The 1950s followed the end of the second-world war. It was an era where the collective world took one long, deep exhale and looked ahead with optimism. Rock-n-roll took center stage, and greats such as Fats Domino, Little Richard and Elvis Presley quickly rose to fame. The American folk music revival became “a thing.” European Cinema experienced a renaissance due to the former dark days of the war and a longing for new inspiration. In fact, everything was starting look and feel more upbeat, and the fashion and beauty world took its cue and followed suit.
It’s hard to believe now but The Fifties was also a time when television viewing really hit its stride. In fact, by 1950 4.4 million families in American had a TV set. What did we ever do before Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad? Other technologies also took off during this time. The Chevrolet Corvette premiered a slick, all fiberglass body — the first of its kind. Jonas Salk invented and introduced the polio vaccine. The first plastic Coke bottle appeared.
In Hollywood and elsewhere in the entertainment world, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and more were setting the silver screen on fire. The beautiful and glamorous women of the 1950s were style icons for women all around the world. In fact, their 1950s makeup looks defined this era. So how does one get the look? It all starts with picking the right color.
The name of the game in 1950s makeup was all about pastels. Pretty pastels ruled in pale yellows, pinks, greens and blues, but if you want to pick one color that stood above the rest it would be pink! In fact, style icon Audrey Hepburn once said, “she believed in pink.” Pink replaced red as the go-to lip color, especially among the younger generation. The first non-smear lipstick was introduced in the late 40s, early 50s by Hazel Bishop Inc., and chances are pink was likely a big seller. The company used simple straightforward color names rather than a fanciful description of the names like other companies did. These colors were so popular that fashion magazine Vogue matched the next season’s clothing trends with 1950s makeup colors.
Another trend in 1950s makeup was the return to a heavier “face paint” or a mask effect. Meaning, liquid foundation and loose powder made a comeback. Conversely, eye shadows were applied lighter, and many lines contained a broad spectrum of colors — often with a slight shimmer. Eyebrows were colored with a slightly darker shade than the person’s natural hair color.
Breaking it Down, Step-by-Step
Getting the look of 1950s makeup is something anyone can replicate today. The foundation should be a cream ivory base — essentially a foundation fairly close to one’s natural skin color. Next, apply a sheer veil of powder brushed ever so lightly to set the first layer. They eyes should have a soft shadow on the lid, and the brows darkened. When it comes to eyeliner, the wing effect, which comes back in style every so often, was all the rage in the 50s. It’s where you extend the length of the line past the outer edge of the top lid, and give it a slight upward curl. Others also refer to it as a cat eye-line. To finish off the eyes, mascara was only applied to the top lashes, and not the bottom. Rouges in more pastels were dusted lightly to the apples of the cheeks, or that puffy part of the face that everyone wants to squeeze on a tiny tot. The quintessential model of all of these steps put together would be the actress Marilyn Monroe. What she wasn’t born with, 1950s makeup gave the sultry starlet.
The evening look gave women a bit more latitude when it came to creating a shimmering, dramatic look, from bright pink lips and eye shadow that went daringly up past the lid. Add tight pin curls and fringe bangs and everyday housewives transformed into Monroe and Bardot-like living dolls.
Movies and 50s Makeup
The made up women of the 1950s in Hollywood caused a chain reaction around the world. Beauties of the silver screen with their lovely looks evoked images of elegance, dreaminess and utter awe. Take French born Bridget Bardot who with her smoldering eyes and soft lips gave women everywhere an image of beauty, perfected.
Unforgettable Lucille Ball was another 1950s icon that with her coiffed poodle haircut and pink lips stole America’s heart and personified what a timeless beauty should be. With her high heels and white apron, Ball spun beauty and inspiration aspirations inside young women everywhere.
How Fashion Played a Role
The 1940s ushered in wide shoulders and a short skirt, but the 1950s fashion fads were hourglass based. Small shoulders, small waist, full shirt and a fitted bodice were clothing characteristics of the era. After World War II, a greater availability and larger quantities of colored fabrics opened the door for women to embrace a new type of fashion. Suddenly dresses were dressed up with pleats, petticoats and big, wide collars, made from the finest taffeta, leather, wool and more in daring patterns and bold colors. It was a rise of consumer hope and optimism, which resulted in an economic boom that drove the next 60 years forward. This type of fashion was known as style clothing and would claim its place in culture with accents as simple as a well-played row of buttons.
The new era of hope and optimism after the war gave people permission to leave the old standards in the past. No longer did a woman have to worry about conforming her look to a particular event. She was free to try new things, experiment with patterns and follow the fashions on the runway. The waistline was a major point of contention in the 50s, as some women preferred the snug fit of a Dior dress over those dresses with zero waistline that simply plummeted to the floor.
Makeup Brands That Blossomed
Max Factor. When Technicolor film changed the movie business, it also changed the way marketing executives at top cosmetic manufacturers thought about their products. Panchromatic makeup used before Technicolor film now left sheen on the skin that reflected the colors around it. Actresses were withdrawing from films right and left, until Max Factor brilliantly came up with a solution — a pan stick that cold be used on and off the screen. It was wildly successful.
Other major brands such as Estee Lauder produced skin care and came up with the very first “gift with purchase” made from a collection of miniature versions of flagship products. Revlon became a household name based on nail enamel alone. Elizabeth Arden had years before opened a salon selling beauty treatments on 5th Avenue, known by her signature red door. The treatments were wildly popular and evolved into a cosmetic line with a variety of lipsticks and matching polish. Helena Rubinstein, who founded one of the world’s first cosmetic companies said, “There are no ugly women, only lazy ones.” She was also one of the world’s richest women by the time of her death in 1965.
Cosmetics were big business in the 1950s and print advertising drove interest and sales. Innovators such as Goya made strides by adding titanium to their lipsticks. It was an era that definitely required more time to perfect the look, with multiple layers of liquid and powder plus color, but the payoff was a pristine facial glow few have the time to achieve today.