Eyeliner and Liner Notes: The 1960s

In Depth

As we’ve worked through the last several decades of makeup trends in North America and Western Europe, you may have noticed that – aside from a few minor changes – the 1930s through to the 1950s were basically same verse, same as the first as far as the looks go. I could’ve basically just written an article that said, “HOPE YOU LIKE RED LIPSTICK OK BYE THANKS FOR READING,” and while that would be incredibly lazy and so simplified that I might as well have written it in crayon on the back of a napkin, there really wasn’t a lot of variation happening. The 1960s is when everything starts to go a little more crazy, and by “crazy” I mean “I hope you like pastels and mattes because holy shit, it’s about to get real shiny up in this place.” The last three decades were the Land of Lips (not to be confused with the Land O’ Lakes, which is just really greasy but wonderful on toast), while the 1960s ushered in the eras of QUICK PUT THIS STUFF ON YOUR EYEBALLS NOW PUT MORE ON IT phew oh thank god. Makeup became more experimental, more youthful, and basically became the OG version of whatever kind of horrible makeup we all seemed to be wearing in grade school in the late 1990s (think frosted light blue eye shadow, pale lipsticks, and the overwhelming desire to look really, really pearlescent).

The look of the early 1960s basically just emulated the 1950s (NOTE: sometimes I wish that when the decades shifted from one to the other that Dick Clark would just be like, “Alright, and now you must burn all your outfits and start anew!” and suddenly everyone would have to shift from normal pantsuits to silver mesh with deely-boppers on their heads or something. Like, could you imagine what 2000 would’ve been like? We would’ve all been wearing silver pants and a lot of body gli-… oh GOD NO), but as the decade went on the looks started to shift from the high glamour of the 50s to the mod and hippie looks that defined the 60s.

One of the big things about the makeup looks from the 60s is that rather than there just being one overarching look that everyone – regardless of race, socioeconomic status, or ability to properly apply lipstick – was expected to emulate, variety started to become much more visible. While some people stuck with the glamour of red lipstick and dramatic eyeliner, others adopted for the mod look (the “Swinging London” look) with dramatic eyes and washed-out lips, while still others abandoned makeup altogether and instead took up politics and signs with angry slogans on them (“DOWN WITH EVERYTHING”, “BLOOD FOR BAAL”, and so on. To be honest, I probably should’ve looked these up). The softened and mostly makeup-free hippie looks morphed into the natural face of the 1970s (which I’ll get into next time), while the traditional 1950s look remained a quiet mainstay.

While media, celebrities, and fashion tend to be the biggest dictators of what’s hot and what’s not, this era was also deeply influence by the Women’s Liberation and Civil Rights movements in the US. Here’s where I state that while I would like to do these topics justice by writing 5000 words on them, that’s not really what I’m here to do or what you’re here to read, but they really do play an important part in all of this. So please accept my sincere apologies as I present an incredibly oversimplified TL;DR:

The Civil Rights movement was one of the most important developments of the 1960s in the US, with activists bringing issues that affected black men and women to the forefront. In the makeup world up until this point (and, to an extent, still to this day), very few companies catered to women of color. While the makeup and hair trends themselves were expected to be followed by all women regardless of race, few companies made any attempt to create any sort of products geared towards women of color, aside from a select few, most of which happened to be run by women of color themselves. During the ‘60s, a few more companies started offering products geared towards a wider audience and the first brand made exclusively for women of color – Flori Roberts – was launched in 1965. It was also the first cosmetic brand meant for women of color to be sold in department stores.

For black women, natural hair started to become more popular, with Afros becoming quite popular in the late 60s-early 70s (with two excellent examples of the hair from the era being Angela Davis and model Marsha Hunt). Natural hair was both a dramatic break aesthetically from the previous trend of heavy chemical treatments meant to flatten and straighten black hair and – for some – a political statement. “Black is beautiful” was a politically-driven slogan meant to help push people away from a “white” standard of beauty that focused heavily on pale skin and straight hair, but – like everything else in life – it soon was co-opted by advertisers and popular culture, with everyone from makeup brands to the companies that sold hair relaxers and skin bleaching creams touting that “black is beautiful.”

SIDE NOTE: I don’t know about you, but if a brand went from telling me that I needed to be paler to going, “No no no, it’s cool, you look great, maybe just like… use a little of our product? Yeah, there we go” I’d be side-eying that so hard that my eyeballs would detach and get caught in my inner ear.

Anyway, this marks a point where major makeup companies slowly start to realize that people come in shades other than “porcelain” and “slightly tan beige.” The Feminist Movement was also a big player and continued to redefine the role of makeup in women’s lives (among other way more important things, but like, we’re here for the makeup), with some continuing to wear it as a proud signifier of their femininity, while others went and just hucked it all in the garbage because FUCK THAT NOISE.

