. The Cupid’s Bow was also replaced by the natural lip shape, as movie magazines like Photoplay and Silver Screen spilled the beauty secrets of our favourite Hollywood heroines.
By the end of the 1930s the world was at war again and cosmetics weren’t only hard to get hold of, they were a luxury few women could afford. Still, necessity is the mother of invention and the 1940s era lady was determined to keep turning heads. This was the decade of full red lips and if rationing meant no lipstick was available, why not use a dab of beetroot juice instead? Thanks to the war effort, make-up had to be simple and practical: eyes were understated, eyebrows were groomed to shape with Vaseline, and rouge was applied outwards from the cheek apples to give a fresher appearance.
Makeup gets bolder
The 1950s saw the arrival of non-smear lipstick, wing-effect eyelines and minimal eye shadow. Liquid foundations began to appear on the high street and rouges were less emphasized. Also, eyebrows tended to be a shade darker than their natural hue and pastel pink was the lipstick of choice. This is the heyday of the femme fatale, the Hitchcock blonde, and the girl next door (if the girl next door happened to look like Marilyn Monroe – check out The Seven Year Itch!) and, just as cosmetics had empowered women in the years following the First World War, the 1950s was the period when women could put the austerity and ‘make do and mend’ of the Second World War behind them and enjoy feeling glamorous again.
The 1960s began with elegant eyes and lots of face powder but the ‘London Look’ – made famous by models like Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton, and designers and stylists like Mary Quant and Vidal Sassoon – quickly turned make-up and fashion on its head. Big baby doll eyes and ‘flapper’ eyelashes were in vogue and the most important product in any stylish lady’s make-up drawer was her eyeliner. In many ways, the 1960s was the first decade when we began to look back at the past – the 1920s were a big inspiration, made even more androgynous by the Mod subculture. The emphasis was on paler eye-shadows, a softer lip line and a more au naturel appearance.
Finally, the 1970s brought us a collision of make-up choices: the impact of the women’s liberation movement meant that “natural” or “invisible” cosmetics became popular at the start of the decade but eye colour crayons, shiny lip gloss and disco shimmer quickly took over thanks to glam rock and a cinematic phenomenon called Saturday Night Fever. And it wasn’t long before the punk movement retaliated with its own ‘on your face’ statement – exaggerated eyeliner, pale foundation and blusher applied like a slab of colour across the cheek bones. It’s easy to discount the 70s (especially 70s hair, like the Farrah Fawcett curl) as a time of bad fashion and cheesy make-up choices, but take a closer look and you’ll see what an important decade it was and how many of the great 1970s looks were informed by the make-up trends of the 1920s and 1940s.
We could go on to talk about the 1980s and 1990s, but they’re probably too recent to be considered vintage. Besides, if you look at the make-up and fashion that defined those decades it’s easy to see how much it was influenced by all the decades we’ve already mentioned.
So, there’s only one question left to ask: which vintage look is your favourite?
Alice has a keen interest in beauty courses and enjoys educating people on the great courses at LBTA.