1950s Makeup

50s look
Red lipstick is a classic 50s look.

Whenever today's Hollywood starlets refer to a traditional, old-school glamor, 1950s makeup and style is what they are talking about. During the 50s, beauty trends reached a completely new level and women everywhere participated by utilizing revolutionary new colors, products and techniques.

1950s Makeup History

The advent of color motion pictures is what led to an explosion of 1950s makeup. After years of light glamor, stars on the big screen suddenly appeared with perfect faces. Women everywhere wanted the same thing.

Because of this, Max Factor invented "Pancake", a foundation used to mimic what was being seen on the big screen, and new lines of brightly colored eye shadows and lipsticks. Similar to today's products, Pancake was applied to skin to cover up any imperfections in a quest to achieve a movie star-like standard of beauty.

50s look

Women's magazines began featuring guides to makeup application and women everywhere started to experiment with cosmetics. Pan Cake would be applied to neutralize the face. Then, the mixing of colors would begin and a bold, colorful canvas would emerge in the form of cherry lips, rosy cheeks and neutral-toned eyelids. It was later in the decade when companies began adding titanium to their products to tone down the bright color of many products, resulting in a more natural look.

This was the decade of the fashionable, glamorous homemaker. Women began baking apple pies and vacuuming the house in heels, dresses and fully made up faces. Cosmetic companies capitalized on this emerging trend and targeted ads towards married women who had to look good for their husbands.

How to Get the 50s Face

The 50s face may seem to have advertised sculpted perfection that the average woman would have a hard time achieving, but that's not the case. With the right colors and tools, you'll look like a mid-century pin-up in no time.


Moisturize your face and apply a full-coverage foundation that gives you a smooth satin or matte finish. The perfect product for you will depend on your skin type. Leave the shimmery, dewy products for other days. Be sure to exfoliate regularly so your makeup will look as perfect as possible and not grab onto stray flakes of skin.


With a light hand, apply a peach or pink blush (light skin tones) or a tawny or rose shade (dark skin) to the cheekbones.

Eye Shadow

Apply a shadow primer to your lids so your eye makeup will stay in place longer. With a large flat brush, swipe on a matte shade that matches your skin tone, from the lashes to the brow bone. Take another shade that is one to two shades darker than your skin tone and apply it to the crease, concentrating the color in the actual crease and then blending it up and out from there. With a shade that is lighter than your skin tone and either matte or slightly pearlescent, accent the area just below the arch of the brows.


To get the winged liner effect, use a small angled brush and black gel liner to lightly line the top lashes. At the outer corner, follow the curve of the eye, from the lower lash line, to create a diagonal line. From the tip of that line, connect it back to the middle section of liner along the top lashes. Fill in the triangle you've created and smooth out any obvious breaks in the line.

Mascara and Brows

If you wish, use a light brown pencil liner along the bottom lash line in order to get more definition around the eyes without an obvious line. Add a volumizing, lengthening mascara or a set of flirty half lashes. If you use false lashes, don't forget to blend them with your natural lashes with mascara.

Choose a brow pencil or powder that is slightly darker than your hair color if you're blonde, and a shade lighter than your hair color if you're brunette. Apply the color to your brows, starting in the middle and working your way out to the ends. Then brush the brow hairs up to soften the effect of the product and also to play up the arch. The 1950s brows were very defined and arched.


Line your lips with red liner, paying special attention to the shape of the cupid's bow. Start at the middle of each lip and feather your way out, then fill in the lips with the pencil for staying power. Using a lip brush, apply a matte red lipstick over the surface of the lips, careful not to go outside the lines you created with the liner. If you want shine, choose a clear or red gloss to go on top of the lipstick. Keep in mind, however, that the 50s lip was usually matte.

For an added effect, match your nail polish to your lipstick.

Trendy Twists on Old Cosmetic Trends

50s new look

Today, there are so many cosmetic products available for any look; you can re-create yesterday's makeup glamour for any occasion. Here are some riffs on 1950s makeup trends for the new millennium:

  • Glossy Red: Matte red lips were the hot trend of the 50s. However, you can re-create that look and bring out your inner vamp with fabulous gloss. Check out Sephora's Ultra-Shine Lip Gloss in cherry red, for a shiny, sexy, retro style.
  • Color Your Eyes: Blues and greens were big in the 1950's, so riff on blue with the brightest turquoise eye shadow. Save it for nighttime and keep it neutral on your lips and cheeks.
  • Cover Up: Instead of laying on the foundation and powder for a flawless finish, try barely there products that cover up blemishes without a "caked on" look. Try a water-based foundation formula or a mineral makeup that makes your face look flawless without looking like you have anything on at all. That is a departure from the 1950s makeup trends of overdone face makeup. Follow it up with a pressed powder; this will give your face the perfect finish without the extra shine.

The 50s Look Is Fashionable Again

Like many other trends, retro makeup styles have become fashionable again. In addition to the cosmetics, other 50s trends have also come back, including cat-eye glasses, berets and pillbox hats, full-skirted dresses and more. By incorporating some of yesterday's trends into your wardrobe, you can create an entirely new look that shows off the true flair of your personal style.

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