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.
Influences on 1970s Makeup
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, so 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”.
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.
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. They 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). 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.
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.
Charlie’s Angels (1976-81) showcased the talents of Farrah 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.
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
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.
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.
Blues, greens, earthy tones and purples were the popular colours. White and silver eyeshadow added highlight under the eyebrows.
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, in stack tubes (offering various fashionable shades) or as a stick (like a lipstick).
- Liquid eyeshadow – came in squeezy tubes and tubes with a brush applicator.
- Powder eyeshadow – came as loose powder in tubes with a sponge applicator or as pressed powder in a pot. Compacts with several colours were also available.
- Eye crayons – looked just like a kid’s colouring crayon. Available from several brands, including Max Factor, Boots 17 and Revlon.
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, preferring one colour all over the lids with an optional light shade under the brow.
There were no hard edges or unblended lines in 1970s makeup (except for punk). It was soft and shimmery.
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 younger women and teenagers.
Fashionable brows were thin to medium in thickness. Pencil thin brows were reminiscent of the Art Deco skinny brow, as seen on Liza Minnelli in Cabaret.
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.
Deep fruit colours like plum, mulberry and cranberry were fashionable in the early 1970s. 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 lipstick made a comeback in the early 1970s, thanks in part to nostalgia for the 1920s and 1940s. It was also popular in the later 1970s.
Lipsticks with a sheen were fashionable throughout the decade. For lipsticks without enough sheen, a lip gloss was applied over the top.
Lip liner shaped and defined the lips. However, it was not visible once the lipstick or gloss was applied. The same colour liner as lip product was used so it did not stand out.
Super shiny lip gloss was highly fashionable and marketed in particular to teens and younger women. Gloss came in various sheer colours, including pinks, plums, nudes and clear.
There was also a bit of experimentation with flavoured lip gloss, albeit with mixed success. Popular flavours include fruity tangs, mint, and food items like bubble gum and cola.
While glosses did come in pots or tubes with an applicator inside the lid, the rollerball applicator was particularly trendy. Rollerball products included Bonne Bell Lip-Smackers and Maybelline’s Kissing Potion.
Nail polish was available in a rainbow 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.
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.
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.
1970s Makeup Fads & Trends
- 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.