The Harley Medical Group

Beauty Through The Ages – 1920s

We have the women of the 1920s to thank for the wide choice of makeup available today. Until then, makeup as we know it didn’t really exist, with women preferring to use face creams and products aimed at improving the appearance of their skin in a natural way.

The aftermath of the First World War however had left women competing for men’s attention, drawn to the glamorous looks of the Hollywood actresses. Makeup was used to make women stand out and to provoke a reaction, with women tired of being shy and retiring and using their looks to assert their power.


The women behind the iconic 1920s makeup looks

Certain looks of the 1920s were inspired not only by the change in culture of the time, but also by the stars who dared to be different:

  • Cupid’s bow lips – courtesy of Clara Bow

Looking back on images of women in the 1920s, one beauty trend that seems to stand out above the rest is the iconic scarlet-red Cupid’s bow lip, made famous by Clara Bow. Metal lip tracers were bought by women everywhere to help recreate this doll-like look, which was to serve as a stark contrast to the ivory pale base makeup.

  • Plucked eyebrows – thanks to Hollywood stars Myrna Long and Jean Harlow

It wasn’t until the 1920s that women began to pluck their eyebrows, favouring the arched shape portrayed by popular Hollywood stars of the time, Myrna Long and Jean Harlow.

  • Tinted powder – to channel Coco Chanel

The early 1920s saw women favouring ivory powder in lighter shades than their skin tone. However, tinted powder and tanned skin became more and more popular once Coco Chanel returned from holiday with a tan, having fallen asleep in the sun. Tanned skin became associated with a leisurely life and women thought it made them look healthier.

The culture responsible for 1920s makeup

It wasn’t just famous film stars who contributed to the popularity of makeup – the culture and politics of the time also became responsible for some of the makeup looks, associated with fashion trends:

  • Egypt

During the early 1920s, Tutankhamun’s tomb was discovered. This led to the widespread use of eyeliner, as women took a marked interest in everything Egyptian. Coupled with dark eye shadow for a dramatic evening look, the smoky eye was born.

  • The end of the First World War

After the war, cultural exchanges across the Atlantic were seen most notably in the form of the Flapper girls. These liberal, carefree women were a far cry from the prim and proper ladies of the previous decade, favouring short skirts, bob haircuts, jazz music and outlandish makeup. Not afraid to express themselves, the Flappers went against what was expected of women at the time and took to wearing excessive amounts of makeup, smoking, drinking and driving. Their heavy partying made smudge proof lipstick a necessity, women also started to wear blusher as it was now easier to apply than in previous years.


Key 1920s makeup styles

  • Eyes

Women wore a similar eye shadow to their eye colour for daytime, opting for a darker shade in the evening. This was finished with kohl rimmed eyes using a black or brown eyeliner pencil.

  • Eyebrows

Plucked and shaped into high arches – very neat.

  • Eyelashes

Mascara became popular as an eyelash-enhancing tool towards the end of the 1920s.

  • Blusher

Women applied blusher in rounded motions high up on the cheeks, which made their face appear rounder.

  • Lips

Lips were painted wider than the natural lip line with a matte red lipstick to help create a Cupid’s bow effect.

  • Nails

Women began to paint their finger and toenails during the 1920s, leaving the tips unpainted – this became known as the “moon manicure”.


For tips on how to recreate a 1920s makeup look for yourself, follow this useful guide – it details all of the products you will need for each area of the face, as well as offering handy tips for applying each type of makeup. You can also watch this video tutorial, pausing it after each step to apply your 1920s style makeup.

Here at The Harley Medical Group, we’ve taken a great interest in looking back over the previous decades to see how our notions of beauty have changed over time. Take a look at our Beauty Through The Ages infographic to find out which looks and products were iconic for each decade.



If you’re interested in finding out more about the beauty and fashion trends of the 1920s, here are some useful resources.

Posted July 18, 2020
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