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Female Beauty And Skincare Through The Decades – The 1920s To Present

How do we decide if someone is beautiful? While it may seem like the standards of female beauty we have today must be universal, history tells us that the opposite is true. As you’ll learn in this article, the definition of feminine beauty has dramatically changed over the years.

The 1920s (Roaring Twenties)

1920's female fashion & body type
Iconic and classy female style from the 1920’s

By the end of World War I (1914 – 1918), women were hitting the workforce to fill factories and work other jobs. Their ability to work, combined with their newly-gained right to vote in 1920, gave them a taste of men’s power.

So what if the war had ended in the 1920s? They weren’t going to put up with the strangling corsets and piled-up hair any longer! 

And so, women did their best to hide their curves and took on a more androgynous aesthetic. They wore the typical loose, short, and swingy flapper dress. Yes – thereby coining ‘flappers,’ a term used to describe women in this era.

The Ideal Female Body Type

In this period, you’ll find that the ideal women body type looked a little something like this:

  • Flat chest – Women bound their chests with a cloth to hide the breasts.
women bound their chest with rubber to make there breasts smaller
An Advertisement in 1918
  • Downplayed waist – The corseted waist of the Victorian era gave way to elastic webbed girdles that flattened the tummy.
  • Short bob hairstyle – The 1920s saw women tossing aside the long-held belief that only long hair signified female desirability and beauty.
short-bob-hair-womens
Short Bob Hairstyle

Skincare in the 1920s 

Given that regular bathing had only become normalized in this period, it would be foolish to expect fancy skincare routines. So, women took care of their skin the only way available: through baths. 

But of course, their bathes weren’t quite as luxurious and extravagant as the ones we use to pamper ourselves with. Aka: they didn’t have access to tantalizing bath bombs from Lush, with names like “sex bomb” or “groovy kind of love.” 

The key makeup look of the 1920s

women's makeup example from the 1920's
1920’s saw strong uses of makeup to lighten the skin tone

Bold makeup – once only privy to actresses and whores – also made its appearance in the 1920s. 

Women applied thick layers of powder to make the skin look as pale as possible. Eyebrows were also lifted and penciled in to achieve a thin and bold look. They also painted their lips with rouge, a red powder or cream. To top it all off, women lined the eyes with Kohl (a black or dark grey powder) to achieve an overall dramatic look.

Here’s a visual rundown of the beauty standards from the 1920’s to today!

The 1930s & 1940s (Minimalistic Beauty)

Unfortunately for the flappers, the 1920s ended disastrously. The Great Depression (1929 – 1939) – the worst economic downturn in the history of the industrialized world – made fashion and beauty an afterthought. Concerned with survival, most women didn’t have the headspace to worry about beauty all that much.

The Ideal Female Body Type

Ideal body type for the 1930's (women)
Larger women became “the standard beauty model’ in the 30’s

After years of suffering from a terrible economy, no woman wanted to look stick-thin; it just seemed too close to starving. So, the ideal female body type became slightly fuller:

  • Hourglass Figure – The lack of resources during the Great Depression saw women repurposing men’s suits into women’s attire, leading to a padded shoulder look that created a sharp hourglass figure.
hourglass figure body types
  • Large breasts – Women used padded bras to accentuate their chests further. 
  • Slim waist – A flat, slim waist set the perfect stage for an hourglass figure.

Skincare in the 1930s & 1940s 

While they still used all-purpose soap and water (gasp!) to clean their faces, women began using cold creams as an over-night mask. It is believed that the cold creams caused a similar effect to the moisture masks we use today. Women also began applying astringents, such as witch hazel, to their faces as a form of toner. 

If you’re interested in learning what your skin type is, and how to best care for it, take our quiz by clicking the image below:

The key makeup look of the 1930s & 1940s

The government saw cosmetics as a morale booster during World War II (1939 – 1945). As such, women were encouraged to wear makeup all the time to mask their sadness and attract men. 

Here, the heavy makeup of the 1920s made way for a classic and sophisticated look. Less became better than more, which was good since women had to survive on less and less in the face of an economic downturn.

1940s makeup style

Instead of lining their eyes with Kohl, women opted for more understated light-medium browns eyeshadows. This period saw much thicker eyebrows than in the 1920s. Women also applied rouge on the cheek apples as the earliest form of blusher. To complete the look, women dressed their lips up with reds and orange-reds lipsticks.

