Beauty is extremely hard to define; it can mean very different things depending on who you ask. It is hard to pinpoint an exact ideal of beauty today. However, this wasn’t always the case. Beauty for centuries has been very strict in its ideals. Let’s take a look at a few of the defining beauty eras that have shaped our history of beauty.
Ancient Times – The Original Trendsetters
“Greek Goddess” is often used to describe an exceptionally beautiful person. Women in ancient Greece used beauty routines that relied heavily upon natural ingredients. Typically, these ingredients were used for several beauty treatments other than makeup.
Some typical ingredients included; honey, seaweed, flowers, berries, and charcoal, and clay. Most of the Greek beauty practices were healthier than the ones used today. Since they relied heavily on natural substances rather than chemically manufactured ones.
Historians can trace our use of cosmetics back to the ancient Egyptians who used kohl to create dramatic smokey eyes. In fact, so many beauty practices can be traced back to this era.
Rose Water was extremely popular in skincare, which is still used today in most cleansers and toners. This is because rose water has actually been proven to reduce wrinkles and tightening pores, plus it smells incredible! The Egyptians used a red ochre paste to tint their lips and cheeks, burnt almonds to color their brows, and saffron as an eye shadow. Typically, every woman had her own makeup box with these ingredients inside and would use them on a daily basis. Ever been waxed? Or tried sugaring? Well, guess who we have to thank for that. Unwanted hair was considered unsightly in Egypt and methods of removing it were invented.
Beauty and hygiene were considered so important that the wealthy were buried with their beauty products to ensure they looked their best in the afterlife.
The Middle Ages
The Middles Ages weren’t exactly known for their beauty standard. In fact; beauty and self-care, in general, were often neglected due to the harsh living conditions and strict religious morals. The early Middle Ages was dominated by the Christian faith. The use of make-up and hygiene was almost unthinkable, relating beauty with danger and sin. This was largely due to the story of Adam and Eve, where Eve was considered a harlot for expressing her feminine energy.
However, feminine beauty became popular again, mostly with women of stature and royalty. The look during this time was all about being as fair and delicate as possible. In order to achieve this look, bloodletting with the use of leeches ensured a pale complexion. Around this time, toxic white lead was used to lighten the skin as well. Unfortunately, this alabaster complexion will, for the most part, remain a huge trend in years to come, and it often came at a dangerous price.
By the 12th century, the use of cosmetics became popular in medieval Europe. Apocatharies and doctors were responsible for distributing beauty products. Herbal remedies were used to make potions and ointments for achieving fair skin. Also, heat water over a fire and hold the stone until it sweats. Use the sweat mixed with water and wash the face. Gemstone remedies also grew in popularity, by heating or cooling the gems and applying them directly to the skin to remove blemishes.
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that first had its roots in Florence, Italy, before spreading to the rest of Europe. During this time, the Ancient Greek ideals of beauty were rediscovered. Basically, the woman embodied the look of a Greek Goddess. The voluptuous female form made a comeback, a healthy full figure and flushed face was considered the height of attractiveness.
Smooth skin was highly treasured because it represented youthfulness. Strawberry blond hair was considered the ideal hair color during this period of time. Women thus colored their hair through the use of various ingredients from sulfur to turmeric to achieve the desired look.
Having a high forehead was also very popular, women would resort to plucking their hairline to give the appearance of a higher forehead. Women also plucked their eyebrows and used lead pencils to darken their eyebrows. This will make a huge comeback centuries later.
Queen Elizabeth I, was the guiding image of ideal beauty, she even had an era named after her! She set the standard that many women tried to imitate. No other queen in history had such an impact on beauty or fashion. Basically, every woman wanted to imitate her royal look.
The Elizabethan ideal beauty was one with alabaster white skin, red lips, red cheeks, and fair hair. Pale skin was extremely important to the definition of beauty at the time. It was a sign of wealth and nobility. Women often attempted to lighten their skin using a variety of products, including white lead paint.
The ideal women were considered to be voluptuous: a little extra padding was thought to be a sign of wealth.
This era was all about over-the-top luxury, wealth, and extravagance. You cannot think of the Baroque/ Rococo era without thinking of Marie Antoinette. Her famous white powdered pouf hairstyle became a trend among upper-class women throughout Europe.
Her beauty process was opulence at its best, with a full team of hair, makeup, and clothing stylists at her disposal. It was all about the latest, exciting trend, playing with fabrics, materials, and colors. She would debut her famous hairstyle to the courts, usually accompanied by an exciting twist. For example, during a battle, a French frigate, the Belle Poule, badly damaged a British ship. Taking great pride in this, Marie Antoinette debuted her pouf hair with a ship incorporated in.
