Home » Women’s 1970s Makeup: An Overview

Women’s 1970s Makeup: An Overview

Women’s 1970s makeup 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.

Women's Lib

Women’s liberation and feminism were growing in power. Consequentially, it had an impact on advertising and the cosmetics industry. The most radical feminists were for the abandonment of makeup as they felt it objectified women. Sales of cosmetics in the 1970s fell flat and advertisers had to change course to make the most of it.

Never one to miss a trick (or a potential sale), 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 – aimed at the sassy, independent woman. It was a best seller. Subsequently, other companies followed suit with their scents for “the liberated woman”.

Going Natural

Feminism and wearing makeup was a paradox for the liberated woman. She didn’t want to be seen as a sex object, but why shouldn’t she wear makeup?

For many women, wearing makeup had been ingrained into the psyche since birth. It 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. The cosmetic brands responded by emphasising the so-called natural ingredients in their products.

The Women’s Strike for Equality march in New York 1970, showing the fashion for long straight hair and natural-looking makeup.

Nostalgia

Nostalgia was a big trend, especially for the looks and styles popular from the 1920s 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, these 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.

Yardley Tweed (1971)
Yardley advert for its Tweed perfume acknowledging the love of 1940s fashions (1971).
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.

Films

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). It was 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. It was the dance craze of the mid-1970s onwards until it fell out of fashion at the end of the decade.

Music

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, punk was the music upstart of the decade. Punk seemingly crashed out of nowhere. It was initially a backlash to the difficult social and economic situation of the 1970s, especially for the young. However, it was not just a sound, but a lifestyle.

The makeup was highly expressive, worn by men and women alike. The harsh facial makeup was intentionally aggressive and included unnaturally pale skin with dramatic eyes, brows and cheeks. It was provocative, ferocious and tribal.

Television

Charlie’s Angels (1976-81) showcased the talents of Farah Fawcett, Kate Jackson, Jaclyn Smith, and Cheryl Ladd – all influential when it comes to hair and makeup. They were traditional sex symbols but also sassy with attitude and freedom. 

Not only did they adorn our screens, but the ladies featured on the cover of magazines galore. Young women and girls everywhere wanted to copy their style. 

Other strong female icons of 1970s television include The Bionic Woman (1976-8). Television also gave women access to trend-setting pop stars via programmes like Top Of The Pops.

women's 1970s makeup
Vogue covers from April 1970, June 1970 and March 1971.

Makeup for Women of Colour

During the 1970s, the makeup needs of women of colour started to be better recognised. It led to the launch of new makeup brands for black women. For instance, Fashion Fair cosmetics debuted in 1973 and had adverts featuring Natalie Cole, Aretha Franklin and Diahann Carroll

In 1974, model Beverly Johnson appeared on the cover of American Vogue – the first time an African-American woman had been on a mainstream fashion magazine. Additionally, more black and ethnic women started to be seen in advertisements.

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 black female representatives in the 1950s selling to its black customers. Avon then progressed to using women of colour in its international adverts, rather than just white models.

1970s Makeup Elements

Foundation

Having a sheen or pearlescent glow to the skin was popular – all part of the natural, youthful look. Heavy foundation was not part of the natural look either, making sheer products popular.

Eyeshadow

Shades of blue, green and purple were the popular colours – as seen in the adverts of the era. Earthy tones were also popular. White or silver could be used under the eyebrow to add highlight.

Eyeshadows could be matte, but a pearlescent or iridescent sheen was highly fashionable – illustrated with words like frost and velvet.

Formulations included pressed powder, liquid and creams. Cream eyeshadow came in small pots or in stack tubes, which offered various fashionable shades.

Eye crayons (shaped like a kid’s crayon) were available from several brands, including Max Factor, Boots 17 and Natural Wonder. Compacts consisting of several colours were also available.

The darker 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 with a cat-like or almond shape. Interestingly, many women didn’t use a crease colour. They preferred one colour all over the lids, with an optional lighter shade under the brow. 

