“The Ideal Woman”: A Timeline of Beauty from the 1910s to the 1950s

Although makeup has always been used in some form, the 1910s was when makeup was taking off as new products were constantly being introduced. In a matter of 40 years, makeup went from something that was looked down upon to something that was in every woman’s purse. When we look back throughout history from the 1910s to the 1950s, we can see many drastic changes in the appearance of the “ideal woman”. 


In the 1910s, makeup was rapidly being introduced and used by many women. The word “makeup” was being used for the first time after it became popularized by Max Factor, who was the inventor of a foundation that was commonly used among Hollywood stars and was then spread to the general public. He sold his makeup claiming that it would make women look like their favorite actresses. Max Factor was a very influential person in the world of makeup as he not only came up with the word itself, but he also went on to create a brow pencil and lipgloss along with his greasepaint foundation. This was also the time when mascara was first seen, as it was invented first by a Eugene Rimmel, and was again introduced by a New York chemist called T.L. Williams. He produced the product after seeing his sister, Maybel Williams, apply a mixture of Vaseline and coal dust to her eyelashes to give them a longer, thicker and darker appearance. Although the product was a local hit, the one setback was its name; “lash-in-brow-line”. Because of this, Williams decided to rename the product by combining his sister’s name, Maybel, with the name Vaseline, thus creating the name Maybelline. Mascara was very successful and widely used by Hollywood actresses and many women. Pressed powders were also seen for the first time and pressed powder blushes were introduced soon after. The eye makeup used during the 1910s was applied heavily and somewhat carelessly as opposed to modern day eye makeup application. Vogue started this trend when they featured models using henna to outline their eyes; Hollywood caught on very quickly and the “vamp” look was born. Although this look became popular after Vogue introduced it, it is important to keep in mind that makeup was still not fully accepted socially. Women often hid their makeup because of husbands or fathers who disapproved of it. To give themselves the appearance of rosy cheeks without using makeup, women who feared disapproval of society would quickly pinch their cheeks to make them bright and rosy, while the rest of their face was kept natural.

As we all know, the 20s was the time of the flapper. Bobbed hair was very popular, and all women wanted to look young. As Helena Rubinstein said at the time, “If you can show me a woman who doesn’t want to look young and beautiful- well, I’m afraid she isn’t in her right mind. Women all want it- and we admit that they do!” In the 1920s, the ideal beauty changed to very petite (5’0”) and the “it” girl was Clara Bow. The makeup looks changed as well; women wanted to remain very pale skinned, lip liner was used to exaggerate the cupid’s bow and cheeks were brightened with red blush. Eye liner was worn very dark and was smudged all the way around the eye. Eyebrows  were kept very thin and long and were often completely removed and drawn thinly and high above the eye. In this time period, society’s view of makeup changed drastically. Makeup was no longer viewed as “bad”; in fact, women began to feel comfortable openly carrying makeup in their purses and applying it in public. 


In the 1930s, Jean Harlow was the new “it” girl because she had the ideal look for women. Hollywood had a huge influence on women and because of it, makeup and femininity took off more than ever. Max Factor and Elizabeth Arden became household names during this time. Full color magazines were being seen for the first time, which also had a big influence on women and makeup. The main change that took place in the makeup looks from the 20s to the 30s was that it went from dramatic and dark to subtle and flirty. The ideal face was achieved by using cream rouge followed by powder, giving the face a “glowing” appearance. For the first time, the appearance of tanned skin was ideal rather than the usual pale look. Blush was still applied, more often during the daytime. During this time, facial contouring became popular for the first time because women were learning the power that makeup had to change the shape of the face. Women kept their thin eyebrows, but on the eyes they began using pinks and shimmers instead of blacks and grays. Mascara was used by all women, and it was applied on the top lashes only. Eyeliner was still used as well, but not nearly as dark and sloppy as it was applied in previous decades. The new eyeliner trend at this time was thin and went from the tear duct to the end of the eye. On the lips, the most popular colors of the time were reds, maroons and raspberry. The bow look was out, and a more horizontal lip shape was the newest trend. 


The 1940s was a very glamorous decade as well as makeup continued to grow and evolve. Foundation was applied heavily, and the shade was often darker than the natural skin color to give the appearance of tanned skin. Eyebrows were kept thin although they appeared noticeably thicker and had a more defined arch than that of the 30s and especially the 20s. Brown liquid eyeliner was used instead of black, and the regular black mascara was applied to finish the eyes. As far as lipstick, reds still remained popular although they were lighter shades such as orange-red, rather than the darker maroons and raspberries of the 30s. 


And of course, one cannot talk about the history of beauty without mentioning the pin-up girls. Pin-up girls were the sex symbols of the 40s and 50s. They earned their name because their photos were intended to be “pinned up” on a wall, and that they were. Pin-up girls appeared everywhere; ads, magazines, newspapers, and especially calendars. Some were illustrated, others real women such as Betty Grable. Pin up girls almost always had the same look: light colored eye shadow, red lips, curled hair, and an hourglass figure with little clothing worn. Long, red almond shaped nails were also popular among the pin up girls. 

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Makeup and beauty was very important to women of the 1950s. In fact, beauty was so important to women that beauty books, instructing women what to wear and what makeup look to have at every hour of the day, were written and widely purchased, and the 1950s has been referred to as the “age of glamour” because of the stunning makeup looks worn on the faces of the elegant ladies of the 50s. Pastels and pale colors were the most common palettes of the 1950s. Pinks and reds were seen most often because they had the most feminine look, although, contrary to popular belief, red lips were not the only lip color worn by ladies in the 50s. Pinks, reds, red-oranges and purple-reds were equally popular lip colors and were adored by these women. Lipstick color also often relied on hair color; for example, dark haired women often wore purple-red lipsticks, orange-reds were used by blonde haired women, etc. Since women were using lipstick more than ever, the first kiss proof lipstick, Hazel Bishop’s smear proof lipstick, was made in the 50s, with the advertisements declaring, “It stays on YOU, not on him!” Image

As for the eyes, eye makeup was kept minimal with the exception of mascara. Little amounts of eyeliner was used to create a small wing at the end of the eyes, and mascara was applied generously to make ladies’ eyes appear more open and feminine. Pastel rosy colors of blush were used as a finishing touch on the apples of the cheeks.


Clearly, there have been so many changes in the world of beauty. From the first time the word “makeup” was ever used in the 1910s to the 1950s, when it was already normal for women to apply a full face of makeup, beauty and cosmetics had hugely evolved and grown. It is amazing to see how society changed in this time period because of the new innovations quickly occurring one after the other. After looking at just a small portion of a huge evolution of makeup and physical beauty, one thing should be made clear: there is no such thing as the “ideal woman”. Every decade had a new standard or a completely new look for women to live up to. It is difficult not to try to live up to society’s standards of beauty, but history shows that standards or perceptions of beauty are constantly changing and there will never be one ideal woman. The point is, every woman is an ideal beauty and that is something that should be celebrated. So don’t get wrapped up in what you “should” or “shouldn’t” look like, because every woman is an ideal beauty just the way they are.



1. Vintage Makeup Styles from 1910 to 1920 | vintage makeup guide

2. Maybelline – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

3. A Timeline of Sexy Defined Through the Ages | StyleCaster

4. The History of Makeup (article) by Christy Tillery French on AuthorsDen

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