My Top 5 Makeup Essentials for Vintage Looks

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I love a good throwback look, but often it’s the small details that make the ensemble. When it comes to vintage fashion, makeup and hair can go a long way- even further than the clothes sometimes because the style is so iconic. Even the most average Jane can spot a 1920s boyish bob, pencil thin 1930s eyebrows, or optimistic 1940s red lipstick in a crowd. We’ll save hair for another post but that said, given that my favorite fashion decades are the 40s, 50s, and early 60s, here are the makeup products I have to have in order to pull off an outfit from the era:

  1. Red lipstick (duh!)

Whenever people think of women in the 50s, the overly cheerful housewife à la June Cleaver probably comes to mind: hair perfectly coiffed, pearls gently resting on her sweater twinset, and of course- red lipstick. I have tried soooooooo many red lipsticks trying to get just the right one that speaks to me. Red lipstick, is, in my opinion, the ultimate marker of style; it’s timeless, sexy, and comes in so many shades and undertones that everyone can undoubtedly find a shade that makes them look their best. The secret is in the finish: get a red in both a matte and luster finish. You’ll need one or the other at some point.

My faves?

Stila’s Stay All Day liquid lipstick in “Fiery” (try it in “Beso” if you have cool undertones) $23

Urban Decay Vice lipstick in “69” $18

NYX matte lip cream in “Monte Carlo” $6

Rita Moreno, actress, singer, and dancer.
Photo from waldina.com
  1. Eyebrow pencil

For a pre-Aaliyah decade, eyebrows were truly the heroes of the 1950s. Ohmygawsh, those ladies had some killer brows. Just when you thought they were all demure little cream puffs, they’d arch an eyebrow and then BAM- your wig got snatched. This might be an easier place to start if you’re just getting into makeup, because even if you don’t tweeze or wax your brows, they’ll still look dramatically different when combed through and darkened up. But pro tip- if you have black hair, don’t go buying a black pencil. The look is too dark and intense and unless you have artificially blue/black hair, it will come off very unnatural and “drag” (unless of course that’s what you’re going for, in which case- werk, mama.)

My favorite brow/spoolie combo pencil is Anastasia Beverly Hills’ Brow Wiz $23 (my shade is “Dark Brown”), or, for a drugstore alternative, try the NYX Micro Brow $10 (in “Espresso”)

Lauren Bacall, actress. Photo from
The New York Times.
  1. Liquid eyeliner

Many people think eyeliner is a 50s trend, but surprisingly, 1950s mavens didn’t really do too much with their eyes, since it was said that it was the lips that got you your man (and I’m not touching that one in this post). But as the 50s gave way to the 60s, more exagerrated makeup came into play, and thus, enter the cat eye look. Reminiscent of ancient Egyptian beauty standards, the cat-eye elongates the eye and draws attention to the color- always a flattering technique. While people of the 40s relied mostly on mascara, and in the 50s maybe a smudge of pencil eyeliner pencil through their lashes, you weren’t serious about fashion in the 60s if you weren’t rocking some heavy, inky black liquid eyeliner, especially in the decade’s later years.

My pick today? Stila’s Stay All Day felt-tipped eyeliner pen in “Midnight” $23

(Pro-tip: do NOT line your lower lashes with liquid or gel liner! The product can get into your eyes and cause infections or even blindness. If you want to under-line, do it with pencil.)

Brigitte Bardot, actress, dancer, singer, model,
and activist. Photo from dodoodad.com
  1. Concealer

While the 1970s may have been all about the natural look, the 50s and 60s weren’t there yet. Clear, flawless-looking skin was a MUST. After the functional drabness of the 1940s, the makeup-minded in the 1950s wanted to look radiant and pristine again, so doing up your face wasn’t considered doing the most- it was simply good grooming. While foundation wasn’t quiiiiiite the big deal it is today, most women carried a powder compact in their purse for coverage and for eliminating shine throughout the day. However, today we know that concealer is the best way to go to cover blemishes or freckles, so to get that mid-century perfection complexion without looking cakey (that was the 60s, my friend) use concealer only under the eyes and your trouble zones then set with a powder instead.

My choice? Urban Decay Naked Skin Weightless Complete Coverage Concealer $29. Cheaper alternative? Colourpop’s No Filter concealer (here’s a review of it on my old blog) $6

Shangguan Yunzhu, actress. Photo from
thedeadones.wordpress.com
  1. Falsies

Yoooooooo, if you think fake eyelashes have gotten out of hand nowadays, listen…falsies were a big, EFFING deal back in the day. Like, a big, big, MAJOR deal. But nobody was talking about it! Everybody just pretended they had these super huge lashes but if you watch any movie from the 1950s the female stars ALL had falsies on. Trust. And don’t even get me started on the late sixties and those caterpillar eyes…So if you a woman back in the day you simply wore falsies whenever you were in public and Owned. That. Ish. Orrrr, if you were too chicken (or too young and weren’t allowed), you wore a gazillion coats of mascara and hoped that fooled everybody.

Fortunately, I have suggestions for both: Ardell lashes and Too Faced’s Better Than Sex mascaraPro-tip: the BTS can sometimes smudge but is so worth the volume. Keep a lash comb or separating mascara at the ready.

Eartha Kitt, actress, singer, dancer, comedienne,
and activist. Photo from amalgama-lab.com

Even if you’re not necessarily going for a true vintage look, these makeup looks are all icons at this point so rock them whenever you want! Leave me a comment below if this inspired you.

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