The 1950s (Golden Age Of Hollywood)

The 1950s marked the end of the Great Depression and World War II. For the first time in years, America was raking in money. It was a time for celebration, and the indulgence brought with it a fuller figure. Nonetheless, the ideal female body type didn’t stray far from that of the 1930s – 1940s period.

The Ideal Female Body Type

1950's ideal body type
Marilyn Monroe
grace kelly
Grace Kelly

The hourglass figure was still highly sought-after, and having full-looking breasts was encouraged. Curious as to what the sex symbols of the 1950s look like? Well, just think of Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly. These two silver screen darlings became Hollywood legends that women strove to emulate.

Skincare in the 1950s 

While it may seem so, DIY beauty – like your homemade coffee scrub – didn’t just become popular over the last few years. Many women took a DIY approach to their skincare routines back in the ’50s. More specifically, they made masks out of products we consider multi-use staples today, such as baby powder and petroleum jelly. 

The key makeup look of the 1950s

As for the 1950s makeup look, well, if you’re familiar with what Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly look like, then you’d know what the trend was. Need additional help? Think of Audrey Hepburn. In other words, the 1950s was a glamorous decade for women’s makeup.

The ’50s was the era of the ‘mask effect’ – women applied thick, creamy foundations and flesh-colored powders to set. While women still preferred a natural look to their eyebrows, they became a little more feminine and tapered. Eyeshadow colors remained subtle, but the winged eyeliner effect became popular in this period.

And if there were one color to define the 1950s, it would be pink – pinks hues in blushers, shadows, and lipsticks. After all, Audrey Hepburn did believe in pink!

The 1960s & 1970s (All About Thin)

The 1960s ushered in sweeping changes in morality and economics. Young women were no longer sitting at home as a housewife and rebelled against the constricting ways of the 1950s. 

Dresses became shorter and shorter in this period; hem length was directly proportional to a woman’s confidence in their sexual liberation. 

Mini-skirts made popular in the 1950s were not meant to attract males for the sake of sexual interest – instead, it was a way for women to attract attention so she could decide if she wanted his attention. It was fashion-enabled sexual power in its most excellent form.

The ideal female body type

With the rise of Twiggy as the most famous (skinny) model of the age, women were once again obsessed with becoming extremely thin. Most women desired to have long, slim legs: much similar to an adolescent physique.

Skincare in the 1960s & 1970s 

You may be uncomfortable with stepping outside without sunscreen, or moisturizer, formulated with SPF now – but it wasn’t till the ’60s that sunscreens with SPF were invented! But unfortunately, the SPF formulas only shielded against sunburn-causing UVB rays. As you probably know now, UVA rays are the ones that play a vital role in the development of skin cancer. 

Women’s growing taste for organic skincare products during this period also prompted many cosmetic companies to incorporate natural ingredients in their skincare product lines. 

If you’re interested in finding the best skin care products on Amazon, visit our Editor's Choice Amazon Skin Care Products now.

The key makeup look of the 1960s & 1970s

And when it came to makeup, this period saw the cat-eye look for eyes give way to emphasis to the lashes. False eyelashes, therefore, took on whole new popularity. Women preferred the colors blue, grey, and white for eyeshadows. To further accentuate the eyes, lips were made pale through muted pinks and reds lipsticks.

The 1980s (Supermodel Era)

If women’s fashion could be described in a word, it would be ‘excess.’ It was a decade of bold colors, style, and silhouettes. And not to mention, permed hair. With pieces spanning from ripped leather and tights to polished oversized blazers, the 1980s was one of the most eclectic decades in fashion.

The ideal female body type

Women working out in a gym
Fit is fabulous in the 80’s

Fitness was all the rage in the 1980s. Women were meant to be tall, tan, and thin – but slightly athletic. They were expected to have a toned (not muscular) body, while still maintaining an acceptable weight. Even though hips got much smaller, large breasts were still highly desirable. 

With all these new aesthetic demands, it’s no wonder the 1980s saw a dramatic upswing in eating disorders!

Skincare in the 1980s 

You can thank the ’80s for your favorite anti-aging products – this period was where they became increasingly important! In fact, tretinoin (commonly sold as Retin-A), was first recognized for its potential as an anti-aging treatment in the ’80s. 

Anti-aging products found over-the-counter were also formulated with collagen and other extracts; they were used to diminish the look of wrinkles and fine lines. Of course, women weren’t only concerned with countering aging’s effects in the ’80s. 

Acne cleansers also boomed on the scene. While most of us would actively avoid stinging and tingling formulations, women in the ’80s didn’t have a choice. The anti-acne products during this period, unfortunately, were made that way. 

