Following the popularity of make up in the 1940s, the 1950s was when cosmetics really started to enter it’s golden age. The baby boom in America and the post-war economic boom, wealth began to grow and with it the need to keep up with trends in a society where impressions are everything. 1950s make up mega brands elbowed out the smaller companies who had started their business mere decades before. Many of those mega brands are still available on the market today.
Following the simpler and more natural looks of the 1940s, the 1950s make up really aimed to refine feminine beauty. The New Look from Dior really sums up the era perfectly – everything was new and reimagined. Cars, clothing, appliances and homes all used cutting edge technology and what were at the time outlandish ideas. These designs moved away from practical standards to a sculpted and elegant look. Even a womans make up in the 1950s would have delectable packaging designed with aesthetics in mind.
Compared to the 1940s minimal look, the 1950s woman would make up her face with new eye-catching colours, sharp and exaggerated lines and a sculpted architecture.
Instead of choosing colours to match her complexion and hair colour, a woman would have more freedom to follow trends – one of which was to match lips, eyeshadows and nails to her purse, clothing, shoes, car, house and even washing machine. Perfectly colour co-ordinated looks were popular, although it wasn’t necessarily to everyone’s taste. Many fashion magazines would advise women in the 1950s to ignore the make up trends and choose make up accentuate her natural beauty. Many men agreed, preferring the post-war simplicity from the 1940s.
A woman in the 1950s didn’t just wear make up to attract a husband, she would wear it to keep him too. Young women who worked outside of the home were the biggest consumers of 1950s make up and followed trends more than teenagers and housewives. Women living in the country and suburbs were the last to take up 1950s make up trends, if at all. It was the city women who tended to experiment more.
Influences on 1950s make up
The stars of the silver screen continued to inspire and set trends for make up in the 1950s. Leading ladies including Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn. Doris Day, Elizabeth Taylor and Marylin Monroe were influential box-office draws. And who wouldn’t want to look like the most beautiful women of the day! After the total suspension of television broadcasts in the UK during the war, they had now resumed in the 1950s. By the early 50s many homes could pick up a tv signal due to a post-war effort to increase signal coverage. Add to this the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953 and you get the spike in television ownership during the 1950s.Watching tv was quickly becoming a popular pastime and shows brought new ideas and increasing influence to a mass market.
1950s make up brands and new products
Wartime restrictions of the 1940s haad meant that many cosmetic products were not available to buy. Now that rationing was over, the cosmetics market boomed. Products were also better quality and more colours were available.
Luxury cosmetics took off, with Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden fighting to be the top name. They didn’t just sell make up, but also a large range of skincare preparations with pricey and unusual ingredients.
Max Factor was the leading name of invention and innovation, as it was in the 1940s. They made products everyday women wanted, inspired by those actresses that used them on and off screen. In 1953, Max Factor introduced Creme Puff – the first all-in-one base and powder. In 1954, they launched a flesh-coloured stick Erace – the first retail concealer.
Boots relaunched it’s still infamous No. 7 range in 1952 with Hollywood inspired black and gold packaging. Avon began to have its ladies visit consumers to demonstrate and sell their cosmetics.
How to get a 1950s make up look
When you think of a classic 1950s make up look, you think of elegant but obviously made-up eyes, red lip and smooth, creamy skin. Eyes were emphasised but still maintained their natural glamour.
Eyeliner and mascara created eye definition. Eyeshadow was simple, with one colour worn. Brows were arched and penciled in. Rouge was worn delicately as a hint to warm the face. Cream foundation provided the mask-like look that was popular as a base.
In the 1950s, foundation was matched to the natural skin tone as much as possible rather than trying to look pale or tanned. 1950s foundation shades tended to be on the warmer side of the spectrum with peach or pink basetones. These would come in liquid, cream and cake formulas. The texture tended to be thick and created a even, creamy skin tone. Unlike the 1940s make up, where powder was all that was available or affordable for day to day wear, the 1950s make up saw each day begin with a foundation base as a blank canvas.
1950s blush or rouge
Rouge was used sparingly, and as such is not a prominent feature of the 1950s make up look – rosy red cheeks were simply not in style. When rouge or blush was used, it would be to contour the face and to add a soft glow and would be applied around the temples. The oval face shape was the most ideal during the 1950s, with rouge being dabbed on to the upper cheekbones before being blended upward toward the temples. This would provide a sculpted and lifted effect. If you had that perfect oval, you could skip that step, whilst the rounder face would apply blush lower down and further out from the centre of the face.
During the evening, one would also see blush or rouge being lightly added to the brow for a becoming flush.
