This week, we’ve decided to look at Beauty Through the Ages. The evolution of beauty and some of the weird and wonderful things that women have done, and still do, to appear more youthful and beautiful. One of the most common theme is to achieve ‘perfect white skin.’ I’m truly grateful we live in an era more focused on being healthy!
Ancient Egypt – 3100 B.C.
Cosmetics are certainly not a new phenomenon. We have first seen signs of them (though it likely started well before) in Ancient Egypt. The use of natural materials to protect the skin and keep it looking youthful were considered essentials in the harsh climate. Some of these historic secrets are still important in todays skin care. Where would we be without Aloe Vera? They also show signs of using sun block from sand and oils. Topping all this off, are basic forms of makeup, using natural materials, to dye the skin. These formed the first lipsticks, blushes, bronzers and nail polish. They also started the current khol ‘smoky eye’ look, which we still have fun with today. Thanks Ancient Egyptians! So starts our Beauty Through the Ages…
Ancient Rome and Greece – 753 B.C.
The Ancient Romans took this skin care one step further. They devoted whole days to enjoying the ‘spa’ where they would be plucked, pampered and oiled into the smooth image of perfection. Our current word for cosmetics actually stems from this era, with the female slaves working in the spa’s being called ‘cosmetae’. Within the Ancient Greek era, sun block was also applied. Not to protect from sunburn though, but simply to avoid getting tanned as this was associated with the lower working class. There are signs of achieving the perfect, white complexion using powders. This sometimes included using white lead – which is unfortunately poisonous.
Chinese Shang Dynasty – 1760 BC
This is where the desire for perfect white skin really took off. There is even one natural ingredient from this era that we still use today, and that is Songyi Mushrooms to whiten the skin. They made concerted efforts to permanently bleach their skin into ‘perfection.’ This is an era of painted beauty and skin care routines were very important in keeping smooth skin.
Elizabethan Era – 1558 to 1603
European’s really started using whitening powders during this era. Unfortunately it wasn’t the era of bathing… so there were often layers upon layers of powder – mostly poisonous! They also used a vinegar and lead mixture to lighten freckles, and doctors finally started to realise the devastating effects of lead. People’s desire for white perfection though meant that many still used these skin care items until the 1860’s. When looking back at Beauty Through the Ages it’s certainly a perilous time to be female.
The Victorian Era – 1830’s – 1900
This era was all about that tiny waist line. Corsets were worn at all times. Strapped so tightly that sitting down near impossible – not to mention breathing! It was nothing to break a rib or two in pursuit of that 12 inch waste! But the tiny waist was where the beauty standards stopped. After the over-the-top beauty consciousness from the previous era, now was the time for religious conservatism. Makeup was kept to an absolute minimum, with only prostitutes donning the brighter colours. With more readily available and affordable materials though, fashion became a form of personal expression, rather than an indication of social status and traditions.
The Roaring 20’s – The Flapper
Rather than strapping waists as in the Victorian Era, the 1920’s saw women strapping their chest to achieve a ‘school boy’ look. Hair was cut short into a bob and webbed girdles were worn to flatten out the tummy. Following the return of troops from WW1, traditions and morals were being rejected again in favour of having fun. Cars, radios and telephones were on the increase.
Although the ideal body shape was that of a young boy, makeup was bold – particularly around the eyes, which is where the Kohl pencil gained its popularity again. Skin was kept as pale as possible with the use of powder (using alum rather than lead) and eyebrows were pencil thin.
Hollywood Glam – 1930’s – 1950’s
In vast contrast to the Roaring 20’s, this era was all about curves. Think Rita Hayworth. TV, and movies in particular were very influential. Padded bras were invented and women started watching what they ate and lifting weights for slender arms. Designers such as Dior and Chanel designed little black dresses that would accentuate women’s curves and become timeless pieces following Beauty Through the Ages.
Hair was voluptuous, longer and worn in more feminine styles. Makeup was subtle with liquid foundation taking over from powders in tones to match natural skin colour. Lipstick was bold and made to create a fuller lip. This was the era where tinted foundations really started. No longer aiming for simply ‘white,’ now the aim was the ‘healthy glow.’ Keeping in mind, after the summer sun faded, the skin whiteners were still desirable. It’s also when the first effective sunscreen was produced, to protect the WWII soldiers.
A little more conservative – 1950’s
The hourglass figure made popular by stars such as Marilyn Monroe was the epitome of sexy. The peaches and cream complexion became the ultimate look in makeup and hair rollers became a girl’s’ best friend, with straight hair been deemed ‘unsexy’.
This era was all about encouraging women back into traditional female roles following WWII, where many had performed men’s roles. It was about looking good to snag a man and start a family, so women worked hard to achieve this body shape. Ever seen one of those ‘1950’s housewife’ magazines? You know, the ones where women would vacuum in heels? Well this era was all about that – looking perfect, no matter what you were doing. When tracking Beauty Through the Ages, this is where the modern beauty consumerism begins…
Skinny Skinny Skinny – The 1960’s
Watch out TV – colour as arrived, and it influenced everything. Not only that, printing bright colours onto polyester introduced new fashion potential. There were two styles that emerged during this era. The Swinging 60’s style with mini dresses with geometric patterns and the Hippie Flower Power style, with long flowing dresses and bell-bottoms. The only thing these two styles had in common was the body shape – and following the supermodels of the era such as Twiggy, bodies were very thin.
