So many of us wear makeup every day, but have you ever actually considered where our cosmetic influences came from? Why we wear what we wear, and how each product rose to popularity? Well, if your answer is no, you may just want to read further, as I can assure you, you will not be expecting some of the answers I have found. The history of makeup has always fascinated me, it sadly just tends to be viewed as vanity in recent times, as the historical meaning of its application ritual has become lost over the years, but I hope you enjoy these facts as much as I do. Some ancient beauty tips we still live by, whilst others were completely life threatening and couldn’t be further from what would be considered safe today. It seems that even though traditions, rules and beliefs have all changed dramatically over the years, one thing has stood the test of time, people have always striven, and will continue to strive to physically and mentally be the best person they can, and makeup has played a key factor in this, dating back at least 6000 years before now. These are far from all of the influences, but I’ve managed to put together just a few to give you an idea of where it started, and how it developed.
Ancient Egypt 2589BC:
The first signs of makeup were recorded in this time by both male and female, building pyramids meant copious amounts of sun exposure, so originally it was worn to protect their skin and eyes. Rouge made of red ochre clay, malachite mineral eyeshadow (green), henna on hair and nails and of course the classic Egyptian kohl eye liner, said to symbolise the Eye of Horus and protect the wearer from evil spirits. Only the wealthy could afford makeup and clothes so encryptions signify that the more makeup worn, the wealthier people were. Cleopatra was the last reigning pharaoh, and by the time she came to rule makeup was in full swing. Skincare was the next big thing, so she moisturised her skin from the daily over sunning by bathing in donkey milk.
Roman Era 254BC:
Cleo’s bathing set a huge trend a good few years down the line, so grand roman baths were built for all to lavishly milk bathe together and socialise. The makeup remained similar, style wise, basic kohl liner, although more toned down, and without the wing. Make-up adornment still signified wealth and hierarchy. It was in this era that philosopher Plautus stated his belief that “Woman without paint is like food without salt”, even though both men and women continued to wear make-up together.
Medieval 5th -15th Century: Pale complexion was a main focus of this time, using chalk to lighten and mattify. Eye make-up became minimal and people started creating their own cosmetics such as lip balm and hand salve from beeswax and rose water. I’m guessing somewhere along the line that rouge ochre clay became rare, or (possibly non existent?) as a new rouge pigment was introduced, it was made from a plant called ‘Angelica Archangelica’ root. Although this was far more expensive and therefore more obtainable by mainly Spanish prostitutes, as they were one of the highest earners of their time. As a result of this, the red flushed lip and cheek look was no longer sought after by women in other positions or status’, who instead now used rose water for a more natural flush and over plucked brows which are depicted on original medieval statues.
16th Century: In Elizabethan England, the leading skin care trend was to wear egg white on your face for a dewy, glazed look. Rouge was now made from carmine's (crushed beetles) which is still used as a pigment in many red or pink toned beauty products today. Dark hair and eyebrows were in high demand, so both men and women wore a bandage around their forehead at night, dripped with vinegar and cats manure, to darken natural hair and supposedly prevent a receding hairline. By this time, cosmetology was becoming an industry. People were using chemicals mixed with herbs, fruit, flowers, oils, brandy and fat to create an array of brand new products.
18th & 19th Century: With skin lightening now at its highest point in fashion, Queen Victoria herself among many other men and women turned to newly invented skin lightening creams and bleaching potions, most of which containing lead. Unbeknown at the time, these products were lethal and few people that used them survived. Flour was used to powder and mattify. The lightening and hair products were now in so much demand that the rouge craze died out for a good few years, until a revolutionary change hit the western world.
