Home » Women’s 1950s Makeup: An Overview

Women’s 1950s Makeup: An Overview

Here’s our look at women’s 1950s makeup. Following on from the ’40s wartime austerity, the ’50s was a time of growth and prosperity. Many economies around the world blossomed and grew. The end of rationing opened up the way for new products and consumers had more spending money available. New makeup products and colours appeared, and the luxury cosmetics market took off.

Film Stars

The stars of the silver screen continued with their strong influence on the masses and impact on styles. 

 

Leading ladies include Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Dorothy Dandridge, Doris Day, and Elizabeth Taylor. Additionally, Betty Grable and swimmer Esther Williams were influential as two of the biggest box office draws of the 1950s.

1950s makeup with Marilyn Munroe
Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn.
women's 1950s makeup and Grace Kelly
Grace Kelly.

Television

Television broadcasts had resumed in the UK after total suspension during WWII.

By the early 1950s, most of the country could now pick up a TV signal, thanks to a post-war effort to increase signal coverage. Along with Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953, it resulted in a sharp increase in TV ownership during the 1950s.

Watching TV was fast becoming a popular pastime for all the family – and the variety of shows brought new ideas and influence to the masses. In addition, early 1950s TV was predominantly live – and some adverts were no different!

Makeup Brands & New Products

Wartime restrictions had meant that many products were not available. Now that rationing was over, the cosmetic market bloomed. Moreover, products were of better quality, and new colours became available.

The luxury cosmetic market took off, led by fierce opponents Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden. Not only did they sell makeup, but they also had a vast range of skincare preparations with exotic and expensively-priced ingredients.

Max Factor was still the leading brand for invention. They made products everyday women wanted to use, inspired by the actresses who wore Max Factor on and off the screen. For example, in 1953, Max Factor introduced Creme Puff – the first all-in-one base and powder. They also launched the first retail concealer in 1954, a flesh-coloured stick called Erace.

In 1952, Boots relaunched its No. 7 range, which had almost disappeared during the war. Hollywood influenced its black and gold packaging.

Avon came calling round at people’s homes to demonstrate and sell their cosmetic products.

1950s makeup with Revlon
Makeup advice from Revlon's booklet "For A Lovelier You" (1959).

The Teenager

The “teenager” emerged as an independently recognised consumer group with spending power after World War II. Young people now had disposable income – be it through jobs or their weekly allowance. Subsequently, this income was spent on whatever they liked. 

Of course, the cosmetic brands recognised this and set about getting some of that money. They marketed to this new consumer group with glee. For instance, skincare products aimed at “teenage problems” like acne became more common. 

A teenage girl wearing some makeup became more acceptable during the ’50s, potentially a right of passage into womanhood. Teen girls mainly stuck to the basics like lipstick and nail varnish, rather than wearing a full face of makeup.

Women's Classic 1950s Makeup

The classic 1950s makeup look consisted of red lipstick, with obviously made-up yet elegant eyes. It was essential to emphasise eyes while retaining a natural glamour. 

Eyeliner and mascara created the definition of the eyes. Eyeshadow was simple, with only one colour worn. Brows were arched and pencilled in to define the eyes. Rouge was worn sparingly, a mere hint to add a soft warmth to the face, and is not the main feature of 1950s makeup. 

A classic 1950s makeup.
Dorothy Dandridge in 1950s makeup
Dorothy Dandridge.

1950s Makeup Elements

Foundation

Women would always wear foundation colour-matched to the natural skin tone as much as possible, rather than trying to look tanned or pale.

1950s foundations tended to be slightly warm in colour, with a pink or peach base. They came in liquid, cream and cake formulations.

Pan-Cake, the Max Factor staple, was as popular as ever in the 1950s, selling tens of millions throughout the decade. Also, the 1953 introduction of Creme Puff was very successful, offering women an easy way to apply foundation and powder all in one go.

Powder

Powder was used to set the foundation and to keep shine at bay. It was pressed all over the face with a powder puff. A face powder brush or cotton pad would brush away the excess.

A flawless foundation that has been well powdered (1958).
Doris Day with a more natural looking foundation.

Eyeshadow

Eyeshadow came in various matt colours, including shades of grey, brown, blue, green, and violet. By the late 1950s, a shimmering lustre could be created by adding guanine, which came from fish scales and guano.

The application was minimal and, generally, one colour only was used on the upper eyelid. It was applied with the little finger and blended out to create a winged look. The colour was faded towards the brow.

women's 1950s makeup
Eye makeup advice from Dorothy Gray (about 1954).
women's 1950s makeup eyeshadow colours
Popular eyeshadow colours of the 1950s, taken from adverts and editorials.

Eyeliner

A black line along the upper lash line with a little outward flick was the fashionable fifties look throughout the decade. 