While the Swinging 60’s girl opted for a short pixie haircut, the Flower Power girl went for long locks. Makeup was not important for the Hippie, but the modern girl went big on eyes. The bigger the eye the better, and so the popularity of false lashes began.
Big Hair – The 1970’s
My favourite era in terms of clothing, the 1970’s brought big Farrah Fawcett hair, loose flowing skirts, tops and dresses but also jeans and t-shirts. Thin bodies were still in, but they were bronzed, and this is when self tanners, sun baking and bronzers became popular. Unfortunately, this burst of over exposed skin resulted in an increase in melanomas, showing the link between the two.
Makeup was light and hair was long and feathered. Previous trends were merging, and trends were being mixed across the board.
Over the Top Fashion and Bigger Hair – The 80’s
Aerobics gear, fluro colours, and shoulder blades make this era one of the most fun – especially at a Fancy Dress Party. When considering Beauty Through the Ages it’s definitely about breaking every rule that ever existed about personal appearance. The increase of new cheaper shiny fabrication made this bright, loud and in-your-face different.
Hair was so much bigger than the 1970’s, and it required lots of hairspray and lots of teasing, and not just for the girls! Bodies were still thin, but a little more toned, thanks to our beloved Jane Fonda and Olivia NJ! Watch out Lycra and leg-warmers!
With blue eye-shadow, bushy eyebrows and lots of bright blush, makeup sales certainly increased during this era! It was thankfully also the era where our iconic Australian ‘slip, slop, slap’ campaign began to encourage our sun-loving nation to reduce it’s sun exposure.
The ‘Rachel’ – 1990’s
Finally our modern ideals of skin care and beauty started to emerge. Research highlighted the importance of Vitamins in skin care and Hyaluronic Acid was shown to be very beneficial for youthful skin. Antioxidants started to replace the previous use of hormonal and steroidal ingredients and our desire for skin protection as well as perfection began.
High waisted mum jeans, acid wash and double denim came in the early 1990’s, then moved on to the ‘Grunge’ look as women followed the unkept style of Kate Moss and Courtney Love. Clueless certainly show’s the fashions across the board, summing up the 90’s, while Britpop became big following the Spice Girls.
TV Sitcom’s were influential. The ‘Rachel’ haircut become the most popular of all time, with bleached blonde hair closely following. Foundation was matte and lipsticks were in the brown tones. A very unflattering era, if you ask me!! It was almost a backlash against the 80’s playfulness, and was far more subdued and ‘under-done’.
The Millennial’s Digital Age – 2000’s
This is the era where digital technology becomes mainstream. It changed how quickly we could react individually to worldwide influences and changes. While not yet leading the trends and changes, it allowed us to see and be influenced daily by a wider range of media than previously possible. In some ways, the most liberating of all eras. Expressing ourselves in any way we like, without thought for repercussions. When discussing Beauty Through the Ages, this is the most relaxed and ‘natural.’
In general, fashion took on a much more casual vibe. The surf culture was a big influence in Australia. Jeans were abundant, but the silhouettes changed from boot-cut to low slung baggy ending the decade in the skinny staple. High shine lipstick and lip gloss was everywhere, with pink frosted lips and cheeks giving a feminine glow. Eyeliners came in multiple shades, eyebrows were skinny and the statement red lips still appeared intermittently. It was near the end of this decade when Organic skin care started to emerge. People were becoming more conscious of ingredients listed and knew what they meant.
The Post Millennials – The 2010’s
This is the era focused and heavily influenced by Social Media. Following closely to the GFC (Global Financial Crisis), fashions from previous eras resurrected. While new fashions have been born, trends have been slow to change. Denim fabric is everywhere. People no longer wear a ‘suit’ to work, instead opting for comfort and practicality. Instead of complete overhauls to current fashion trends we are simply finding ‘additions’. Online shopping for both new and old items has become mainstream. Personalising ourselves comes through our Facebook and Instagram feed. This will certainly be the best documented decade of Beauty Through the Ages!
We are becoming more conscientious of our planets health. Everywhere you look we are being encouraged to become healthier ourselves, and not just look the part. It’s all in our diet, lifestyle and purchasing choices. Hair and makeup trends have fluctuated. From the minimal look to the plumped up ‘Kardashian look’ with thick perfectly arched and filled in eyebrows followed with big eyes and lips. Facial contouring is a ‘thing,’ giving your face the shading to mimic a natural glow. This era is ever evolving and is yet to be known for a ‘signature look’. Although if I could hazard a guess, it would be the perfect selfie pout. This is one notable change due to the mobile phone selfie… and how we ‘arrange’ ourselves as we pose for photos. I’m certainly curious to see what our next decade, soon looming, will bring!
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