Women’s 1970s Makeup: An Overview

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1970s-womens-makeupLike the ’60s, the ’70s was a diverse decade for makeup looks. Women’s 1970s makeup went from super glam mode, gave a nod to retro smoky eyes and skinny brows, revolved around the glitter ball of decadent disco and pogo-ed into avant-garde punk. From barely there to in your face, the makeup looks seen in the decade were as opposite as you could get!

Influences on 1970s Makeup

Woman’s Lib

Women’s liberation and feminism was growing in power and, consequentially, had an impact on advertising and the cosmetics industry.

Never one to miss a trick (or a potential sale), brands started to steer away from old-fashioned portrayals of women to appeal to the new independent woman.

It had its successes, including Revlon’s fragrance Charlie. Launched in 1973 , the advert was the first to feature a woman in trousers, and was aimed at the sassy independent woman. It was a best seller. Subsequently, other companies followed suit with their own scents for ‘the liberated woman’.

Charlie by Revlon
Charlie by Revlon – launched in 1973 and aimed at the independent woman.

Going Natural

Feminism presented a dilemma to the wearing of makeup for the ‘liberated’, who didn’t want to be seen as a sex object. However, wearing makeup had been ingrained into the psyche since birth. This resulted in consumers wanting more natural products and believing that ‘beauty is from within’.

Consequntly, the beauty industry was happy to provide products described as “natural”, “barely there” or “invisible”. It was a clever sidestep, allowing woman to keep wearing makeup and buying the products.

1970 womens lib
The Womenโ€™s Strike for Equality march in New York 1970, showing the fashion for long straight hair and natural-looking makeup.


Nostalgia was big, especially for the looks and styles that were popular during the 1920s through to the 1950s. For example, in the first half of the 1970s, there was a 1920s revival. Period films like The Boy Friend (1971), The Great Gatsby (1974) and The Great Waldo Pepper (1975) brought the 1920s alive. In turn, this inspired doll-like faces with smoky eyes and skinny brows. Makeup brands (including Revlon, Biba and Mary Quant) used a 1920s-inspired look in cosmetic adverts.

Similarly, the 1940s was also looked back on with fondness. Nevertheless, the 1970s makeup take of the 1940s was more a nod to the main trends of that era, rather than being a direct copy. It was also a way for advertisers to jump on board the nostalgia train, ultimately to sell products.

Yardley Tweed advert 1971
Yardley advert for its Tweed perfume acknowledging the love of ’40s fashions (1971).


Films were as influential as ever on fashion. One film that had a significant impact on both the Art Deco revival and the post-glam, pre-punk brigade was Cabaret (1972). A tale of divine decadence and androgyny in 1930s Berlin clubland, there was black and white styling, a boyish girl in massive false eyelashes and a man in loads of makeup.

Liza Minelli and Joel Grey in Bob Fosse’s 1972 film Cabaret.

Saturday Night Fever (1977) and its best-selling soundtrack by the Bee Gees contributed to broaden disco’s popularity. This dance craze of mid- to late-’70s was all the thing, until it fell out of fashion by the end of the decade.


Disco was decadent, with glittery, glossy and shimmery makeup designed to be seen. In the mid-1970s, American makeup artist Way Bandy utilised the boogie-nights look of smoky eyes twinned with red lips, giving it his mark and techniques.

Donna Summer was the disco queen and always looked glamorous. Other singers that inspired makeup (and hair) include Debbie Harry (with those red lips), Cher and punk mistress Siouxsie Sioux.

While disco was sexy and brazen, the music upstart of the decade was, of course, punk.

Initially a backlash to the difficult social and economic situation of the ’70s, especially for the young, punk seemingly crashed out of nowhere. However, it was not just a sound, but a lifestyle.

The makeup was highly expressive, worn by men and women alike. The hard facial makeup was largely unblended and included pale skin with dramatic eyes, brows and cheeks. It was provocative, ferocious and tribal.


Magazines were incredibly popular for teens and adults alike, offering endless style advice, including how to achieve the lastest makeup look.

Some were tailored to a specific demographic. For example, Cosmopolitan was for the young independent woman, Ebony for African-American women, and teen mags like Jackie (UK) and Dynamite (USA) published stories, beauty tips and gossip in a format that resonated with teenage girls.

Feminist magazines sprung up out of the feminist movement, aiming to provide more than knitting patterns, beauty tips and marriage advice.

Ms. Magazine (USA, launched in 1971) and Spare Rib (UK, 1972-1993) talked about domestic violence, abortion, rape, sexual harassment and other issues that the mainstream mags stayed away from. They resonated with women across America and Britain respectively by keeping women in touch with the latest developments and issues.

Debbie Harry Cosmopolitan 1978
Debbie Harry, singer of the New Wave/punk band Blondie, on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine (December 1978), looking as glam as always with red lips and two-tone hair.

Makeup Brands

There were lots of makeup choices, including Revlon, Max Factor, Yardley, Coty, Helena Rubinstein, Elizabeth Arden, Maybelline and Bourjois. All the familiar names were main players in the cosmetics market, though success varied from country to country.

