beauty

I Tried 5 Retro Makeup Trends To See If They Still Rock Today

by Stephanie Watson
Stephanie Watson is a journalist and novelist who loves writing about everything under the sun. From feminism and hard hitting news, to which cat videos are trending this week. You can check out her work over on Fembotmag.com, Vocally, YourTango, and HelloGiggles.

Beauty trends can be a vital learning tool when it comes to doing your makeup. I don’t know about you, but 80 percent of what I’ve learned about makeup came from YouTube and Instagram.

Bizarre makeup trends are always going viral. You can’t go a day on social media without seeing brand-new (and usually awesome) ways to style your brows or lips. But I’ve found myself wondering, what if we stopped looking forward to our new favorite styles and instead looked back?

I love modern trends, but there’s always something to learn from the past.

I decided to pick five 20th-century makeup styles and re-create them throughout the course of one week. I chose the ’20s, ’40s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, which happen to be my favorite decades for beauty trends. (Ed. note: I used modern products to execute my looks. You can technically buy real vintage makeup, I just wouldn’t recommend it.)

Now, I’m no makeup artist. I’m just a girl who wears makeup on the weekends and for special occasions. My main goal here was to work out which of these looks are wearable today, rather than create picture-perfect replications of each decade.

If you’ve ever wondered if you can rock an ’80s blush look or a ’20s lip, wonder no more. I tested them out for you.

Heeral Chhibber for RockYou

The 1920s

The 1920s

When we look back on the 1920s, we tend to think of retro Hollywood glam. Old silver screen stars worked with big names we still love today, such as Max Factor and Chanel. These brands eventually began to sell their products to the general public, giving birth to new applicator designs for mascara and eyeliner, in particular. The Art Deco style is exactly what it sounds like: simple, dark, and very geometric. Attempting this on my own face was challenging, but I think I got it down.

Foundation Overload

Foundation Overload

In the ’20s, a pale, almost gaunt look was preferred over a golden glow. For darker-skinned makeup buffs, having a flawless base with dark blush was the chosen look. Skipping contour, highlighter, and bronzer was difficult, as I usually aim to make my face as sharp as possible, but I think I got away with it.

For my base, I used a cocktail of Max Factor’s CC Cream in 40 and Maybelline Fit Me in 110.

Brows Have to Be Sharp

Brows Have to Be Sharp

On to the brows, and my God, this was tricky. I don’t usually touch my brows very much. I fill them in and brush them out, and that’s pretty much it. But ’20s brows tended to be skinny and very sculpted. I decided to forgo waxing my brows and concentrated on making them appear more drawn on. It was… interesting. I carved out an arch as best as I could and extended the brow by a few millimeters or so. The extension went well, and I was happy with how dark they looked, but it was tricky to get the drawn-on effect due to how full they were.

My brow powder choice was Barry M’s It’s a Brow Thing in medium.

Lashes

Lashes

Important note: Face the mascara wand away from your nose when you apply your eight coats. OK, maybe it wasn’t eight coats, but it felt like it.

I used NYX mascara, which made my lashes look really full and spidery — exactly the look folks in the ’20s were going for.

For this look, I did something I never do: I filled in the tight-line and waterline of my eyelids. It burned, a lot. That said, it does make your eyes look so much neater and more vibrant. I also used shimmery cool tones for the shadow, which is way out of my comfort zone.

The eyeshadows came from Primark’s Shadow and Shade palette.

 

Now for the Blush

Now for the Blush

My favorite part of this look turned out to be the blush. I used about three times more blush than I usually do, on the apples of my cheeks rather than in between my highlighter and bronzer. And honestly? I dig it. For once I can see the pink come across on camera, and I think I may re-create it in future daily looks.

The blush in question comes from the e.l.f.  Matte Contour and Blush duo.

There's Nothing Like a Bold, Dark Lip

There's Nothing Like a Bold, Dark Lip

In the 1920s, lips were often very dark and very plump-looking. To achieve this look, women often underlined their lips. I underlined the very bottom of my lower lip and lined the sides of both. Since the ’20s Art Deco look is known for its geometric and angular shapes, I also shaped the bow of my lips as much as possible.

This dark beauty is Barry M’s Black Cherry.

The Results

The Results

I decided to move the black dot from my nose over to my cheekbone, to fake a beauty spot. Beauty spots were a classy cherry on the top of your makeup look. And to be honest, if I didn’t add this, then I think it would have been a bit harder to work out which decade this look comes from.

For a night out on the town, or a themed party, I think this look is rather wearable. But for day-to-day? Probably not. The number of products used was quite heavy — twice the amount of concealer and brow product than I normally use, so the cake-factor wasn’t too comfortable. That said, I still felt classy.

The 1940s

The 1940s

The switch from ’20s to ’40s makeup wasn’t drastic. Blush remained much the same, lips were still vibrant and bold, and mascara was still a girl’s best friend. That said, the color pallet began to get noticeably warmer after the war.

All About That Base

All About That Base

My base was similar to that of my ’20s look, though I added a little Barry M Afterglow bronzer to the mix.

