Emulating the beauty looks of the times

23rd May 2022
Caroline Roberts

Makeup trends have always reflected the attitudes, constraints and opportunities of the time, and this was especially true during the Revival era. The mid-century decades saw huge changes in the roles of women in society; from playing a vital part in the war effort, back to being homemakers in the ‘50s, to embracing the growing freedoms of the ‘60s.

So, what would we have found on the dressing tables of the time and how can you harness those trends of the eras to recreate an authentic look for the Revival?


The 1940s Warpaint look

Beauty is your duty’ was the catchphrase of the war years. “The desire to wear makeup had never been stronger, and looking good in the face of the enemy became part of your patriotic duty,” says artist and style expert, Madeleine Marsh, author of Compacts and Cosmetics, Beauty from Victorian times to the present day (Pen & Sword, 2014).

That said, makeup was often hard to come by during the war. Raw materials were scarce and manufacturers turned their attention to producing camouflage paint rather than foundation, and bullets instead of lipstick cases. Make-do was the order of the day and women stained their lips and cheeks with beetroot juice and used boot polish for mascara. And with stockings in short supply, some even painted their legs with gravy browning and drew a seam up the back with eyeliner – fine until it started to rain or a passing dog got a whiff of roast dinner.

“If you’re doing a ‘40s look, it absolutely has to be red lips. There were shades called Victory Red, Fighting Red, and Grenadier Red. It’s about looking strong and positive and manifesting the desire to win. The iconic pin-up of the period was always wearing red lipstick and nail varnish,” says Marsh.

Take a look at our guide to authentic 40s fashion here,


Towards the fabulous fifties

Throughout the war, women had worn trousers, uniforms and utility clothing to be able to perform practical duties. But with the late ‘40s and ‘50s came the desire for luxury femininity, says Marsh. “There were two main looks – very elegant and ladylike, or sexy like Marilyn Monroe. ‘Immaculate grooming’ is a phrase that occurs again and again in makeup adverts. If you were putting on your Max Factor Pan-Stik foundation, you made sure you covered your décolletage as well as your face,” she adds.

Many women were back in the home and all the advice in women’s magazines was about what kind of lipstick to be wearing when your husband gets in, or how to get the right look when meeting a prospective mother-in-law.

But for those who aspired to the seductive siren look, lipsticks were bold with a luscious sheen and came in fuchsia and bright coral as well as soft reds. And a subtle version of the classic winged eyeliner made an appearance, although Audrey Hepburn popularised the thickly-lined doe-eyed look later in the decade.

During the ‘40s, makeup containers and packaging were plain plastic or cardboard due to the wartime metal shortages. But the ‘50s made up for it and dressing tables sparkled with luxurious gold and diamanté.

Whatever your post-war persona, get some inspiration for the era with our 1950s style guide.


The youthquake of the sixties

The next decade, it was all about looking young. Those post-war babies were now teenagers, jobs were plentiful so they had money to spend on cosmetics and they definitely didn’t want to look like their mothers.

“The look in the ‘60s was big eyes and pale lips,” says Marsh. “The bigger your eyes, the younger you looked. Think of Twiggy’s false eyelashes – she would sometimes wear three pairs at once. It was also the space age and this was reflected in makeup too, with silvery, iridescent eyes and lips to give you that moonlight glow.”

Mary Quant was the iconic brand of the time and the grown-up gilt packaging of the ‘50s was replaced by plastic and a simple daisy logo. Makeup was all about fun. You could draw flowers on your face and body with her colourful set of crayons and aim for a youthful, no-makeup look with her playfully-named ‘Starkers’ foundation, available in fair, medium or dark only. 

Want to perfect the looks of the 1960s? Get some style inspiration from our 1960s guide.


Vintage makeup treasures

During the Revival era, and particularly during the ‘40s and ‘50s, a powder compact was a handbag essential, and it was quite the done thing to whip it out in public and dab the shine off your nose. So don’t forget to hunt down a vintage compact to take to Revival. Many are a bit battered, but the compact was a popular 18th or 21st birthday present, so you may find one in pristine condition as it was put away and never used. If you’re really lucky you might come across a compact from the early days of the war, when manufacturers of army buttons and uniforms produced compacts bearing the insignia of the armed forces.

And vintage makeup finds are very special, says Madeleine. “When you open up a compact that’s still got its powder in, or a half-used lipstick, it’s incredibly evocative and brings the past to life as you can actually smell it.” But don’t be tempted to use vintage makeup as it degrades over time, she warns, and especially not on your face. “I once tried some 1920s cream rouge on my hand as it was an amazing colour, but it took me two days to get it off.”

Clothes and make up sorted? Now read our guide to accessories to complete your Revival look.

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