The 19 th to the 20 th century saw dramatic change in the way make-up was being worn by a large percentage of society. That percentage being predominantly male. Make-up was seen to be feminine only, as men were more highly ranked for having what then would have been classed as more masculine, strenuous, labouring jobs. They gradually stopped wearing make-up altogether in chance of being taken more seriously and seen to be more attractive and masculine by women. Women were not yet allowed to work, their job was to look as beautiful as they could, so more make-up began being purchased and used by females. Big hair, dresses embellished with bows and frills drowned the ladies of this time, with doll like painted faces to pose more attractive to the opposite sex. It seems that as hard as Emmeline Pankhurst and her band of gallant hero’s protested for us in this era, 19 th century overbearing prejudice is still what killed all hope of equality between men and women for decades to come,
20’s & 30’s: New money, high gloss glamour and dramatic change. America saw a huge rise in young millionaires, successful business owners and brokers, though unfortunately women were still not seen as workers. A woman’s job was still to look as beautiful as possible on the arm of her new moneyed husband. With new money brought new business, make up companies such as Max Factor and Maybelline were born, creating pressed powders, Panstick and an array of new lip colours. The theory went something like this; the more perfectly painted the face, the more likely you were to bag a newly rich and successful husband, happily ever after, laa dee daa dee daa. Parties were daily, hair and dresses became shinier and shorter for lightweight ease and to enable ladies to party all night. Dark lips, finely painted brows and long lashes were such a fresh trend that everyone was welcoming to their beaded and sequinned powder room cases.
40’s & 50’s: The war changed a lot for makeup and made it difficult to get hold of some previously mentioned items. Gravy browning was a favourite for legs, as stockings were unattainable, but it did do a few favours for the women of this era. Strong, capable and previously caged women were now free to work. They had no choice but to take on the roles of the men and get stuck in themselves, and boy did they pack a punch. They worked as everything from labourers to farmers, electricians and so much more. The war helped women prove to the men that they were not only totally capable of equal workmanship, but that they deserved the same respect and admiration. Due to early morning starts and multitasking, working women wore very minimal natural make-up to save time as they mostly had families to look after too. After the war, pinups and movie stars continued to set glamour trends- key looks of this era included, winged liner (egyptian influence coming back around), red lips, and again, long fluttering lashes.
60s & 70’s: As peace and love spread, so did cultural acceptance. People from different countries and beliefs began to understand each other, and finally companies started to create make-up to suit every skin tone. Colour experimenting stretched to eye shadows too, in pastel shades, and bold statement eyeliner. Lips though, became nude and skin left natural, as women started protesting for equality. Some feminists wore only eye make-up to demonstrate that women shouldn’t feel that they are only attractive with a full face of make-up, some wore none at all, as they wanted to demolish the expectations that women should wear make-up everyday but men not have to bother.
80’s: After beginning to play with colour in the 70’s, confidence began to grow. As did feminist protests, which now began to include many male influences and icons. Equality between men and women was now far more accepted, men began to wear make-up again. Gender lines started to blur with self-expression promotion, allowing not just women, but many men too, to become comfortable in their own skin and convey their magic and individuality using make-up. The new romantics brought flashbacks of the 17 th century romantics era, sporting long, wild hair and full faces of makeup, this time involving bold, block colour, symbols (Egypt, you are a megatrend setter.), neon’s and shimmer.
90’s: With so many products and trends flying around constantly, make-up fashions were ever-changing. The ‘Girl Power’ frenzy had hit hard, eyesore brights had now turned to two main 90’s trends, fresh faced teen girl bands, wearing barely there make-up to influence younger fans, aiming to help them embrace their natural beauty, using brown tones on the lip and neatly plucked brows. The second most popular trend was, of course... Grunge. pop punk and alt rock bands made a breakthrough and eyeliner worn by both men and women became ultra dark, smudged and smoky. Self -expression had now expanded even more, by having more than one key trend to this era and allowing people to experiment with whatever they felt most comfortable wearing.
Now make-up has so much history. Far more than what I’ve been able to share with you today. It’s been on a journey for longer than we probably bothered to notice, and its abilities and uses are still growing even now. In 2017, not only is every culture, every religion, man or women encouraged to be themselves and wear make-up to help express themselves, if they feel the need, but it has become a weapon, to many of us too. To help people with illness’, scars and insecurities. Mentally and physically make-up is a medicine, and we wouldn’t have it today if it weren’t for our early ancestors experimenting with nature. Make-up is not skin deep. It has an omitted power and an everlasting timeline. Like I said, this is far from the whole story. Every country has its own and all are so different. Next time you go to grab your gel liner, remember to thank good old Cleopatra.