There were no hard edges or unblended lines in 1970s makeup (except for punk). It was soft and shimmery.

The teen face of the 1970s. Ideas for eye makeup from teen favourite Seventeen magazine.
Maybelline eyeshadow colours.

Eyeliner

Eyeliner might not be worn by those who favoured a more natural look. Otherwise, eyeliner could be worn on the upper and lower lids as required. Punks, goths and the new wave army favoured a heavy and well-defined approach.

Eyeliner came in pencil, as well as liquid formulations with an applicator. For example, Yardley’s Easy Liner 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.

Mascara

The old block mascaras of previous decades had now given way to the tube-and-wand mascaras. They came in various colours, including black, brown, blue, green, and grey. Brighter colours were also made, like turquoise, raspberry and lavender.

Mascara was worn according to the tastes of the individual. For example, it could be applied liberally to both the upper and lower lashes or have a more subtle application. It also depended on whether the makeup was for daytime or going out.

Some women still wore false eyelashes. However, the fashion for big and extravagant false lashes had been left in the 1960s. A more natural approach was now favoured.

women's 1970s makeup
(L to R): Seventeen magazine, Elizabeth Taylor and Vogue (all from 1974).

Eyebrows

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.

Blusher

Everyday blusher was quite natural throughout the decade in both application and the colours used. From the mid-1970s onward, blusher could be applied 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 applied all over the face to create a gentle sun-kissed look.

Lipstick

In the early 1970s, deep fruit colours like plum, mulberry and cranberry were fashionable. Pastel shades like peach, raspberry and pink were worn throughout the decade. Earthy colours and nudes were also popular – a part of the more natural look. 

Red lips made a comeback in the early 1970s, thanks in part to nostalgia for the 1920s and 1940s. They also had a second wind in the later 1970s.

Lipsticks with gloss and sheen were fashionable. In general, lip liner was not visible, even if one was applied.

Lip Gloss

Super shiny lip gloss was highly fashionable and marketed in particular to teens and younger women. Lip gloss came in a variety of sheer colours, including pinks, plums, nudes and clear.

There was also a bit of experimentation with flavoured lip gloss, albeit with mixed success. Ranges flavoured with fruity tangs, mint and food items like bubble gum and cola were popular.

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

Cover Girl lip glosses (1974).
women's 1970s makeup
Max Factor lip colours (1974).

Nail Polish

Nail polish came in all sorts of colours, from light to dark. There were also various finishes available, including glittery and pearlised. However, nails did not have to be brightly coloured. They could also 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, inspired by the Parisian models who rubbed white pencil under their nail tips.

 

Nails were manicured with a rounded tip. Square nails also 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.

women's 1970s makeup
(Left and top row): April 1976, March 1977 and August 1978. (Bottom and right): April 1978, August 1979 and Vogue cover December 1979.

The Suntan

Having a suntan was in and all the rage. It started in the 1920s 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, 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 accelerated the tanning process rather than protect the skin. Likewise, tanning beds were becoming more commonly available to the public in commercial tanning studios.

Many women (and men) used to sunbathe just smothered in baby oil – and using foil reflectors under faces was not unheard. Yup, skin BBQs were taking place on sunny beaches at home and in every package holiday destination!

Affordable package holidays took off in the 1970s, meaning many more families in Britain could go somewhere for 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 worshippers of the 1930s and 1940s. 

Subsequently, the beauty industry responded by making tanning lotions with more sun protection. It also made products to counteract sun damage. Interestingly, the sun protection factor (SPF) rating system – still used to this day – was implemented during the 1970s.

However, despite knowing about the danger of excessive tanning, or the links made to cancer, many people just ignored the warnings and carried on sunbathing without due care.

Sea & Ski suntan 1970s beauty advert
Sea & Ski suntan advert.
Suntan advert (1976)
Suntan advert (1976)

1970s 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. It included a heavy mask-like foundation and a Cupid’s Bow mouth. British Vogue created the look for the Christmas cover.