Cream and liquid rouge was applied after foundation, but before powder. Powder rouge was applied after face powder.
Finding the right shade for you can be a little bit of trial and error.
With long-lasting formulations not available yet, powder was used to set foundation and keep a matte look with no shine. Loose or pressed powder would be patted all over the face with a powder puff. After some moments, the remaining product was brushed away with a fluffy brush or cotton pad. If one was wearing a low neck evening gown the neck, shoulders and chest would be powdered too.
Make sure the powder you choose matches your skin tone, otherwise you might end up looking like a clown!
Eyebrows in the 1950s were arched and defined and filled in with brow pencil. Furthermore, the pencil could and did extend the length of the brow.
Thee fashionable 1950s brow was a defined and strong arch and a decent thickness that tapered out at the ends. The thickness would vary from medium to very thick, but the skinny brows of decades past were no longer popular.
The eyebrow arch could be closer to being straight across, slightly arched or deeply arched depending on your face shape:
- Round / Square faces – a deep, high arch
- Oval face – slight or natural arch
- Long face – straight across with a minimal arch
- Almond eyes – follow the angle of your eye
At the start of the decade, the eyeshadow look for the 1950s mimicked the 1940s – subtle and not a colour statement. This would all change by the mid 50s with many women matching their eyeshadow to their furniture, curtains, shoes and handbags. Eyeshadow in the 1950s came in various matt colours, including shades of brown, gray, blue, green and violet. By the late 50s, a shimmering lustre could be created in eyeshadows by adding guanine, which came from fish scales and guano. For a day look, it was common to match eyeshadow to one’s eye colour, but adding a tint of silver or gold was popular for evening wear.
Application of eyeshadow was minimal and generally only one colour was used on the upper eyelid. This would be applied with the little finger and blended outward and upward to create a winged look. The colour was faded toward the brow.
Eyeshadow came in powder, but was also available in liquid or creme which was applied more smoothly with control on the edge. A light application of vaseline was recommended for during the day or for teenagers.
1950s eye liner
As you would expect, the popular choice of eyeliner in the 1950s would be a black line across the upper lash line with a small outward flick.
The doe-eyed look started in the 1940s and continued into the early part of the 1950s. This saw eyeliner being used around the entire eye. By the mid-50s, this had turned into more of a cat eye, with the telltale flick on the outside. As with a modern cat-eye liner, the length of the flick could vary from barely there to long and extended – it would all depend on the wearing and occasion.
As emphasising the eyes was fashionable again, pencil eyeliner was now available in more colours. These were of course, black, brown and grey but additionally, fashion colours like shades of blue, green and purple were also available.
1950s mascara and lashes
As with previous decades, block or cake mascara was still used and was activated with a little water. Most women, for the ease and convenience, would simply activate it by using spit and mixing it using the small brush to create a paste. There was also a cream mascara that came in a squeezy tube which was purchased in a small bag with an application brush.
Cream mascara as we know it first came to the market in the 1950s. This would be sold in a tube with an internal brush wand. Both Helena Rubenstein and Max Factor claimed to being the creator of this new and exciting method of application. Either way, it was the start of the rise to popularity of the mascara wand.
Mascara also mainly came in two colours – brown and black. However, as with eyeshadow and eyeliner, more adventurous colours were also made like navy blue, emerald green, pistachio and violet.
As you would expect already, lipstick was a major feature of the 1950s make up look with red being the dominant choice of colour. Even back then, red lipstick came in many shades, from deep blue based reds through to the lighter orange based ones. Pink and coral were also worn, with beige coming into its own at the end of the decade.
Lipstick was now applied to the natural mouth shape, rather than drawing on a shape previously seen in the 1940s make up. If overdrawing was done, it was to reduce the cupid’s bow to make it smaller and rounder which extended out to the corners of the lips. This was done to add fullness all around rather than just on the top or bottom. The thickness of the top and bottom lips were usually pretty equal.
Products were matte, so a sheen would be added using a lip pomade or vaseline.
A survey in 1951 found that more than two-thirds of women regularly wore lipstick so long-lasting lipstick was a goal for the beauty market to meet.
American chemist Hazel Bishop invented the long lasting no smear lipstick which was first introduced to the consumer in 1950. “It stays on YOU” her advertising would declare “Not on Him!” Of course sales were phenomenal – what was $50k in 1950 grew to over $10 million in 1953.
Revlon would also introduce their own non-smear lipstick in 1953.
1950s nail polish
Nail polish was co-ordinated by manufactures to match their lipsticks. Therefore, pinks, reds and coral were all popular.