Women’s makeup in the 1970s was diverse. It 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 the barely-there natural looks to super glam sheen, the makeup trends in the 1970s were as opposite as you could get. Here’s our guide to the makeup colours and looks of this decade.
Influences on 1970s Makeup
Women’s liberation and feminism were growing in power and, consequentially, had an impact on advertising and the cosmetics industry.
Never one to miss a trick (or a potential sale), some brands started to steer away from old-fashioned portrayals of women as sex objects and home-makers 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”.
Feminism presented a dilemma to the wearing of makeup for the liberated woman, who didn’t want to be seen as a sex object.
However, for many, the wearing of makeup had been ingrained into the psyche since birth. This resulted in consumers wanting more natural products, believing that beauty is from within and not painted on.
Consequently, the beauty industry was happy to provide products described as natural, barely-there or invisible. It was a clever sidestep, allowing a woman to keep wearing makeup and buying the products.
There was also an interest in self-improvement and well-being. More women were taking note of the ingredients in products and how to improve their health. Again, cosmetic brands started to emphasise the ingredients they saw as more natural.
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 and Mary Quant) used a 1920s-inspired look in their 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.
Films were as influential as ever on fashion and those set in the 1920s and 1930s helped inspire the Art Deco revival.
One film that had a significant impact on both the Art Deco revival and the 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.
Saturday Night Fever (1977) and its best-selling soundtrack by the Bee Gees contributed to broaden disco’s popularity. This dance craze of the mid-1970s onwards was all the thing until it had fallen 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, later in the decade, 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 1970s, 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 intentionally aggressive and included unnaturally 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 (launched in 1971) and Spare Rib (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.
Makeup for Women of Colour
It was during the 1970s that the makeup needs of women of colour started to be better recognised, leading to new makeup brands being launched. For instance, Fashion Fair cosmetics debuted in 1973, and had adverts featuring Natalie Cole, Aretha Franklin and Diahann Carroll.
In 1974, Beverly Johnson appeared on the cover of American Vogue – the first time an African-American woman had been on the cover of a mainstream fashion magazine. 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.
1970s Makeup Elements
Everyday blusher was quite natural throughout the decade in both application and the colours used. From the mid-1970s onward, blusher could be used more prominently, with 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).
Having a tanned look was popular – 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 slightly thicker brows 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, eyeliner 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 (like 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.
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 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 1960s, continued into the 1970s for some makeup looks. However, it was now blended to create a soft depth and a cat-like or almond shape.
Conversely, many women didn’t use a crease colour, They preferred one main colour all over the lids, with an optional lighter colour under the brow. There were no hard edges or unblended lines in 1970s makeup (except for punk).
Lipstick & Gloss
In the early 1970s, deep fruit colours like plums, mulberry and cranberry were popular.
Pastels like peach, raspberry and pinks were worn throughout the decade – part of the more natural look.
Red lips made a comeback in the 1970s. In particular, they can be seen in the early part of the decade, thanks in part to nostalgia for the 1920s and 1940s, and then again from the mid-1970s onwards.
Lips were not heavily lined with pencil – as in, no lip liner lines were visible, even if the liner was used.
Lipsticks with gloss and sheen were very fashionable. There was also a bit of experimentation with flavoured lip products, albeit with mixed success. Many lip products used fruits and flowers in the product descriptions.
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 rollerball method of application was particularly trendy. Such products included Bonne Bell Lip-Smackers and Maybelline’s Kissing Potion.
The old block mascaras of previous decades had now firmly given way to the tube-with-wand mascaras.
Wand mascara came in various basic colours, including black, brown, blue, green, and grey. Brighter colours like turquoise, raspberry and lavender were also made.
Mascara was worn on both upper and lower lashes. However, it could be liberally applied or barely there, depending on the tastes of the individual. It also depended on whether the makeup was for daytime 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 eyelashes had been left in the 1960s.
Nail polish came in all colours from light to dark. There were also various finishes available, 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 some women who wanted super long nails would superglue nail clippings to the end of their nails! Moving on…!
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 a healthy glow being associated with leisure time and beach holidays.
Similarly, tanning was encouraged by the sun-kissed look of the skateboarding and surf riding California crowd, tanned models in magazines and influential women such as Farrah Fawcett.
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.
Reports were reaching the media about the damage caused by sunbathing. Dermatologists were starting to see the skin damage done to the sun worshippers of the 1930s and 1940s.
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 sunbathing without due care.
Makeup Fads & Trends
There were a couple of short-lived fads or trends in the 1970s, including:
1971 – the highly painted doll face, inspired by the Art Deco revival.
1972 – the Walt Disney princess look, after makeup artist Barbara Daly created a Snow White look for Vogue using Mary Quant makeup.
1975 – The Pierrot which included a heavy mask-like foundation and a Cupid’s Bow mouth. Created for the Christmas cover of British Vogue.