If you saw a photo of a woman with stick-straight hair and a middle part, or another with fluffy hair and permed bangs, you would immediately recognize the decade (hello disco '70s and not so tasteful '80s). But hair trends aren’t the only defining characteristics of an era: though not quite as obvious, eyebrows can be indicative of moment in time, too.
“We’ve seen thick, thin, unibrow, nonexistent, dyed, bleached, tweezed, and bejeweled,” says brow guru and founder of her eponymous brand, Zoey Van Jones. “Much like hair color and hairstyle trends, brows have definitely played their part in creating one's identity as well as classifying a certain era with a distinctive look.” So with her and other industry experts' guidance, we took a look at the major brow trends dating as far back as ancient Egypt, some of the most copycat-worthy looks, and a few that might just be better left in the past. Plus, a prediction for brow trends of the future.
Photo: Images Group/REX Shutterstock.
A dramatic eye is nothing new: Cleopatra, Nefertiti "The Great Royal Wife" of Pharoah Akhenaten (looking browlicious in bust form), and those from all walks of life during the Egyptian Empire opted for mineral powder-lined lids and arches. They even plucked or shaved before they elongated and darkened their brows to get the perfect shape. But it wasn't simply an act of vanity, according to
— they actually used the powder to protect against diseases (oh and ward off evil spirits, too). Bonus fact: When a cat died, everyone in that household shaved off their eyebrows as an act of mourning.
Photo: DEA PICTURE LIBRARY/Getty Images.
Ancient Greece & Rome Women in both of these cultures believed in the power of purity and natural beauty. Meaning: the unibrow. But if they weren't "blessed" with just one arch, they would often connect the two with dark powder (okay, so maybe they weren't as strict about the natural part). It was worth bending the rules, since the Frida Kahlo look was considered more than just a sign of beauty, but intelligence as well — and they were smart enough to fake it.
Photo: Everett/REX Shutterstock.
The Middle Ages "In my opinion, the strangest time for brows was the Middle Ages," says Van Jones. "Women would pluck their brows almost completely off and tweeze their hairline higher, making their foreheads appear as large and high as possible. I’m sure they would say the same thing about some of our trends today though!" And for those who didn't go completely bare and eggheaded, another brow trend of the time was to dye them red in honor of Queen Elizabeth. Was the ginger arch the Elizabethan Era modern day Kate Middleton blowout?
Photo: Images/REX Shutterstock.
Victorian EraIf Cara Delevingne lived during this era, her eyebrows would have been undoubtedly as coveted as they are today — just take a look at this portrait of Florence Nightingale. Makeup was seen as something for prostitutes, so brows were left full and bushy, and skin bare. (The popular bold-brow, fresh-face look seems to have lasted the test of time.) But that’s not to say ladies of stature did not try to alter their appearance. Stylish European women would often use brow wigs (face merkins?) made of furry mouse skin to get that full-brow look. And they thought makeup was over-the-top?
Photo: Courtesy of Maybelline.
The idea that makeup was only for "women of the night" was quickly becoming an antiquated notion, and commercial cosmetics began popping up. One of the starting points was when a man named T.L. Williams witnessed his sister Mabel constantly applying a combination of Vaseline and burnt cork to her eyebrows to make them thicker and more defined. In a stroke of genius, he used a chemistry set to create a similar (and more marketable) concoction he called the
Lash Brow Line
that would eventually be dubbed Maybelline.
Photo: REX Shutterstock.
The Flapper Era marks the true beginning of celebrity obsession as a cultural phenomenon. Women took inspiration from silent film stars like Louise Brooks and Clara Bow, plucking their brows into thin lines that went out to their temples.
"In the Coco Chanel era makeup became bolder from the previous years," explains celebrity makeup artist
. "What was once considered trashy became a trend in transition to women wearing more 'in-charge' 'pants' attire. Expressing confidence by way of makeup in a male-dominated world at the time."
Photo: Moviestore/REX Shutterstock.
1930s "Brow trends are shaped by key influencers like the silent film stars of the '20s and '30s," explains Van Jones. "Access to these sought-after looks became accessible, especially after [legendary Hollywood makeup artist] Max Factor started nationally distributing these 'made for film' cosmetics to the public." And even more so after he gave Greta Garbo the brow makeover of a lifetime, which included shaving them off and penciling them back in. That thin movie star-inspired brow of the '20s was still in, but instead of a line straight across, the arch became majorly rounded thanks to Garbo's new look. ‘The very skinny, rounded eyebrow looked great on Greta Garbo for giving her a signature character,” says Rivero. “But drawing super skinny lines that look like half circles on your face its pretty strange.”
Photo: C.Everett/REX Shutterstock.
1940sDuring the wartime era eyebrows started trending back toward a more full look, but with a very defined arch. Beauties like Lauren Bacall and Grace Kelly lead by example.
Photo: Moviestore/REX Shutterstock.
This was a great time for fashion and a great time for brows. The only thing that could truly complement
Dior’s “New Look”
was a done-up face with bright lips, lined eyes, and a perfectly manicured full brow like Marilyn Monroe’s.
"For me one of the most flattering times was the '50s [and] early '60s," says Rivero. "The perfectly shaped and sculpted eyebrows with a pronounced arch of the Hollywood starlets were perfectly kept and arched to fit and frame their faces. It's a very beautiful look and I think we are transitioning there slowly today from a more wild, bushy '80s look to a more defined eyebrow aesthetic."
Photo: Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images.
If you thought the shaving the brows off and drawing them back on again thing was a lesson learned, lived, and forgotten, think again — although you could never tell by this pic. Supposedly, Sofia Loren's eyebrows curved down too close to her eyes and made her look
so she got rid of them completely and penciled them back on using tiny brushstrokes to make them look as natural as possible. Seriously cray, insanely impressive.
Photo: Moviestore/REX Shutterstock.
1970s In the decennial flip-flop from skinny to full brows, the disco era reverts back to ultra-thin arches (as seen on Pam Grier), yet thankfully with a natural-looking arch.
Photo: UNIMEDIA/REX Shutterstock.
1980s This was the era of excess. Rivero says it was about more makeup and more hair — the bigger the better! The phrase "bold brows" must have originated in the '80s. "In the '80s, pop era brows were left full and natural creating a bold and decadent look — a sign of times," says Van Jones. "Madonna wore them as dark as possible with platinum hair, while Brooke Shields sported them feathery and naturally askew."
Photo: JOHN DEE/REX Shutterstock.
1990s Most every brow how-to you come across these days introduces the subject with some sort of lamenting the over-plucking days of the '90s. It's hard to think that we would ever regret doing something that Kate Moss championed, but it's true. "Grunge and Goth-like heroin chic look followed the decadence and excess of the '80s," says Van Jones. "[The brows] were shaped extremely thin. This was also the height of MAC & RuPaul, bleached hair, black hair, black & red lipstick, and skinny eyebrows were everywhere."
2000s We started to witness the changing tide in brows around the time the new millennium kicked in. (And who better to illustrate it than Anne Hathaway, who had hers plucked on camera in The Princess Diaries.) Super-thin sets were officially on the outs, but big, bushy ones weren't in full force yet either. Instead, we landed somewhere in-between. Brows were shorter, slightly fuller, and had a tube-like shape. Oh, and they were pretty severely arched — because that's always a good look.
Photo: REX Shutterstock.
2010s"I believe the most flattering time for brows is now!" says Van Jones. "At the moment, we’re seeing a huge trend for women to wear full, bold brows. Almost every day, a client comes into the salon with a picture of Cara Delevingne with the desire to replicate her full brow look on them. We love it! A fuller brow can give our clients a more youthful appearance and, at the same time, tinting or filling in the brow creates definition and sophistication to anyone’s look."
Victor Virgile/Getty Images.
Today & Beyond “The runway is loaded with various full-brow manifestations — colored, bejeweled, fluffy, feathery, large-and-in-charge,” says Van Jones. "[In the future,] I see people pushing the boundaries and taking risks with color, jewels, and other embellishments. Women understand more and more that brows can be a true beauty statement, much like a bold lip color."
Today & Beyond "We saw pastel-colored eyebrows and goth-like eyebrow rings on the runway last year, and I have no doubt we’ll see those trends making their way into street style very soon," says Van Jones. (Kaley Cuoco is clearly leading the pack with her colored set.)
Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images.
Today & Beyond Makeup artists are letting their imaginations run wild when it comes to brows, and treating them more like an accessory. At Moncler, artist Val Garland dusted white powder onto models' sets to mimic the effect of being caught in a snowstorm.
Photo: Randy Brooke/Getty Images.
Today & Beyond
But if crazy colors and textures aren't for you, there's also the flip side of 2016 brow trends. We like to call this the "no-makeup makeup" of brows. They're meant to look bushy and slightly undone. The trick, however, is to
them to look that way. Products like
Glossier's Boy Brow
have been created to get that perfectly feathered look in a snap.
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