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When and Why Did We Start Wearing Makeup?

Vhairi Slaven, Drive-Thru Success

1 July 2018

Jenny asked me recently to use her own principles from our book, Drive-Thru Success, to help her become body confident. We’ve started our preparations for changing Jenny’s perspective about beauty, her body and dieting before she begins her new habits in January.

Subscribe to our YouTube Channel to make sure you keep up to date with Jenny’s progress or to use it to inform your own habits in 2018.

As part of this project, the owner of Love Enigma makeup training academy, Kirsty Walker invited us both along to her for a makeover at her gorgeous space at 22 Montrose Street, Glasgow.

Love Enigma is a cruelty-free, vegan, toxin-free makeup training academy that offers training and masterclasses from novices to professionals. We had a fun afternoon of honest conversations about makeup, bodies and what makes us feel good as women.

“It got me thinking, as these things do, when and why did we start wearing makeup?”

The first records of people using makeup are of the ancient Egyptians thousand of years ago. The women of Egypt decorated their eyes with dark green colour under the lid, blackened their lashes and upper lids with kohl, and wore rouge on their lips and cheeks.

All throughout history, from Egypt to Rome and Asia to China, there are records of civilisations all over the world using makeup for beauty, to signify social class, and for worshipping rituals.

Trends and fashions (just like now) have changed during different political and religious periods.


In Elizabethan times bold makeup became fashionable following a trend from Venice. It was exclusive, expensive and highly toxic.

The must-have item was white lead powder, which unfortunately coloured and withered the skin, rotted the teeth and caused hair loss. Makeup could also be potentially lethal during this time, containing among other things, arsenic.

In Victorian times, makeup took a more delicate trend and only a touch of powder was used. Women took to other methods of inviting beauty, including pinching cheeks and biting lips.


By the early 20th century, it was seen as sinful to wear makeup. Red lips were seen as something only prostitutes or actresses would wear (both thought of in the same way at this time).

Then, with the suffragette movement in the United Kingdom and United States, women started to wear red lipstick as a statement of rebellion.


Around the 1910s, theatre stars, ballerinas and eventually movie stars became huge in influencing the popularity of makeup.

Max Factor opened a professional makeup studio for stage and screen actors in Los Angeles in 1909 and ordinary women began to purchase theatrical eye shadow and eyebrow pencils for their home use.


In the 1920s, the movie industry in Hollywood had the most influential impact on cosmetics with superstars such as Theda Bara wearing dramatic kohl liner, synonymous with the flapper and vamp style.

Many present day giants of the cosmetics industry such as Elizabeth Arden, Coco Chanel and L’Oreal grew their companies around the 1920s and 30s.

If you want to know who to blame for fake tan, you can thank Coco Chanel who introduced it as a fashion statement… Or perhaps by mistake after being photographed after a Caribbean holiday looking bronzed.

Large departures from traditional styles happened in the 1950s, 60s and 70s with Hollywood glamour, the hippie movement, and punk. These styles emerged and morphed into the different trends that are still predominant today.

Now, in 2017 the global beauty market is forecast to reach $265 billion.

The reality of 2018: The full vlog

While we are still influenced to an extent by Hollywood and pop stars, the surprising big trend of the last few years is reality TV show stars and makeup influencers on YouTube who show you how to create the look.

The Kardasians (or more recently the young Jenners) have been a major influence here, as have TV shows such as Geordie Shores, Made in Chelsea, TOWIE and WAGs.

Now, we could go into why and how and is it right, but we are where we are and we ain’t going back.

There are still many women who are influenced by actresses and models (I fall into this category) and go for a look that is kind of natural looking with a brighter lip or darker eye shadow for nights out. And I say kind of natural looking because it still involves a base, blusher, bronzer, eye shadow, lipstick or gloss, eyebrow shadow or pencil and eyeliner.

Younger generations are definitely going for what I am going to call the full vlog.

One thing we have now that we didn’t have in the 1920s is YouTube and reality TV. It is massive and while small children love watching other small children playing games and opening presents (wtf?), young women love nothing more than watching other young women putting on makeup.

One of the prevalent looks of recent years is the full makeup look, which involves:

  • contouring;
  • thick, filled-in eyebrows, often tattooed or microbladed;
  • expertly applied eye shadow and eyeliner;
  • painted lips in all colours using lip stains, yes stains – these do not come off easily as I found out trying on the dark colour in Debenhams before a date!!

Makeup bloggers have become household names simply by posting videos of themselves creating this makeup look. Favourites are Jamie Genevieve, Jaclyn Hill, Katie Mulcahy (aka @lolaliner) and NikkiTutorials.

It’s now perfectly normal to see girls and women wearing fake eyelashes, tattooed eyebrows, hair extensions, fake tan and if you have enough dough, veneers on their teeth and that’s without talking about botox and fillers.

This look involves a lot of time, effort and money, with some pretty impressive results.

I like wearing makeup but I don’t particularly like wearing a lot of it. When I have a lot of makeup on my face and it changes my appearance dramatically, I am not kidding, it actually frightens me. However, I am aware that many women and girls love wearing lots of makeup and that can look great too.

I try not to judge people for how they choose to express themselves but I am very impressed by women who look like they are completely confident in themselves and are rocking their individuality.

I happen to think that there is something empowering about knowing that we have some degree of control over how we look to the world around us and that we can choose freely whether to wear makeup or not.

Of the other seven women I work with, every one has a completely different style of makeup, some wearing none, some wearing lots, some edgy, some classic, and some modern. They all look very much like them selves and I don’t think too much about what they are wearing or why.

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