Brows back then were pretty dark. I applied my brows in the same fashion as I had my ’20s brows. Then I brushed them through with a spoolie brush to soften out the harsh lines.

Easy Being Green

Easy Being Green

For eyeshadow, I decided to go for an earthy, natural look that would help the lipstick pop. Dark greens and subtle browns were used for dark eyes in particular. Revolution’s Soph X palette was perfect for this.

I went a little less heavy with the eyeliner for this era, though I added a subtle wing to my eye.

When in Doubt, Rock a Red Lip

When in Doubt, Rock a Red Lip

The most important part of the look is, of course, the victory red lipstick. Red lipstick was a staple of the postwar makeup movement; its vibrancy and eye-catching hue spoke of confidence. This shade of lip is a classic to this day, and it has always been a romantic addition to any look. Red lipstick (in particular No7’s Pillarbox) is also well within my comfort zone, so this turned out to be one of my favorite looks of the experiment.

Maybe I Could Cosplay as Agent Carter…

Maybe I Could Cosplay as Agent Carter…

Without the patented war-time curls, this style actually looks surprisingly modern. Nothing about the look is too old-fashioned for a daily routine, so I think most people would be able to pull it off. The lack of defined contour and highlights isn’t for everyone — I was dying to at least highlight the inner corners of my eyes — but all in all, it works.

The 1970s

The 1970s

The ’70s beauty look was markedly different than that of decades past. As the hippie movement rose in popularity, makeup also followed a more naturalistic route. Rather than having a flawless base, a more natural look was on-trend.

Foundation and Brow Gel

Foundation and Brow Gel

Sheer foundation allowed ’70s-popular freckles to shine through, so I used a little less foundation than usual. I aimed to focus more on decreasing the redness on my skin.

Natural bushy eyebrows were popular during the hippie movement, which is another brow win for me! I decided to mess up my brows ever so slightly, setting them in place with a clear gel from e.l.f.

Eye Shadows

Eye Shadows

Now onto the eyes. The ’70s might have been all about that natural look, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t completely stray away from bright colors. Pale, grass-green eye shadows were very popular, applied very lightly to the lid.

I applied a Flutter pale green on my lids, without transition colors. To make the eyes pop a little more, I also applied another Flutter pale silvery-blue color on the inner lids and my brow bone.

 

Less Is More

Less Is More

By the time the ’70s rolled around, eyeliner had toned down quite a bit, so I added a black shadow from the SophX set as close to the lid as possible. I used a white liner on my waterline, which faded faster than people lost their tops at Woodstock.

Mascara wasn’t nearly as dramatic or spidery as it was in the ’20s, but a nice long curly set of lashes was on-trend.

My mascara of choice for this look was another Benefit staple: Bad Girl Bang. The white liner was a mystery liner found at the bottom of my Halloween makeup bag!

I Feel So Naked!

I Feel So Naked!

For cheeks, I applied the Afterglow bronzer the way one would usually apply blush; a healthy tan was desirable back then. No cheek sculpting, no tight contour, just a way to warm up the face and bring attention to rounded cheeks.

Finally, the lips. Pale nudes were a must back in the hippie era, so I went with Maybelline’s Nude Thrill, with a dash of Rimmel’s Nude 40 on top. This really brought the look from “Well, that sure is green” to “Yep, that’s a ’70s look” in one fell swoop.

I Can Dig It

I Can Dig It

I was slightly disappointed with the ’70s look as it didn’t come out as “natural” as I’d hoped. I aimed for the no-makeup makeup look, but the brightness and sheerness of the green eye shadow looked rather powdery. If I were to re-create the look, I think I’d use a more grass-like green, and I’d skip foundation and concealer entirely.

Overall, I’d say the look is very wearable, but I was dying to add some highlighter and cream contour to the mix. I also don’t think pale green is really my jam. But the subtlety of it all is refreshing!

The 1980s

The 1980s

This was the part of the experiment I was most looking forward to, because it’s basically the polar opposite of my usual makeup routine. At the same time, though, it incorporates some of my favorite colors, and, finally, I got to use highlighter!

When you think of the ’80s, you likely think florescent pinks and neon greens. I  basically wanted to channel the vibes of the “San Junipero” episode of Black Mirror and “Let’s Get Physical” into an eye-look. Unlike previous decades, the ’80s were anything but subtle, and they celebrated bright, solid colors. So I used a crap-ton of Revolution’s Setting Spray to make the colors really pop.

The Eyes Have It

The Eyes Have It

There was no way I was going to re-create an ’80s look without slapping eye shadow liberally all over my eyes. I used a Flutter pink shadow as an all-over base color, then shaded the rest of my lid with a blue shade from the Primark palette. The blue ended up taking center stage, but I think it still works.

Don't Get the Brow Gel on Your Forehead

Don't Get the Brow Gel on Your Forehead

For my brows, I took cues from the natural bushiness of the ’70s and mixed them with the boldness of the ’20s. You’ve probably noticed that all of my brow photos don’t show that much change between styles, but hey, I tried.

This time I used Fill + Tame’s Tinted Brow Gel in Blonde.