The key makeup look of the 1980s

1980's typical makeup look
1980's style and beauty standard

Women’s bold expression extended beyond their fashion choices; it was reflected in their choice of makeup style as well. They opted for brighter colors, such as the infamous blue eye shadows, liners, and shiny pink pouts. 

And the application of eye-catching colors didn’t stop at the eyes and lips either! Women applied colorful shadows on the sides of their eyes and their cheekbones as a form of contouring.  

If you’re shocked, well, now’s the time to mention that they loved their blusher a little too much as well. In essence, women probably followed the mantra of, “More is better” during this decade.

The 1990s (Heroin Chic)

Even though several late 1980s trends – such as spandex and fluorescent color – remained stylish in the 1990s, there was a noticeable return to minimalist fashion. 

The popularity of alternative rock and grunge music helped bring the unkempt, simple look to the mainstream by 1992. And as such, this decade gave birth to several iconic clothing styles that just won’t quit – from cropped tops to grunge-y flannels to slinky slip dresses.

The ideal female body type

Ideal body type for the 1980's (women)

If there were a single person who could embody the coveted female body form in the 1990s, it would be Kate Moss. She gave Twiggy a run for the “skinniest model of all time.” As you can imagine, the desired body type of this period was a woman who looked frail, thin, and frankly neglected, thus coining the term “heroin chic.”

Skincare in the 1990s 

You may have heard about the wonders of alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA) lately, but they aren’t exactly new. The anti-aging effects of AHAs were already recognized back in the mid-1990s! 

Skincare products in the ’90s contained ingredients that are still found in our favorite products now, like the AHAs as mentioned earlier and enzymes. You can think of the 1990s as the Age of Chemicals if you like. 

The key makeup look of the 1990s

When it comes to makeup in the 1990s, women had one primary objective: to look natural, with a hint of edginess. The skin was to look flawless, and women often went for foundation shades that were a tad too light for them. 

Why? Well, that’s because they wanted to accentuate further the lips – now colored with matte reds, mauve, plum, browns, and dark berry colors. Look at pictures from the ’90s, and you’ll find that their lip liner was at least five shades darker than their chosen lipstick color.

And when it came to the eyes, women opted for a light smoky look, often in shades of brown. Unfortunately, the 1990s also taught women to over-pluck their brows. An unfortunate fact, considering the current fluffy-brow trend.

The 2000s To Present (Postmodern Beauty)

Finally, we are here in the era our memory serves us best. The turn of a new century from the 1900s brought about an age of volatile beauty where we see rapid changes in beauty trends – from comeback trends to the innovation of new trends.

The ideal female body type

2000's ideal body type for women
Nicki Minaj fits the 2000's "attractive" body style

Take a peek at any women’s magazine cover, and you’ll find that the ideal female body shape is strong, powerful, while still maintaining rock-hard, perfectly flat abs. Women’s obsession with having a bubble butt is also brought alive by the likes of Kim Kardashian and Nicki Minaj.

In summary, in stark contrast to the 1990s, women are now expected to be curvy – while remaining sleek, of course.

Skincare in the 2000s & 2010s 

While not technically skincare, it’s worthwhile to note that the FDA approved Botox back in 2002 – essentially freezing women’s foreheads everywhere. 

And as for skincare in the 2010s? Well, the truth is that skincare has become majorly trendy over the past couple of years. 

When you think about it, it’s challenging to pick just one trend of significance. There are Korean skincare staples, like sheet masks and snail creams. Then again, there’s a burgeoning interest in customized skincare. Oh – and let’s not forget cannabis-infused beauty products! 

We’re approaching the 2020s; maybe we’ll only be able to tell the winning trend in a couple of years. 

The key makeup look of the 2000s & 2010s

There’s one all-compassing word when it comes to makeup trends in this period: contouring. And once again, you can thank Kim Kardashian. With the Kardashians’ enviable ability to transform their faces through the use of highlighting and shading, it is no wonder why contouring gained so much popularity in so little time. 

Other than contouring, some of the beauty trends in this period include pouty lips, bold matt lips, and nude makeup. Thick, defined eyebrows are massively popular now as well.

Bottom line

Hopefully, you now see that ‘beauty’ is an ephemeral ideal, bound to transform and change – looking astonishingly different from one decade to the next. So, the next time you feel like your body might be less than perfect, why not change your perspective? You could be a pioneer for a trend in the future!

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