The Fascinating History of Eyeliner, From the 1920s to Today
You might think that eyeliner was always part of a classic beauty routine, but until the 1920s, the average American woman had never even heard of eyeliner.
It's true—every girl's must-have eye makeup product burst onto our country's beauty scene less than 100 years ago. In part, this had to do with women abandoning fashions of the Victorian era and embracing new influences from stage actors, dancers, film stars, and photography.
But eyeliner's popularity didn't really skyrocket until the year 1922, when archaeologists discovered King Tutankhamun's tomb in Egypt. This event introduced the western world to Egyptian eyeliner styles, which quickly caught on in the United States.
Over the past 100 years, American eyeliner styles have evolved in the most fascinating way, and we've gathered photographic proof. Keep scrolling to see vintage photographs of eyeliner styles through the decades!
The 1920s were a time of experimentation for women, and they applied their eyeliner with a sense of drama. Heavy black eyeliner styles were huge at the time, and brands like Maybelline, Revlon, and Max Factor generated over $1 billion a year on kohl shadows. Women also made their own DIY versions of the product with petroleum jelly and soot.
Re-create this vintage style with Make Up For Ever's Kohl Pencil in Black 1K ($28).
By the 1930s, edgy black eye makeup was replaced with softer finishes like shimmery shadows and feminine pinks. Mascara had become a makeup essential by this time, as did faint, pencil-thin eyebrows.
Eyeliner was typically worn just on the upper lid, traced right against the lashline from the inner corner to the outer corner, ending in a slightly upturned flick.
Eyeliner took a backseat to pouty, matte red lips in the 1940s. If worn at all, the go-to eyeliner style involved a thin line, applied right against the upper lash line. Sometimes the line had a subtle wing at the end, but nothing dramatic.
Here's when we started getting into cat-eye territory. Post-war beauty was all about femininity, and that included using black pencil to create an alluring almond shape around the eyes.
Multiple colours of eyeliner were available at the time: brown, grey, purple, blue, green. But black remained the most in vogue and was often paired with a light lip à la Brigitte Bardot.
Sixties eyeliner took the drama of the '50s and amplified it. The most popular style was winged liner on the upper lid, paired with dramatic lashes. Sometimes falsies were worn, and sometimes eyeliner was used to paint spidery lashes on the bottom (Twiggy's signature look). By the '60s, multiple eyeliner shades and formulas were available, including pencil, cake, and liquid.
Get Twiggy's look with Kat Von D's Ink Liner ($28).
After the sharp looks of the '60s, eyeliner took a slightly more natural turn. In the 1970s, mod black liquid liner was replaced with softer browns and smudgier styles. Long, bold lashes were still very much in vogue.
Hello, colour! The '80s saw heavy, smudged eyeliner paired with pastel eye shadow and frosted lips. Sometimes the eyeliner was basic black, but often it was technicolour neon, just like the spandex.
Bring back the '80s with some loud liquid eyeliner like Nyx's Vivid Brights Eyeliner ($11).
She's in the Glow
As you might remember, '90s makeup was all about skinny lines—from pencil-thin brows to inconspicuous lip pencil to slim black eyeliner in the waterline. Conversely, there was also the '90s grunge look, which involved thick black liner all around the eye, as seen on Courtney Love.
In middle school, high school, and college, we modeled our eyeliner after the smoky looks of our favourite pop stars. Lots of smudgy black eyeliner pencil was involved, as were light pink Lancôme Juicy Tubes ($46) and liberal splashes of Victoria's Secret Love Spell ($24).
(Want more nostalgia from this decade? Check out what happened when I followed an early-2000s beauty routine for a week.)
In the age of YouTube tutorials and Instagram makeup, the signature eyeliner style of our current decade has to be a graphic, precise cat-eye. Liquid or gel eyeliner is usually used to execute this look. Shop the three easiest liquid eyeliners to apply.
Tag us on Instagram using @byrdiebeauty.au so we can see your gorgeous eyeliner looks!