It's no secret that beauty standards change over time, and no facial feature has transformed through the ages more than eyebrows. Over the last 100 years, the ideal brows have been pencil-thin, thick and dramatic, arched and sexy, and #onfleek.
And what better way to re-enact the history of eyebrows than by doing it myself? Join me as I take you on a video journey through 100 years of eyebrow trends.
1910s: Defined, yet natural
We begin with the ideal eyebrows of 1916. Back in the day, brows were shaped slightly, but generally not messed with too much — that would be the mark of an actress or (GASP!) a prostitute. Women were meant to be naturally beautiful; no effort was to be expended achieving that goal.
But of course, that's not what happened. Women often darkened their eyebrows if their hair was blonde (like Mary Pickford, pictured above), or lightened them if their hair was dark. Rather than lightening my own eyebrows with a period-appropriate DIY mixture, I opted to draw them in nice and full with a gray brow pencil. Because, in 1916 at least, I woke up like this.
1920s: Silent movie star vamp
The rise of movies — and the mainstream appeal of movie stars — meant that brows in the '20s took a turn for the MAJOR. Stars like Clara Bow (pictured above) shaved their eyebrows and drew them back in with theatrical paint so they'd better express emotion on camera — and young women, stifled by years of stodgy beauty rules, followed suit. The shape: long, thin, and slightly downturned, all the better to emphasize big, Jazz-age eyes.
I have to be honest: I think I'm really working this look.
1930s: Slim and rounded
Women kept their eyebrows thin well into the '30s, but embraced a much more rounded, U-shaped style. Greta Garbo, pictured above, was the eyebrow model of the day — these thin, rounded brows gave a dramatic yet elegant look.
But brow shapes weren't the only thing that changed: commercial makeup was becoming way more available (and affordable). This meant that eyebrow pencils were something that most women could obtain, so practically everyone (rather than just the rich) was shaving, plucking, and re-drawing.
1940s: FULL DRAMA
During World War II, wearing makeup — and lipstick especially — was seen as part of a woman's duty, a way to remain "feminine" while taking on traditionally masculine roles in the war effort. By 1946, the war was over, rationing was dunzo, and EYEBROWS WERE FREAKING MASSIVE.
Taking a cue from Joan Crawford (pictured above), eyebrows were drawn in bigger, bolder, and more dramatically than ever before. We're talking end to end thick darkness. They were often plucked so that the arch was higher and placed right in the center, but my brows refused this indignity. I settled for majorly thick "Mommie Dearest" brows instead.
1950s: Short and sexy
Post-war America was very much focused on A RETURN TO NORMALCY, which meant women were shoved back into their traditional roles with a quickness. A big part of this was really heavy every day makeup, and a new brow shape was needed to go along with the full foundation, cat eye liner, rounded lips, pastel eye shadow, and rosy blush of the '50s.
Stars like Marilyn Monroe and Dorothy Dandrige provided the '50s brow ideal: eyebrows were short, full, heavily arched, and wide-set. Brows were generally one to two shades lighter than hair, and set REALLY far apart to create the illusion of a slimmer nose and bigger, doll-like eyes.
1960s: Mod fabulousness
The '60s were very cool in terms of makeup — it ceased being a way to look traditionally "pretty" and became more about self-expression. Young women no longer wanted to wear the pastel-dream makeup their mothers wore; they wanted bold colors, big lashes, and heaps of fun. Maybe you didn't want to be "beautiful" — you wanted to be something otherworldly.
This long, thin, rounded eyebrow shape paired with the big-eyed aesthetic of models like Twiggy and Penelope Tree (pictured above) gave a distinctly alien vibe. Brow bleaching also entered the mainstream, which I do not recommend. That shit HURTS.
1970s: DISCO FEVER
You can still see these brows in the wild today: wide-set, long and flat, with downturned, squared-off nubs in the center. Today we call them "sperm brows;" in the seventies, they just called them a party.
Donna Summer, goddess pictured above that she is, actually made these eyebrows look seriously glam. Maybe that's why so many people wanted them. Waxing — and the attendant permanent hair loss — was becoming popular in the '70s, which is one of the reasons so many women of my mother's generation still have these brows today.
1980s: Power brows
Everything was big and powerful in the '80s, up to and including eyebrows. Brooke Shields led the way with her full brows, and the rest of the world followed. She was the original big browed babe, the Cara Delevingne of her time.
You'll notice this is a pattern the repeats a lot: a period of brow-austerity followed by a decade of really big, bold eyebrows. As a programming note, do not be alarmed by my amazing '80s beauty. I faked my furriness by drawing in individual hairs with a fine-tipped gray liquid liner.
Ah, the '90s. A truly dark time for eyebrows. Even though women's personalities were bigger than ever — yes, I'm especially talking about you, Ginger Spice — pretty much everything else about them was expected to be small. We're talking heroin-chic waiflike figures, minor amounts of clothing, and dark, pencil-thin eyebrows.
Along with this "thin is in" mentality, women were encouraged to get super-obsessive with their appearance, which inevitably led to overplucking and overwaxing. I definitely had these exact eyebrows in high school, btw.
2006: Bringing sexy back
Sexy was the name of the game in the aughts: jeans were low, thongs were high, and cleavage was freaking everywhere. In the age of reality stardom, we looked more than ever to celebrities for beauty inspiration — and who better to inspire our brow game than Hottest Woman Alive, Angelina Jolie? Her short, seriously arched, very sexy eyebrows recalled Marilyn's in the '50s, but with a slightly dangerous edge.
Today: Eyebrows on fleek
We live in the era of the selfie, and therefore our eyebrows must be camera-ready at all times. Cara Delevingne, Lily Collins, and Kim Kardashian (above, obviously) all have the perfectly full, filled-in brows we aspire to, and even men woke to the power of flawless eyebrows (like Drake) spend a lot of time and money getting their arches right.
Social media has also turned eyebrows into a billion-dollar business. Anastasia Soare, who launched brow business Anastasia Beverly Hills in 1998 — became a superstar practically overnight as we all clamor to keep our eyebrows #onfleek.
Which era of eyebrows are your favorite?
More importantly, was me bleaching my eyebrows to shoot this video worth it?