Find Out More

Sources:

Corson, R. (2004). Fashions in Makeup: From Ancient to Modern Times. Peter Owen.

Inness, Sherrie A. (2003). Disco Divas: Women and Popular Culture in the 1970s. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Jones, G. (2010). Beauty Imagined:A History of the Global Beauty Industry. Oxford University Press.

Sherrow, V. (2001). For Appearances' Sake: The Historical Encyclopedia of Good Looks, Beauty and Grooming. Greenwood Press.

34 thoughts on “Women’s 1970s Makeup: An Overview”

  1. Do you remember et the eyeshadow that came in a round ball like an eyeball? I think it was made by Covergirl….they were my first exposure to white, silver and blue eyeshadow!

    What about Yucca Dew shampoo, the best smelling on the planet!

    1. What I remember, and it may be the same or similar, were the Covergirl? stacking, creamy eyeshadow pots. They were flat on the bottom, but had a bubble dome for a lid. Every now and then the lid would get condensation on it, and you could see the colour, thru the top, as it wasn’t clear anymore. You could buy them in a package as singles, or in a multipack of 3, 4, or 5? They were fun, and something different. I used them alot. I had green, blue, brown, and a peachy colour. I used to just use my index finger for applying. I just can’t find an online picture of them.
      Yes, I recall, but had forgotten about Yucca Dew shampoo. Very scented.

  2. I’m 60 now and was a teen during the ’70’s. I remember blue and green mascara that was really fun and had such a distinct, artificial ‘fun’ smell. I’ll never forget it, it smelled sort of like candy. I ended up ruining my eyebrows though. I had very naturally thick and beautiful brows and I plucked them almost completely off for my entire teen years because that was the style….and they never grew back!! If I had known that would happen, I’d have tossed the tweezers. I also recall that every girl wanted hair like Cher or Farrah Fawcett.

    1. Hi Kim – thanks for sharing your memories 🙂 Yeah the skinny brow look was probably the undoing of many an eyebrow!

  3. Do you know of any articles like this about younger girls? Or have any tips? I’m drawing a character who was 14 in the late 70’s, and was trying to figure out what- if any- makeup she would have. She’s a spunky little kid, so I imagine she’d have gone for the bolder side of things.

    1. Hi Z – don’t know of any articles off top of my head. Being a mid-teen during that time, girls generally went down the classic late ’70s look – thinner eyebrows, super shiny lips, blue or black eyeliner, blue (or green or purple) eye shadow and mascara (and long, flicked hair with wings, or the shorter wedge). Siouxsie Sioux and Debbie Harry often wore red lips, so we copied them if away from school. Rock and New Wave music influenced us too – check out the bands/artists of that era. Some had bolder looks that girls copied, like winged eyeliner that went both outward and into the inner eye (towards the nose)! Not as “in your face” as punk was.

    1. Try “Vermont Country Store” online they carry the Tangee products that were popular and many other hair and body care products as well.

  4. What was name of the shimmery bronze foundation sold in the 70s. May have been Max Factor. As I recall it was “whipped” foundation very shimmery!

  5. Hi Can anyone remember the name of a lipstick made by miners ,It was a light coloured beige similar to a pan stick or concealer ,It was something like sugar baby or sugar candy ,HELP. ….I am putting a box of memories together for my lifelong friend 60th birthday. If anyone has a pic would be grateful if you could send me it thanks for reading gill

  6. Where can I find “Essentia” brand cosmetics from the 1970s? Sold at Lord and Taylor and other national stores.

    1. No idea Carolee, sorry. Not heard of Essentia before, and a quick Google search brings up nothing, be it information on this brand or retro items for sale (as it seems the brand is no more).

