1920s Makeup

Early 1920s Look

1920s makeup consists of dark, smoky eyes; bright cheeks and luscious, bright red lips.

History of Makeup

Prior to 1920, wearing makeup could be a dangerous proposition. It contained chemicals such as lead, sulfur and mercury. Beyond the health risks, it was not proper for nice girls to wear makeup. Those who did wore pale, muted colors and their supplies were hidden away from disapproving fathers and husbands. Women who feared the consequences of wearing makeup often vigorously pinched their cheeks and lips to give them color.

The prevailing attitude was that a lady had no reason to be in the sun and therefore should be pale. Some historians even suspect that the look became popular because of the prevalence of tuberculosis, which made its sufferers look very pale.

1920s Makeup Trends

The roarin' 20s brought a new carefree attitude, women's lib, short haircuts, short skirts, new trends in makeup and how to apply makeup. Stars like Theda Bara and Clara Bow brought bright lipstick and heavy eye makeup to the masses. There was also an imbalance in the ratio of women to men because of WWI. Women now had to compete for their attention, making 1920s makeup even more desirable. Advances in manufacturing made wearing makeup safer and gave women more color choices.

Face Powder


Face powder shifted from pale shades of cream and ivory to a more natural hue. Attitudes regarding the outdoors also shifted dramatically in the 1920s. It became socially desirable to be outdoors. When Coco Chanel fell asleep in the sun, the tan became a must-have.

Eye Makeup

Eye makeup was worn very dark. Eyeliner, an arcane mixture of soot, lead and goose grease called kohl, was applied all the way around the eye then smudged outward. The lids covered with gray shadow, though turquoise and green were also popular.

Eyebrows were painfully thin and shaded with liner. Some women even plucked out the entire brow in favor of one drawn in higher on the eye.

Mascara, made from colored wax, came in a block. It was then melted and applied to the lashes with a stick. Fake lashes were popular as well. They were applied to the eye and then accentuated with mascara.


Rouge, the common name in the 20s, came in a variety of textures. Powders, liquids, crèmes and papers added color to the cheeks. However, powder became the preferred method after the invention of the compact.

Rouge was applied to the apple of the cheek in a circular motion, much as it is today. However, it was not swept upward toward the hairline; instead, it left a visible circle.

Common rouge colors included berry, and rose, but by 1925, orange was the most popular color.


The lips were the most important part of the face for any woman who wanted to make an impression with her 1920s makeup. Bright red was the only color and smudge-proof lipstick was in. Cherry-flavored lipstick was also popular.

Applied to the upper lip, lipstick rose above the actual lip line in a "cupid's bow." The bottom lip was slightly overstated. The width was minimized by stopping short of the natural crease in the lips.

Nail Polish

Adorning the fingernails and toenails became widely popular with the invention of modern nail polish in 1920. Nails were extremely long and painted only in the middle. The tip and cuticle areas were left bare.


1920s makeup underwent many changes. Manufacturers made advances in makeup formulas, packaging and color choice. Social attitudes toward makeup changed dramatically. No longer was it hidden away in women's underwear drawers and applied in secret. Instead, women carried it in their purses and applied lipstick at the dinner table.

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1920s Makeup