Unfortunately, most of the beauty ingredients used by women during this time were extremely toxic. For Marie Antoinette, the white paint she used to achieve a fair complexion was made of chalk, which contained toxic lead. The kohl she used to color her eyes also contained lead which often leads to seizures, blindness, and eventually death.
The 1800s, or Victorian Era, called for full skirts and impossibly tiny waists. To achieve this look, women often wore binding corsets around their waists and hoops under their skirts.
However, the idea of beauty was changing, and there was a greater focus on internal beauty. It was all about being reserved and coy. Women of higher classes never used excessive amounts of makeup that could conceal their natural looks. Sometimes they would apply face powder to cover up shine, but only in very small amounts.
Prostitutes and ladies of the night wore bold makeup. This was extremely looked down on and considered forbidden amongst the majority of women. Makeup was considered a tool of the devil and no respectable woman would ever be caught wearing it.
Women of the Edwardian Era began to change and shift with newfound independence from men. For the first time in history, women regained the power of sexuality and had men falling at their feet.
This was due in large part to the suffragette movement, but also the birth of the infamous Gibson Girl. This independent woman epitomized the ideal of beauty with her tiny waist, full breasts, and round hips. While wearing her hair piled high in a pompadour or chignon.
Gibson Girls were encouraged to be active, indulging in new hobbies while maintaining their elegance. The swan-bill corset made its debut during this time, creating the S Torso shape.
In the early 20th century, the beauty industry became a successful career path for women, and for the first time in history; African-American women. Madame CJ Walker was an African -American entrepreneur who used her expertise to create a new standard of beauty.
The Roaring 20’s started with a feminist movement that had a big impact on beauty and finally gave women a choice in what they wore. Many young flapper women wore slinky, long dresses, exposing their arms and legs. The hair was typically cut very short, girls were draped in long strands of pearls, with lots of eyeliner and red lipstick. The overall look was kind of sexy boyish appearance.
The ’20s are often associated with celebrities like Great Garbo and socialites like Zelda Fitzgerald who embodied not only the style but the attitude of the times. The beauty industry also began to take off in terms of the manufacturing of cosmetics. In New York, Elizabeth Arden opened her salon and began offering makeovers to her clients.
The 1950s were all about the glamorous curves. The perennial pin-up girl with her hourglass figure was the beauty standard to embody. It was all about the glam, every woman was encouraged to look perfectly put together at all times. Even the common housewife was expected to look her best.
Hair had to be curly and cheeks had to be rosy, red lipstick, winged eyeliner, and dark eyebrows were the norm. Every woman wanted to look like a 1950’s movie star. Obviously, this time brings to mind some famous beauties such as Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, and of course Marilyn Monroe.
The 1960s were all about the uninhibited woman who had the choice to embody the down-to-earth hippie or the bold and bright mod style. Or both if it suited your fancy! The ‘60s was an incredible era for makeup, brows became thicker, colors became bolder, long false lashes would be applied to both the top and bottom of the eyes.
Socialites like Twiggy and actresses like Bridget Bardot and Audrey Hepburn were a massive influence on beauty trends, sporting petite figures, colorful clothing, ballet flats, voluminous hair, or pixie cuts.
The Bold 80’s
Skipping ahead to the ’80s generation, we jump into the big hair and over-the-top makeup. Beauty in this era revolved around the fitness craze, praising leotards, and neon tracksuits. The look was basically aerobics instructors with huge hair and bright makeup. A healthy slim body was considered ideal. Fashion was extremely over the top with the more of everything approach. Big hair, lots of makeup, leg warmers, shoulder pads, and neon spandex were all the craze.
Beauty icons like Jane Fonda, Madonna, and Brooke Shields were the epitome of beauty.
The early ’90s were all about the super-slim “heroin chic” look. Pale skin and defined makeup were back in style, this was due to the heightened fashion industry and such shows as Sex in the City. Many models and actresses strived for an unrealistic figure which leads to anorexia eating disorders. This was a huge departure from the “healthy, athletic” look of the ’80s.
However, a quick turnaround happened in the early 2000s. It was all about the tanned skin, spray tans, tanning beds, and self-tanner. The bronzed look had its moment in the sun, so to speak. A few notable beauty trends of this era were: glossy lips, hair jewelry, chunky highlights, thin eyebrows, smokey eyes, and extremely low-rise jeans, to name a few.
In the last 20 years, beauty and fashion have gone through so many different phases it’s almost hard to keep up. Currently, we are in the era of defined lips and eyebrows, over-the-top skincare routines, natural beauty, bold beauty… one could say this is the age of choice when it comes to beauty.
What a time to be alive!