For example, Rimmel and Yardley were popular in their home turf of Britain, but less so overseas. Cover Girl and Maybelline were mainstream in the United States, but, again, had less hold on the international markets.

Biba started in the ’60s in Britain and continued into the mid-’70s. Biba had huge success during this time because they were on trend and did things differently to most of the competition.

Punk was a working-class revolution and, therefore, inexpensive makeup that was available to everyone appealed far more than expensive brands. The more affordable brands in the UK included Rimmel, Miners, Outdoor Girl and Boots 17.

(L to R) Classic more natural looking 1970s makeup; Pic from 1975; and Farrah Fawcett, a major influence to young women.

Makeup for Women of Colour

It was during the ’70s that the makeup needs of women of colour started to be properly recognised. This lead to new makeup brands being launched just for them. For instance, Fashion Fair cosmetics debuted in 1973, and had adverts featuring Natalie Cole, Aretha Franklin and Diahann Carroll. More black and ethnic women started being used in advertising.

Established brands also started to expand their ranges to include makeup for darker skin tones. Avon was way ahead of other brands. For instance, it had started to use black women in the 1950s to sell to its black customers and progressed to using women of colour in its international adverts, rather than just white models.

In 1974, Vogue was the first mainstream magazine to feature a black model, Beverly Johnson, on the front cover.

Avon - Candid (1970s)
Avon advert featuring Barbara Summers.

1970s Makeup Elements

The soft and natural look remained in vogue throughout the decade, running parallel to colourful fads and trends, such as the 1920s revival, the Pierrot look (as seen in Vogue in 1975) and punk.

Blusher and Bronzer

Everyday blusher was quite natural throughout the decade in both application and the colours used. From the mid-’70s onward, blusher also started to become more prominent, ending up as more defined stripes on each cheek, sometimes from the temples down.

Blusher came in various formulations, including powders, gels (like Charles of the Ritz gel cheek pomade) and creams (Yardley’s The Apple Polishers).

The tanned look was popular, therefore bronzer was used to create a gentle sun-kissed look.


Fashionable brows were on the thinner side, from being plucked incredibly thin in a curve, to just slightly thicker and shaped with an arch. The thin, curved brows were reminiscent of the Art Deco skinny brow, as seen on Liza Minnelli in Cabaret.


Eyeliner might not be worn by those who favoured a more natural look, otherwise liner could be worn on the upper and/or lower lids. A heavy and well-defined approach was favoured by punks, goths and the new wave army.

Eyeliner came in pencil and liquid formulations with an applicator (e.g. Yardley’s Easy Liner, which came in black, blue, green, grey, burgundy and brown).

White eyeliner worn directly behind black or blue eyeliner on the upper eyelid was popular with some younger women and teenagers.

The teen face of the ’70s. Ideas for eye makeup from teen favourite Just Seventeen magazine.


Popular colours were blues, greens and purples, as can be seen in the adverts of the era. Similarly, earthy tones were popular. White, silver or a similar pale colour could be used under the eyebrow to add highlight.

Eyeshadow finishes could be matte or have a pearlescent or iridescent sheen to them. Words like ‘frost’ and ‘velvet’ were often used to describe them.

Formulations included pressed powder, liquid and creams. Eye crayons, shaped like a kid’s crayon, were available from various brands, including Max Factor, Boots 17 and Natural Wonder. Compacts consisting of several colours were also available.

The eye crease, so definite in the ’60s, continued into the ’70s for some makeup looks. However, it was now blended to create a soft depth and a cat-like or almond shape. There were no hard edges or unblended lines in 1970s makeup (with the exception of punk).

Many women didn’t use a crease colour, just one main colour all over the lids, with an optional lighter colour under the brow.

Maybelline advert c1970s
Blues, greens and purples were the common eyeshadow colours (Maybelline advert).
Boots 17 Colour Crayons
Advert for Boots 17 Colour Crayons (c.1974). Main model has a look that is reminiscent of the 1920s with thin curved brows and a smoky eye look – a fashion trend in the early 1970s.

Lipstick and Gloss

Deep fruit colours like plums, mulberry and cranberry were popular in the early ’70s.

Pastels, peaches and pinks were worn throughout the decade, part of the more natural look, with many products using fruits and flowers in the product’s descriptions.

Red lips made a comeback in the 1970s, riding on the nostalgia trip that looked back to the mature glamour and sophistication of the 1940s and ’50s.

Lipsticks with gloss and sheen were very fashionable, and there was a bit of experimentation with flavoured lip products, albeit with mixed success.

Lips were not heavily lined with pencil – as in, no lip liner lines were visible, even if liner was used.

Super shiny lip gloss was very popular, marketed in particular to teens and younger women. Glosses came in various sheer colours. Some ranges were flavoured, which varied from fruity tangs and mint, to things like bubble gum.

While glosses did come in pots or tubes with an applicator inside the lid, the roller ball method of application was particularly trendy. Such products included Bonne Bell Lip-Smackers, and Maybelline’s Kissing Potion.


The old block mascaras had now given way to the tube-with-wand mascaras and came in various basic colours, including black, brown, blue, green and grey. Brighter colours were also made, for example, turquoise, raspberry and lavender.