  7. cheryl hutchison

    Does anyone know what happened to Beauty Councellors makeup. It was marketed like tupperware, as makeup parties,,

    1. Have to admit never heard of the brand before. A quick Google to satisfy our curiosity brings up ads from the 40s and 50s, but that’s about all we gleaned! Sorry no idea. If anyone out there knows, please comment 🙂

  8. Does anyone remember an acrylic eyeliner that flowed smoothly on the eyelid, dried and stayed without smearing, smudging, running off? At the end of the day, you could take the tip of your fingernail and peel the liner off leaving no residue. I first bought it at Macy’s cosmetic counter in the early 1970s. Was looking for something else, but the cosmetic lady demoed it to me and I was hooked! Wish I could remember the well-known brand name. But the company stopped making/selling it and I’ve found NOTHING comparable since. And I’ve tried everything. It came in a cylinder with the brush attached to the lid — all one piece. 🙁

    1. Hi Pam – Max Factor used to do one called Shiny Eye-Liner that peeled off in one hit – see comments below for link to an advert.

    2. Hi, that brings back memories, peel off eye liner, used to use it,great for perfect lines, but so sorry can’t remember who it was by

  9. Thank you for your website! It’s perfect. I’m doing a project for Cosmo and this site is perfect it has everything that my project needs!! Hair makeup etc..

  10. It’s so cool the way you have tied in how the political environment shaped the makeup trends of each decade.
    I’ve been looking through some pics of the red lips of the seventies. Would you say that the red lip favored in the mid to late seventies was a more toned done, almost brick-red,? I haven’t seen any of the bright red lips, but I was wondering if that might be due to the film quality of that period not having the vibrancy that we have today.

    1. Hi Todd, Thanks again for your comment! 🙂
      Yeah, we’d say that the favoured reds of the 1970s tended to be more orange-based (and peachy looking) to the darker or brown-based, like a brick red as you mentioned. Brighter, more vibrant red shades came in during the 1980s, and can be seen in professional photos from that decade (e.g. Madonna, magazine ads). Plus 70s lips tended to be glossy, so this dilutes the colour as well, whereas mattes and less glossy textures came into fashion in later decades.
      Brands like MAC emerged in the 1980s, manufacturing makeup with more pigment in it – we think this also plays a part and contributes to making colours more vibrant. They made strong – more ‘primary colour’ red – lipstick too. So, all together, fashion/trends, lipstick finish and manufacturing all played a role.
      Certainly from a filming point of view, today’s high definition (HD) likes red and red makeup colours have to be considered when doing productions, as HD can really “grab” this colour. Hope this answers your query! Cheers 🙂

    1. Hi Ashley, thank you for kind comment. We too think the 70s were rather awesome. And Farrah rocked! 🙂

  11. Oh the glamorous and fun 70s. Everything about this decade is a perfect balance of prim and proper and elegance with a little bit of fun and rebellious fashion!

    1. Hi Martha – thanks for commenting – you’ve summed up how we feel about the 70s perfectly, and it really was a fun decade!

  12. Thank you so much for helping me to find the answer to something that was bugging me – What was the more affordable brand of make-up available in the late seventies that was popular with teenagers? ‘Outdoor Girl’ of course! Being a guy in the late seventies and a fan of Marc Bolan and David Bowie ‘Outdoor Girl’ was my first cosmetics purchase being available in the local chemist. By the time I was a New Romantic I had moved up to more pricey but refined Clinique.

    Would you be able to answer another question for me please – What happened to the similarly commonly available flavoured lip-gloss? My favourite was a rollerball type in mint – very popular with my girlfriend at the time.

    Thank you and congrats on a great website, I’m impressed with the amount of time you must have invested in finding visual reference to illustrate what the seventies was actually about, it had much more class and style than it gets credited with (and often ridiculed) thesedays.

    1. Hi Kevin, Thanks so much for your kind words and for taking the time to comment. The rollerball lip gloss you ask about… was it Maybelline? “Kissing Potion” – a late ’70s thing? They did a range of flavoured glosses in a clear glass (was it glass?) tube with a roller, and there was a mint one with green writing on the tube. Think there were also bubble gum and cherry flavours.

      Totally agree – the 1970s are often ridiculed and remembered for power cuts, strikes and all that, but there was also an awesome variety of fantastic music, and being a kid had so much outdoor fun, adventure and freedom. Cheers!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *