Make-up plays a huge part in our world.
Many consider it an essential element of everyday existence. But how much do we really know about the evolution of make-up? The beautifying empire of cosmetics has risen to staggering heights. But before praising the countless brands and ever-changing products promising us perfect skin or a smouldering stare, lets take a look back and see how it was done.
Well, the earliest recorded use of bodily decoration dates all the way to around 500,000BCE when African cave dwellers would slather themselves in mud before tracing florid patterns in to it using fine twigs. This not only kept their skin from drying up, but also acted as an insect repellent (pretty and practical). Make-up is even in the Bible (1 Kings 16:31). Jezebel is the religious figure known for her unconventional ‘painted eye-lids’ and disregard for fidelity.
Now, its difficult to say where precisely the creation of beauty products began, but in Egypt around 3000 years ago the natives were already using thirty varieties of body balms and ointments enriched with beeswax and animal fat. In fact, moisturisers were such a necessity in Ancient Egypt, they were worn by farmers and workers as well as royalty! Needless to say, the Egyptians were an extremely developed race and vanity was a vast element of their culture. You look at any artefact depicting Cleopatra or Nefertiti and their smouldering eye liner is hard to miss. Not to mention their fabulous headware. When most homosapiens were still grunting and rubbing sticks together the amazing Egyptians were enjoying egg white facials, henna manicures and even wearing lipstick! Never in red, though, that was the forbidden colour of magic. Along with eye shadows and skin creams there were combs, razors, exfoliants and even anti-wrinkle formulas mixed from papyrus and bullock’s bile! By 2000BC Cairo’s workers refused to graft in the blazing sun until the much treasured supplies were delivered to beautify and protect their skin. Only then could the pyramids continue to appear. The best part comes now. The Egyptians outlined their eyes using kohl and crushed ant eggs – urgh! This not only gave their eyes depth and size but was seen as a symbol of power and confidence. Isn’t it nice to know the much loved smoky-eyes look has been a trend for over 5000 years! And it wasn’t just women who went about adorning their bodies with prettifying ingredients. Babylonian men (Iraq) used to sprinkle their hair with gold dust! It was around this time also that the theatres of Greece had discovered their own means of face painting for their theatrical usage.
In later years women of various cultures had accumulated their own discoveries and recipes. They powdered their faces using crushed minerals like ocher (the 400BC version of bronzer), hematite and even lead carbonate – talk about deadly beauty.
Aristocrats of 15th century France enjoyed the flourishing trend of white face powder made from flour and lead to feign the porcelain look, boasting their indoor lifestyle. Unlike then, being tanned now represents health and the privilige of visiting exotic lands.
Later centuries saw the creation of fragranced skin tonics, perfume, wigs and the transforming, cheating and concealing uses of cosmetics. Queen Elizabeth I exemplified the beauty of the period with her plucked hairline, none existent eyebrows and white skin (unseen by sunlight). In 1603, the year of the Queen’s death, it is said that her body was found with two inches of make-up on her face. In those days when peronal hygiene was a minor priority, make-up was a way of masking blemishes and the horrific scars left by smallpox.
In the 19th Century cosmetics became more accessible (well, slightly) but many women took a more natural approach. The pale look was achieved with powders and creams or by evacuating blood from the body for a more authentic look! Belladonna drops were also placed in the eyes to achieve a ‘dreamy’ gaze and pig’s blood was used to give the cheeks a rosy flush. In the late 19th century, however, heavy make-up was considered improper as only prostitutes or ‘painted ladies’ sported that look. That all changed in the 1920s when flapper-girls like Clara Bow embraced their gender and love of cosmetics by smudging their eyes in kohl, painting their lashes with soot and dancing all night. As the 20th century continued to unfold so did the development of many products such as a deodorant, lipstck, eye shadows and several skin care products like Ponds cold cream and Fuller’s Earth powder. By the mid 1930’s make-up and beauty were a must-have all over the world. MaxFactor, L’Oreal, Coco Chanel, Maybelline and Avon stormed on to the scene catering to the various tastes and beauty desires to women everywhere. But for a tragic period, more specifically 1939-1945, the manufacturing of cosmetics went on hiatus due to petroluem and alcohol being needed for war supplies.
Once the world was able to exhale with relief of war ending new faces and even more exciting brands were making their mark on shop shelves expanding the world of beauty; Astral cream, Boots No 7 and Estee Lauder’s ambitious line. Cosmetics were not just another product wanting to be owned, beauty and confidence was pioneered, advertised and empowered by adored stars of the time; Joan Crawford with her powerfully sketched brows, Audrey Hepburn with her amazing feline eyes, Marilyn Monroe, Liz Taylor and Sophia Loren. By the time the 60s were upon us make-up had formed trends! New colours and textures flew off the shelves. New and distinctive looks were designed. Make-up was officially for everyone and it made its mark at the centre of British Bohemia when Bowie emerged as the andogynous Ziggy Stardust sporting a painted lightning bolt, contoured cheek bones and black rimmed eyes. Men refused to be left out once the 70s came. With high heeled boots, fur coats and sparkling eyes Freddy Mercury, Marc Bolan and Elton John came in a burst of smoke and glitter. By now beauty was reaching new heights since the emergence of affordable ranges like MAC and Revlon. And what was going on in the street was just as important behind the scenes also. Theatrical make-up designs were rife in the late 80’s pioneered by the likes of Grace Jones and Annie Lennox. Fashion catwalks were an explosion of colour and experimental make-up.
The 90s saw the supermodel boom: lots of browns! Brown lipstick (thanks to Bobbi), brown eyeshadows, tanned skin and big eyebrows. The cosmetics avant-garde sort of took a nap keeping looks quite tame but pretty. But twenty years soon passed and now here we are…there are no rules now, normal is a word rarely used and old is gold! Vintage, glam rock, burlesque, movie stars, cartoon characters – the vast world of beauty has opened countless doors to us all. So let’s go through them and be who we want!
We’ve come a long way, trial and error, limited to limitless and beauty has formed countless dimensions as time has playfully shown us.
So here’s to a billion beautiful years and hopefully a billion more!