Mascara was worn on both upper and lower lashes. However, it could be quite liberally applied or barely there, depending on the tastes of the individual and whether it was for daytime (for example, work or school) or going out.

False eyelashes could still be worn, though they tended to be more subtle to emphasis the natural lashes. The fashion for wearing big false lashes had been left in the 1960s.

Nail Polish

Nail polish came in all colours from light to dark, and in various finishes, including glittery and pearlised. At the same time, nails could be left natural or just painted with a touch of clear gloss.

The French Manicure was created in the mid-’70s by Jeff Pink, founder of Orly. He was inspired by the Parisian models who rubbed white pencil under their nail tips.

Nails were manicured with a rounded tip, though square nails started to come into vogue, possibly inspired by Cher.

New products and application methods came in for false nails (like plastic nail tips) via the manicure bars and beauty salons, for those who could afford it. If not, we’ve read about how women who wanted super long nails would super glue nail clippings to the end of their nails! Moving on…

Natural Wonder advert (1970s)
A rainbow of nail colours from Natural Wonder (advert c.1975) on rounded nails. Look at the pencil thin brows!


Punk had such a unique look compared to the mass fashion trends of the decade it needs its own section. Makeup was not classically elegant – it was bold and anarchic, yet artistic.

The Look

Lipstick was most likely blood red or jet black. As well as simply applying it to the natural lip shape, one popular look was to draw pointed edges on the upper lip, often going above the natural lip line.

Blusher wasn’t always worn, but if it was, it wasn’t used to add a defined beauty to the cheeks. It was applied with little blending, no soft edges and no apology. For example, it could be a bold strip down the cheek bones, or a triangle from the temples down to the cheeks. It was whatever the wearer wished.

Foundation was used to create a pale base, so white and pale coloured products were used.

A popular look for eyes was an exaggerated cat-eye shape or heavy, solid flicks in black liner. Similarly, the whole upper eye area could be filled in with dark, bold colours and squared-off edges. Lines were also drawn out from the eyes and brows, creating individual geometric shapes and patterns.

Some punk makeup may have looked as if it was done in a hurry, but it was applied deliberately and with care. Certainly it took as long as it needed for the look to be achieved.

Body Art

Face and body piercings were in, and didn’t just involve regular jewellery. For example, safety pins and razor blades were worn in piercings as much as in clothing. Likewise, chains would be draped from ear piercings to noses or lips.

Tattooing also went against socially acceptable conventions, and designs featured punk iconography like skulls, the grim reaper and ghoulish caricatures.

1970s punk
Punks. (Top) The swastika was used to shock and cause outrage, rather than indicating Nazi sentiments. Far from it. (Middle) Exaggerated winged eyes; Intricate facial art, bold cheek strips and black lips. (Bottom) Siouxsie Sioux with pointed lipstick and ornate eye makeup.

Suntans and Tanning 

Having a suntan was in. It all started in the 1930s, and had remained in vogue ever since.

People liked a suntan, spurred on by the healthy glow associated with leisure time and beach holidays. Similarly, the sun-kissed look of the skateboarding and surf riding California crowd, tanned models in magazines and influential women such as Farrah Fawcett also encouraged tanning.

Sea & Ski - suntan (1970s)
Definitely taken a fall into the gravy…

Suntan products were used to accelerate the tanning process, rather than protect. Likewise, tanning beds were becoming more commonly available to the public in commercial tanning studios.

Many women (and men) used to sunbath just smothered in baby oil and the use of foil reflectors under faces was not unheard of. Yup, skin BBQs were taking place on sunny beaches at home and in every package holiday destination across the globe.

Affordable package holidays took off in the 1970s, meaning many more families in Britain could go somewhere for extra hot holiday sunshine.

Sun Damage

Reports were reaching the media about the damage caused by sunbathing. Dermatologists were starting to see the skin damage done to the sun worshipers of the ’30s and ’40s. Subsequently, the beauty industry responded by making tanning lotions with more sun protection, as well as products to counteract sun damage. In fact, the sun protection factor (SPF) rating system was implemented during the 1970s.

However, whatever dangers were known about excessive tanning, or the links being made to cancer, many people simply ignored the warnings and carried on sun bathing without due care.


So in summary, that’s our overview of women’s 1970s makeup. It was a decade of significant change for women, where disco was the decadent queen, nostalgia created fads, natural was in, and punk kicked everyone’s behind, setting a precedent for street trends and youth culture. This was to inspire even more outlandish makeup in the eighties – the decade of shoulder pads, massive hair, yuppies, and Dynasty.

Find Out More:

Corson, R. 2004.  Fashions in Makeup: From Ancient to Modern Times. Peter Owen. 664pp.
Inness, Sherrie A. 2003. Disco Divas: Women and Popular Culture in the 1970s. University of Pennsylvania Press. 248pp.
Jones, G. 2010. Beauty Imagined:A History of the Global Beauty Industry. Oxford University Press. 444pp.
Sherrow, V. 2001. For Appearances’ Sake: The Historical Encyclopedia of Good Looks, Beauty and Grooming. Greenwood Press. 288pp.

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