This decade was the heyday for a lot of major style icons, such as Twiggy, Jackie Onassis, Edie Sedgwick, Bridget Bardot, Marsha Hunt, Janis Joplin, Mary Quant, Cher, Patti Boyd, Audrey Hepburn (it’s easy to forget that Breakfast at Tiffany’s came out in 1961), Yoko Ono, Jean Shrimpton, The Supremes, Raquel Welch, and Jane Fonda, just to name slightly more than a few. These women are an interesting group as their looks are, in comparison to previous decades, quite varied. Janis Joplin’s looks is natural and free-spirited, while people like Patti Boyd, Jean Shrimpton, and Marsha Hunt are lean, high-fashion models. Meanwhile, The Supremes pulled off matching insane outfits before Destiny’s Child were even a sparkle in the sewing room of Tina Knowles, Cher was proving that there was life before Bob Mackie and that life was full of ironed hair and a lot of eyeliner, and Yoko Ono was doing whatever it is that Yoko Ono does?(ANSWER: Being Yoko Ono and fucking owning it.)

With youth culture becoming more and more visible, the looks started to get “younger” as well. Skirts got shorter, makeup got brighter, and someone (ok, Mary Quant) looked at a pair of shorts and went, “Shorts are great, but what if we made hot pants?” The 1930-50s were a time when grown-up glamour was the main look that people were trying to achieve. Sure, looking “youthful” was important, but ladies were meant to look like ladies, what with their perfect hair and red lips adequate retirement funds. While these looks still quietly hang out in the background of popular culture, delicately drinking martinis and wearing caftans while lounging around the parlour, the makeup styles that defined the 1960s focused on youth to the point of being one drunken house party away from shaving your buddy’s head and getting the cops called on you.

As far as face makeup goes, the 1960s start out with heavy foundation holding over from the 1950s but transition into powder foundations as the years progressed, until finally fading into a much more natural style as we enter into the 1970s. While the foundation trends of the previous decade carried over at the start, by the end of the ‘60s a fair number of people had transitioned to just wearing translucent powder, or even no base makeup at all. Blushes were kept subtle as well, with most people sticking to matte peaches, corals, or pink shades, and it was kept further back on the face. Really, if you like a good thick wall of foundation, then you’re probably going to have better time hanging out in the ‘50s with all of the popular kids, what with their red lipstick and their coiffed hair and their malts.

If you like eye looks, then pull up a beanbag and grab a bottle of Franzia, because the 1960s is the time for you, as eyes reigned supreme. Eye shadows went from subtle and sheer to hardcore matte, bright, and much more opaque on the lids. While everyone likes to think of the 1950s of the time of winged liner (NOT ME), the 1960s were actually the time when eyeliner was big, bold, and out there (both in the way people wore it and in the length of the wings people tended to wear). Two great examples of this are The Ronettes, a girl group well-known for their matching outfits, amazing hair, and winged eyeliner that would make a young Amy Winehouse jealous, and – of course – Twiggy, the queen of the dramatic cut crease and lower lashes drawn on with black liner. Eyeliner is damn well everywhere at this point: Upper lash line, lower lash line, above the crease, in the crease, on the goal line, whatever. While black liner was the most common, white liner was also popular, just in case you wanted to look like half the girls I went to school with in 2001. Eyeshadows were kept pale and quite matte and generally came in shades such as pale blue, purple, pink, green, and white.

In the past, most eye looks were about subtlety and quiet glamour, while the mod look was about… well, I guess seeing how much pastel eye shadow you could pack onto your eyelid at once, then drawing over it with black liner. Now, this is not to say that this is the only look, but it is definitely one of the more dramatic trends to come out of the decade, and if you’re looking for inspiration to pin to your various Pinterest boards, just start Googling “Twiggy” and then stop pinning when you get to pictures of her posing beside Tyra Banks. Along with the dramatic eye looks comes dramatic mascara and false eyelashes. Both artificial and real hair (including human, mink, and even seal) lashes were available. This is really the high point for false lashes, with around 20,000,000 pairs a year being sold in the US by 1968. If you didn’t have access to false lashes, then you could draw them in on your lower lash (again, like Twiggy, that trendsetting no-goodnick). Meanwhile, eyebrows were pretty tame in comparison, with some people just filling them in with a little pencil or powder, which is boring. NOT ENOUGH EYELINER, MOVING ON.

The mod style emphasized eyes and was the early precursor to the whole “why don’t I just look like a chewed on a tube of concealer” look that was recently relatively popular (maybe just in Liverpool when I was living there, I don’t know. Everyone had REALLY DRAMATIC EYEBROWS and no discernable lipstick). Lips were paler than ever with brands putting out lipsticks in light reds, soft pinks, corals, and frosted whites, along with lots of glosses and pearlized finishes. Lipstick was mostly kept inside the natural lip line and folks eschewed lip liner, rather than the over-lining that had been popular in the past. Brands like Yardley (one of the biggest mod-focused brands), Revlon, and Max Factor made lipsticks and glosses meant to give a shiny or wet look to the lips. Yeah, we’re not wearing matte red lipstick around these parts, that’s meant for squares!

The author as a real swinging ‘60s lady.

The ‘60s is one of the more difficult eras to distill down into a single article. With a ton of social and political changes happening, various movements and revolutions, and a culture that is shifting to focus on young people, there is a lot going on that can’t truly be summarized in a single piece. But as far as makeup is concerned, it’s the breaking point from the very homogenous looks of the past. It is now time for people to start marching to their own drummers and creating much more individualized looks, for subcultures to grow and become distinct, and for makeup to suddenly start going all pants-on-head crazy, something that will continue on full-tilt until we eventually get to the 1980s, a decade that makes this one look practically restrained.

Enjoy these sources:

Alex Nursall is a makeup-obsessed writer, illustrator, and photographer based in Toronto.

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