 

The doe-eyed look started in the late 1940s and continued into the early 1950s. It saw eyeliner used around the whole eye. By the mid-1950s, this had turned more into a cat-eye, with its outward flick on the upper lash line. The flick varied from long and extended to “just there” – it all depended on the wearer.

 

As emphasising the eyes was back in fashion, eyeliner pencils were now available in more colours. It included the basic blacks, browns and greys. Additionally, fashionable colours like blues, greens and purples were available.

Mascara

Block mascara was still used and needed activating with a little warm water. However, most women would just spit onto the block and mix with the small brush to create a liquid paste. There was also cream mascara in a squeezy tube that came in a small bag with an application brush.

Cream mascara with an internal wand brush first appeared in the 1950s. Both Helena Rubinstein and Max Factor laid claim to being the creator of this new method of application. Either way, it was the start of the wands rise to popularity.

Mascara came mainly in two colours, namely black and brown. However, more adventurous colours were also made, like navy blue, emerald green, grey, pistachio, and violet.

Singer Lita Roza applying block mascara (1953).
women's 1950s makeup
Winged eyeliner (1956).
Excerpt from Helena Rubinstein advert, promoting the new wand mascara.

Eyebrows

Eyebrows were arched, with brow pencil filling in and defining the shape. Furthermore, the pencil could extend the brow’s length.

The fashionable 1950s brow consisted of a strong arch and a decent thickness that tapered out at the ends. The thickness varied from medium to very thick, but skinny brows were no longer fashionable

women's 1950s makeup and brow shapes
The eyebrows of various 1950s icons. (Top L to R): Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn and Liz Taylor. (Bottom L to R): Diana Dors, Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly.

Lipstick

Lips were a strong feature of 1950s makeup, with a red shade being the predominant lipstick colour choice. Even then, red lipstick came in many shades, from the deeper blue-based colours through to lighter orange-based ones. Also worn were pink and coral colours. Towards the end of the decade, beige lipstick started to grow in popularity and this continued into the 1960s.

 

Lipstick was applied to the natural mouth shape, rather than drawing a particular shape as seen in the previous three decades. As products were matte, a sheen could be added with a lip pomade product or Vaseline. 

 

American chemist Hazel Bishop invented No-Smear Lipstick – a long-lasting lipstick first introduced to consumers in 1950. Sales were nothing short of phenomenal, from a mere $50k in 1950 to over $10 million in 1953.

Some typical 1950s lipstick colours. These are Revlon colours launched in the '50s. From L to R: Stormy Pink (1950), Love That Red (1951), Certainly Red (1951), Fire And Ice (1952), Cherries In The Snow (1953), Hot Coral (1956) and Persian Melon (1957).

Rouge

Rouge was used sparingly and is not a prominent feature of 1950s makeup. It came in the colours of soft pinks, reds and corals.

To warm up the face and add a soft glow, rouge was applied around the temples and forehead. It was also used to contour the face. For example, an oval face was considered to be the perfect face shape, so rouge was used to help the face appear as oval as possible.

Cream and liquid rouge was applied after foundation but before powder. Whereas powder rouge would be applied after the face powder.

1950s makeup colours
Colour chart from Pond’s Beauty Book (1958).

Nail Polish

Manufacturers co-ordinated their nail enamel colours with their lipsticks. Therefore, reds, pinks and corals were popular nail colours. 

Find Out More

Sources:
Corson, R. (2004). Fashions in Makeup: From Ancient to Modern Times. Peter Owen.
Peiss, K. (2011). Hope In A Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture. First University of Pennsylvania.
Sherrow V. (2001). For Appearances’ Sake: The Historical Encyclopedia of Good Looks, Beauty and Grooming. Greenwood.

13 thoughts on “Women’s 1950s Makeup: An Overview”

  1. The 1950 era is quiet inspiring. This information was very useful throughout my studies. Great site.
    regards Misty

  2. I am writing about my mother in Los Angeles in 1952. Anyone who has written about the red lipsticks, their Sheen, creamy texture, shades, I would appreciate hearing from you. Thank you.

  3. I am writing about the 1950s and my mother who was famous at the time. I would love to hear from anyone who was in Los Angeles 1952 and who has Written about lipstick color I’m looking for words language to describe the creamy dark red. Thank you

    1. You can still get some of the Revlon lipstick colours started in the 1950s (as listed in the post) e.g. “Cherries in the Snow” and “Stormy Pink” are still available. Max Factor’s Pan-Cake is still going strong, as is Creme Puff powder 🙂

  4. I loved your HONEY color lipstick back in the 1950’s. It was my first lipstick. Is there any chance that you still make that color but maybe have a different name on it? Please let me know. Thank you.

    1. Hi Eleanore. We don’t make any cosmetics – we are simply makeup artists writing about stuff!

  5. I really like the make up trend of the ’50’s and I tend to lean toward reds for my lipstick. I also apply lightly blush on my cheekbones, around my temples, and across my forehead for a more natural look. Great article!

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