The Pièce de Résistance: The Blush

The Pièce de Résistance: The Blush

“Draping” was the highlight-and-contour of the ’80s era, and boy, is it fun to do. Draping is basically when you apply blush vividly across your cheekbone, the way one would apply both contour and highlighter. In other words, you drape the pink across your face like a curtain. It often connects into your eye shadow, so I couldn’t resist bringing it all the way up to my temples, too. Since shimmery blush was popular back then, I finally got to use a highlighter. I forced myself to keep it subtle, so the block pink color could shine through.

The blush is from the e.l.f. contour and blush set, and the highlight is the ModelCo in Frose.

Pretty in Pink Lips

Pretty in Pink Lips

There was no way I’d follow the ‘dramatic eyes, nude lip’ rule for this one, as the ’80s truly didn’t give a hoot about anyone’s makeup rules. I used Topshop’s Brighton Rock and Lips Inc’s Unicorn Tribe.

Totally Bitchin' or Nah?

Totally Bitchin' or Nah?

This is probably the least wearable look out of all the styles, but it was also the most fun. There are some elements that I feel are timeless —the pink and blue together is perfect for summer, and the bright lips are a club kid’s dream. Draping would also look super awesome for a festival look.

The 1990s

The 1990s

As a ’90s kid, I suspected this would be the most nostalgic part of this experiment, even though I didn’t really wear makeup until the early- to mid-2000s. That said, wearing lip gloss did make me feel like I was 13 all over again. I mean, heck, the late ’90s and early aughts were practically the same decade, style-wise.

A Matte (er) of Fact

A Matte (er) of Fact

I was a bit worried about the eyes, as most photos and tutorials I looked at leaned toward skipping shimmer and avoiding putting too much dark shadow in the outer corners. Since my eyes are a little hooded, and pretty puffy, this lack of basic contouring freaked me out. But after I applied a caramel base color, and a darker brown around the eyeliner, it gave me a more vertical form of contouring. The less-is-more look gave my eyes dimension without looking too overdone.

The palette I used for this look was the Revolution Redemption set, Essential Mattes 2.

Tweezers Not Included

Tweezers Not Included

Instead of going for the late ’90s ultra-skinny brows, I decided to keep it early ’90s and go with the Brooke Shields look. I ran the clear gel through my brows, keeping them full, but neat.

A very light coat of powder eyeliner and a thin coat of mascara later, and bam! The eyes were done. Obviously, I wanted the lip gloss and bronzer to take center stage, so I didn’t curl my lashes before I applied Benefit’s They’re Real. I have very straight, light eyelashes, so this felt like a risk, but it added to the natural look I was going for.

Cheeks

Cheeks

I toned down the blush again and increased the level of Afterglow bronzer. Though precise cream contouring wasn’t a thing yet, using bronzer to carve out your cheekbones was very in. This made me feel a little more at home with this makeup, as no matter how minimal I do my makeup, I can’t go without defining my cheekbones.

Lips on Lock

Lips on Lock

The lips were the best part of this look for me, as I’ve always wanted to try the patented brown lip liner with clear/glittery gloss look. J. Lo, Gwen Stefani, and Naomi Campbell all rocked this look back in the day, and honestly, I hope it makes a comeback in 2019. I used Mac’s Whirl as a lip liner, and Tanya Burr’s Ice Queen for the gloss.

Am I Giving You Spice Girl Face?

Am I Giving You Spice Girl Face?

Despite the fact that the ’90s look had zero shimmer or glitter to it, it turned out to be my favorite. The pure matte look of the base and eyes really made the slickness of the lip gloss pop. I usually can’t go a day without applying shimmer to my lids, because I fear without it my lids look flat and small. In fact, the opposite was true. The wideness of the matte powder opened my eyes up and let the whites of my eyes shine. And the lip gloss itself was way more comfortable than I expected.

Heeral Chhibber for RockYou

Technically, any style of makeup is wearable at the end of the day. If you want to drape yourself in glitter and have mismatching eyes, then you do you! But these looks surprised me for a number of reasons.

I learned that sometimes more is more. I’ve always been wary of using too much blush, but the ’40s look specifically showed me how it helps make my cheeks pop.

I also learned that so-called “minimal” looks often aren’t minimal at all. Sometimes the wackier looks take a lot less effort than the “no-makeup makeup” looks.

Even though 1920s makeup was known to be minimal, my version turned out to be anything but. I probably used more product for that look than any other.

I also took to social media to get some opinions on each look. As it turns out, people liked the ’20s look most. Not many people saw the vintage element to the ’40s look, including myself by the time I was done.

The ’90s and ’80s looks showed me how much color can affect your look. A full face of nude colors really accentuates your eyes, while a full face of neons can really boost your confidence.

All in all, I highly recommend trying this experiment for yourself. Pick five random decades — and go nuts with the blush!

This experiment really took me out of my comfort zone (aka shimmer and brown shadows). It also helped establish which colors do and don’t work for my face — and reminded me that winged liners are a bitch to remove at the end of the night. I’m sure ladies have always felt that way.