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Beauty and the Ages- Cultural Influences on Beauty Trends

Updated: Jan 6


From the seductive red lip of the 50s, technicolor eyeshadows of the 80s, and the orange, fake tan of the 2000s, each decade had a striking beauty trend that took the world by storm. While they are all iconic, many of them did not live past their time-- such as Twiggy's clumpy lash look or mullets (oh, Beastie Boys, that was a huge mistake).

Formed by cultural influences, trends come and go even as our society changes with each passing year. While each decade was dominated by trends, the 2020s seemed a different beast that fashionistas are struggling to sustain. From examining the other decades, we can pinpoint what exactly is different about our generation.


The 1950s: Extravagance

Right after World War II, the 1950s was a time of prosperity as America rose from the ashes of war. Our economy boomed, WWII economic expansion led people to find jobs with ease and thus eager to spend their hard-earned money after years of rationing. This was a period of extravagant consumption, mirrored in the cosmetics industry and beauty trends. Glamorous makeup was all the rage, with post-war icon Marilyn Monroe sporting thick foundation, red lipstick, and sharp cat eyeliner that all women sought to mimic. She paved the way with her elegant pin curl updo and curvy hourglass figure, becoming the definition of Hollywood's "blonde bombshell."


The 1960s: Free-Spirited

The 60s was the era of the hippies. During the Vietnam War, the Hippie Movement reached its height in popularity as many protested America's involvement in Southeast Asia. By rejecting mainstream American culture, many individuals donned long hair and beards and colorful style, a trend that would forever be engraved in history. While experimental fashion was in, cosmetics were not all that popular, with many women wearing flashy face paint or no makeup. This is because feminists of the time viewed makeup as a tool of oppression, opting for hippie face paint or edgy mood looks to break away from the strict beauty standards set by the older generations.


The 1970s: Less is More

Following the start of the feminist movement in the 60s, cosmetics sales during this era were at an all-time low. With the growing power of women's liberation, many followers of the movement disagreed with the sexualization of women in beauty ads. The most radical feminists forgo makeup altogether as they felt it only led to objectification. During this time, many other liberal women believed that beauty was from within and not painted on, leading to consumers wanting more natural makeup products. With this "less is more" mentality, bronzed and healthy makeup was paired with minimal eye makeup and groomed brows. Care-free, messy hair was famous as well, Farrah Fawcett's feathery layers and flicked-out hair becoming the norm.


1980s: Bold and Bright

Following the 70s, America did a 180-degree turn-around. While it was still about female empowerment, the masses decided to go about it differently: by taking back makeup and redefining beauty. Bold and bright was the way to go during this period-- women and men alike donning vivid blush, electrifying eyeshadow, and striking lipstick on a pale foundation base. Hairstyles also took an unconventional twist, with crimped perms, back-combed hair, and mullets being all the rage. In the 80s, the motto was "the bigger, the better" when it came to hair, and the same could arguably be applied to makeup as well.


The 1990s: Sun-Kissed

The 90s started the era where we can see some remnants of modern makeup. Beauty trends of this time were heavily influenced by hip-hop culture, such as overlined lip liner (often in a darker color than the lipstick) and arched, plucked brows. Matte was the only makeup people knew, whether it took the form of powdery foundation or brown and wine-colored lips. Orange bronzer was also necessary, with too many people running to tanning booths to get their dose of skin cancer. The 90s also started the iconic smokey eye, which quickly became cult status amongst celebrities and remains a classic today.

The 2000s: Burnt

When you thought eyebrows could not get any thinner, they did. Comparing the 2000s versus the 90s' trends makes the 21st century look like just a younger, flashier sister. Many still adored the dark overlined lip and light lipstick combo, this time adding gloss to create the effect of a plump pout. Blush also took off this decade, red hue packed onto heavy bronzer for a sun-kissed (or burnt) look. People did not use an extra bronzer; they also utilized body glitter to get that radiant glow.

Back then, Victoria's Secret peaked in popularity, its annual fashion show viewed by millions worldwide. This led to the desire for what many call the "Victoria Secret Model Body"-- a tall and thin frame with tanned skin.


The 2010s: Snatched and Lifted

Finally, we are at the years that are all too familiar. The 2010s was the decade of the contour, popularized by Kim Kardashian and her snatched makeup routine. Using contour products and kits, many strove to thin and lift their faces with carefully placed shadows and highlights. Also, the smokey eye was still well-regarded, taking a more neutral approach to be paired with a matte, nude lip. During this period, the Kardashians also changed society's body ideals: a toned body with a flat stomach, slim legs, and large buttocks like Kim's becoming all the rage.

The 2020s: The End of "Trends" Culture?

While we just started the newest decade, it has become evident that beauty trends are no longer serving the same purpose as they did many years ago.


Fashion Marketing Expert Allison Cooper commented on how fashion trends usually began: "In decades' past fashion trends typically were started and evolved strictly through the method of the fashion house to the magazine to the consumer." It was always trending, from glitzy catwalks, posed magazine covers, and makeup artists' creations, starting from the professionals and trickling down to the street. However, now, it is the opposite. Byrdie's editorial director, Faith Xue, states, "People are not looking to magazines … to tell them what is 'trendy' or 'cool' anymore, but rather as sources of inspiration for them to decide on their own." Ordinary people are now the ones dictating the trends-- what is cool or not.


There are two main reasons behind this. The first one lies in the differences between generations. The young trendsetters of this decade are Millennials and Gen Z, the generations that prioritize individuality and diversity. Due to this sense of individualism, the younger consumers are less concerned about beauty trends and more concerned about expressing themselves authentically, like the individuals they are.


The second reason can be attributed to the emergence of the internet. With digital media, consumers can now explore their interests; however, niche and diverse they are. Instead of trends being created by magazines and fashion runways, they are now dictated by the variety of influencers and social media feeds. Whether someone searches up pastel hairstyles or follows varying types of accounts, they will be able to find specific content that speaks to and inspires their style.


If anything, many people argue that individualism is a trend in itself. "Right now, it is trending to do your own thing and be your person, whatever that looks like," analyzes Jesse Montalvo. By being yourself, you are the 2020s' definition of cool and classy.

However, we can all agree that there is no ideal version of beauty. From the hippie face paint of the 60s, natural makeup of the 70s, the micro-thin brows of the 2000s, beauty standards vary and will always change with each time's culture.


So, out of all of the trends of the decades, the 2020s is my favorite. No one should feel forced to be anyone other than themselves, and I hope this article shows you that.


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