What Was 1920s and 1930s Makeup Like

1920s Makeup

In the late Victorian era, makeup became taboo, associated only with certain professions. However, by the 1920s, young women grew tired of this restrictive attitude and embraced makeup once again. Lipstick, in particular, emerged as a symbol of the era.

In the pursuit of the perfect complexion, women on both sides of the Atlantic turned to treatments to lighten their skin and invested in various cosmetics like rouge and talcum powder. These efforts aimed to achieve a desired look that nature had not bestowed upon them.

In Europe, the battle against aging had already started. Women in Paris and London were undergoing face-lifts long before they gained popularity in the USA. While the English opted for discreet surgical procedures, such as face-lifts conducted in secrecy, American women turned to less invasive methods, focusing on skincare. Sales of products like Cold Cream soared, along with the demand for more advanced remedies.

While polite society recoiled in horror at the onslaught of eyebrow pencils, eye shadow, mascara, blusher, lip pencils and rouge, younger women reveled in it. Now that painted nails no longer signified a ‘painted woman’, blood red became the color of the decade. On every street corner beauty salons popped up, offering massages, manicures, facials, hair coloring and makeovers.

The banners of respectability were the salons’ best advertisement, and before long treatments were so popular that there were waiting lists for appointments. In addition, the universal use of make-up brought with it new dilemmas surrounding etiquette. Even the most well-bred women could now be caught brushing their hair at the table, or leaving lipstick smears on napkins. Beauty editors were swift with their advice: put yourself together before you go out, and leave yourself alone in public.

DIY beauty thrived just as much, and every department store had huge cosmetics counters. By 1925 it was estimated that American women alone spent a staggering $1 billion on beauty products.

1930s Makeup

Once, wearing make-up meant painting a questionable moral picture; The Depression of the 1930s did not diminish women’s obsession with cosmetics. They embraced a wide array of colors, moving away from the dullness of everyday life. Makeup trends shifted towards matching colors with clothing rather than skin tone, reflecting a sense of liberation and fantasy.

1930s Makeup
1930s Makeup

The healthy outdoor look soon replaced the porcelain complexions of the fickle followers of fashion. Beauty was no longer left to fate, as nearly every woman now possessed a plethora of make-up products, along with eyelash curlers, false lashes and a regular appointment with a hairdresser. Of course, exploitation touched men as well as women: once beards were deemed unfashionable, beauty houses reaped the benefits of increased sales of razors, lathers, creams and colognes.

However, the most defining beauty characteristic of the 1930s was the Hollywood star, icons like Gloria Swanson and Greta Garbo. They offered glamorous escapism from the mundane reality of the Depression. Every woman wanted to look like a star, and if she could not actually be Marlene Dietrich she could.


In the late Victorian era, makeup fell out of favor, associated with taboo professions. However, by the 1920s, a resurgence occurred, with lipstick becoming a symbol of the decade. Women sought conformity, striving for the ideal complexion through bleaching and cosmetics. The battle against aging began in Europe, while Americans embraced skincare products. Despite societal resistance, younger women embraced makeup, leading to a boom in beauty salons and DIY beauty. The 1930s saw a shift towards a healthy outdoor look and the influence of Hollywood stars like Gloria Swanson and Greta Garbo on beauty standards.

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