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How Dramatically Women’s Makeup Has Changed Throughout History

In a recent BuzzFeed original video, their team explored “how dramatically women’s makeup has changed throughout history.” Although images of the female appearance in association with particular time periods/decades can (fairly) easily come to mind, this is an interesting synopsis when they are placed one after another. Similarly, the narrative of time that’s created also points to said “dramatic” changes because the dominant traits and subtle unknown facts from one look to the next is quite fascinating. Plus I want to go and test out each of these on myself so, success BuzzFeed, success.

Take a walk through time from Ancient Egypt to present day and get a sense of what beauty and style has meant over this vast time period…and perhaps gain insight into things that will happen next.

1. Ancient Egypt, c. 3150-31 BCE

The Dramatic Changes of Women's Makeup Throughout History
via BuzzFeed | YouTube / BuzzFeed Video

It would seem as though the archetypal image of the Ancient Egyptian woman has remained quite accurate throughout the centuries. Most of us would recognize the kohl lined, cat-tailed eyes and long braided hair. But it may be news, as it was for me, that they often wore green or blue eyeshadow as well as lip color in shades of orange, red, blue-black, and magenta.

The eye kohl was made from soot, metal, and fat which doctors thought prevented blindness and so they carried it in their bags. The green and blue hued shadows were made naturally from a mineral called malachite which is a green ore of copper that creates the color. Lastly, lip color in Ancient Egypt symbolized status and both men and women of the upper classes wore it. To make it they used seaweed, iodine, and bromine which, yes looked dainty for a time, but resulted in serious illness following prolonged use.

2. Ancient Greece, c. 800-500 BCE

The Dramatic Changes of Women's Makeup Throughout History
via BuzzFeed | YouTube / BuzzFeed Video

In Ancient Greece, natural beauty was the essential goal. If shadows of any kind were worn, women would wear natural shades made lightly from coal and olive oil. Meanwhile their eyebrows were connected, either naturally, by gluing animal fur in between, or using kohl to get that highly coveted unibrow look. As well, pale skin was thought to be most beautiful so either lead-based paste or chalk was used to #getthelook. But the former was (is) toxic (oops) and the latter wore off too quickly, so staying in the shade was highly desirable (Spartan Army approved).

3. India’s Gupta Age, c. 300-550 CE

The Dramatic Changes of Women's Makeup Throughout History
via BuzzFeed | YouTube / BuzzFeed Video

Heading into the Common Era, we’ll specifically head to India. Here the ladies fancied eyes lined with thick kohl (a practice since ancient times) too, as well as lip rouging for emphasis. The recognizable bindi dot (which represents the “third eye” or sits on the sixth chakra, anja, for concealed wisdom) was reserved for married women who wore it on a daily basis. As well, it was common practice that hair, tied up in a bun or a braid, would also be decorated with fresh flowers.

4. The Elizabethan Era, c. 1558-1603

The Dramatic Changes of Women's Makeup Throughout History
via  BuzzFeed | YouTube / BuzzFeed Video

Queen Elizabeth the first very much dictated what was what when it came to style during this time so our stereotypical perception of females in the 16th century were acting in her image.

Most commonly, skin was powdered very pale using a substance called céruse which was a lead based pigment made with vapors of acetic acid, also known as “White Saturn” (it took people a long time to catch onto this toxicity thing…). As well, eyebrows were almost, if not entirely, plucked out and hairlines shaved to create the illusion of a larger, stronger foreheads.

Their darkly rouged lips were complimented nicely by the popular auburn red hair color. Considering this was Queen E’s natural hair color, to achieve it others would wear wigs or dye their hair, once again, with non-toxic, never damaging, of course not toxic, oh so pleasant potions.

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5. Japanese Geishas, c. mid 1700’s

The Dramatic Changes of Women's Makeup Throughout History
via BuzzFeed | YouTube / BuzzFeed Video

The Geisha became a very important component of Japanese society and represented the utmost in beauty during the 18th century. At the time they were, and still commonly are, very skilled entertainers, who performed through song, instrumentation, dancing, and poetry, and required at least three years of training to do so. Dependent upon their training ranks, their makeup intricacies differed.

The most definitive and essential quality of geisha makeup is immaculate application whereby heavily applied white foundation was the base. All visible skin was covered except for the nape of the neck in which a ‘W’ shape was left and thought to be beautiful and graceful. Novice geishas would only paint their bottom lip with red coloring while the seniors would create the effect of a budding flower shape on both. Eyes were also lined in charcoal on top (clearly this doesn’t get old), while the bottom was highlighted with red.

For her hairstyle, the geisha would wear it in a “Shimada style chignon,” decorated with “kogai and konzashi” pins.

6. Pre-French Revolution, c. 1775-1789

The Dramatic Changes of Women's Makeup Throughout History
via BuzzFeed | YouTube / BuzzFeed Video

Images of Marie Antoinette sipping champagne and eating macarons–by Louise Vigée Le Brun or Sofia Coppola, no matter–has definitely retained recognition over the years by most people. Still however, such a frivolous look is always fun to go over and it was Mme. Antoinette herself who inspired most of this late 18th century style. Once more, women would powder their face, neck, and shoulders as pale as possible to the point of accentuating veins with color to heighten the white contrast. Cheeks were heavily pinked and lips were generally left pale as well.

As for hair…wait what happened to the kohl liner…? Finally out of style? But we still have the the toxic, lead based skin lightening agents? Excellent. Back to hair. Styles favored height, so much so that the average bouffant would match the measurement of the woman’s face. More often than not, natural hair wouldn’t suffice to reach such heights so wigs would be worn. Whether it were natural or not, hair was, you guessed it, powdered white.

7. Victorian Era, c. 1837-1901

The Dramatic Changes of Women's Makeup Throughout History
via BuzzFeed | YouTube / BuzzFeed Video

Queen Victoria II very much created what we know as the female aesthetic for the 19th century when she publicly stated that wearing makeup was impolite. During a time when virtue and proper sensibility was a more valuable possession than anything else, it would have been right mad for anyone to go against this.

Therefore, neutrality and inherent beauty was of utmost importance to the Victorians. Skin was very lightly powdered (of course) but any additions to lip and cheek color were thought to be scandalous. So, to obtain small amounts of brightness, women would pinch their cheeks to redness.

Long, thick hair was a symbol of a woman’s femininity but, to be reserved, it was wrapped up in a chignon.

8. The Swingin’ Sixties, c. 1960-1969

The Dramatic Changes of Women's Makeup Throughout History
via BuzzFeed | YouTube / BuzzFeed Video

The 1960’s was a subversive and experimental time in all aspects of life which naturally trickled into fashion and makeup. Due to the many liberation movements, political shifts, changes to home and family life, and so much more, the 1960’s atmosphere was unlike any other before it.

Women were given the opportunity to try so very many different things that would have never been accepted prior to the time…and they did just that. In eyeshadow, every color available was used, heavily lined eyes were favored (it’s baaack), as well as very large, at times ridiculous, false lashes were worn. Lips were generally pale or pinked slightly, cheeks were contoured to look heavily hollowed, and hair was worn in large bouffant styles (or wigs).

As well, the black beauty industry grew remarkably with a heavy boom in the late 60’s but before this time much of the makeup available wasn’t created for complementing them. Ultimately, trends crossed over between all races and the iconic 1960’s image was born in its zeitgeist.

So when we look back on 2015 in 50 years, what do you think the iconic look will be?

The Dramatic Changes of Women's Makeup Throughout History
via BuzzFeed | YouTube / BuzzFeed Video

 

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