1920′s Makeup

In keeping with my excitement to go and watch Great Gatsby, I thought it would be fun to delve into period makeup looks, starting with the 1920′s.

period makeup

1920′s Makeup & Beauty

(Image: Google Images)

(Image: Google Images)

The 1920’s makeup look can be described as Heavy.  This new heavy makeup look was a reaction to the demure Edwardian era.  Women were increasingly driven by marketing through cinema and advertising. The inventions of the 1910s mascara, lipstick, eye-shadows, pan-sticks (thick and heavy cream foundation in stick-form…MaxFactor has a Pan Stick foundation), powder compacts etc. by leading innovators such as Max Factor, Maurice Levy and TL Williams, the founder of Maybelline, were now to be found on dressing tables and women’s handbags all over the developed world.  The attitudes towards make up and women wearing makeup made a dramatic switch.   Before now, it was not really socially “proper” for young girls/ladies to wear makeup.  If makeup was worn at all it was muted in colour and generally hidden away.

Part of the massive change in the entire makeup industry was due to the removal of harmful chemicals such as mercury, lead and sulphur from most products.


  • Eyebrows were very high, thin and arched, usually drawn in pencil. Women often shaved their eyebrows to make it easier to draw in the ‘fashionable fakes’.
  • Eye makeup was dark and dramatic, the eyelids were covered with a dark eye shadow such as grey or green, this was applied liberally and heavily.  In today’s terms it would look smoky.
  • Kohl was then a mixture of soot, lead and goose fat and was applied all around the eye and smudged outwards.
  • Focus were placed on defining the inner eye corner, rather than the outer corner, as we do today.
  • The eyes normally had a more downward/panda look.
  • Mascara was also applied, but it came in block form…it had to be heated up and applied with a stick or wand.   Mascara in tubes as we know today was not invented until the 1950’s.
  • False eyelashes were also popular in the ’20’s.
  • To apply, first start by applying foundation/concealer over the eyelids as a base for the eye shadow.
  • Apply a grey or any dark shadow all over your eyelid and blend slightly upwards into the crease.
  • Draw a line in pencil eyeliner along the top and bottom lashes.
  • Smudge it outwards all around your eye, for a wider eyed, more dramatic effect, make sure you smudge the line out further at the bottom and top outer corners of your eye.
  • Apply mascara liberally to the top and bottom lashes.
  • If you are using false lashes, apply them to your top lashes only.
  • Apply powder in a natural colour that best matches your skin tone, use a large round brush or a sponge.  The powder can be caked on, but should not look cakey.

Foundation & Face Powder:

  • Prior to the 1920’s face powder had been very pale and pasty, but with the changes in social attitudes it was now more socially acceptable to be outdoors, and have a ‘natural tan’.
  • Colours were now much more natural than the previous muted ivories and pale whites that were available.
  • The desired completion was still a pale look, but a creamier, more perfect porcelain look than the previous over the top cakey applications.  A foundation 1-3 shades paler than your skin natural skin tone can be used to achieve this.
  • Apply powder in a natural colour that best matches your skin tone, use a large round brush or a sponge.  The powder can be caked on, but should not look cakey.


  • Blusher was known as rouge, and came in many forms i.e.  powders, creams, liquids.
  • Powder form eventually became the most popular.  It was applied to the face with a brush but not as blended. A visible ‘circle’ was left giving a doll like appearance.
  • By the middle of the 1920’s orange was the most popular colour for rouge.


  • Lips were an incredibly important part of the makeup, the key to the look.
  • Many women would line their lips in liquid rouge to give a more dramatic effect.
  • A deep dark oxblood/plum red colour lipstick was really the only colour that was available, it came in a few different shades and was applied to the upper lip and taken slightly above the natural lip line, and the same was done with the bottom lip.
  • In the early 20’s the lips were not coloured right into the corners of the mouth, instead the colour stopped quite dramatically.
  • In the later 20’s lips were coloured right into the corners of the mouth and the colour on the top lip was taken above the lip line either side of the cupids bow and the middle was left uncoloured, giving the look that the lip was kind of split in half.
  • This ‘Bow Lip’ shape was named after Clara Bow, an actress of the times.
  • To achieve this, line the lips in a colour that is close to the lipstick, not your lip colour. Apply lipstick, but don’t apply colour near the corners of your mouth.
  • Take the colour past your natural upper lip line, over emphasise the tips of your cupids bow, but leave the middle. Add colour all over the lips.

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(Images: Google Images)