Iconic Women in Makeup History

Iconic Women in Makeup History

We are turning up this Women’s History Month with a nod to iconic women in makeup from the last 100 years. Whether they were wearing it, creating special effects, or revolutionizing their respective industry with a beat face, we want to know which lady resonates with you the most!

1920 - Clara Bow

Clara Bow was an actress in silent films and one of the few to transition to talkies successfully. Coined the “It” girl after staring in the rom-com box office hit, It (1927), Bow became the sex symbol of the Roaring ’20s for her magnetic performance as Betty, a spunky lovestruck employee with a plot to win her co-worker of different status. 

Makeup: Heavy mascara, thin eyebrows, thin eyeliner, slim red lipstick, and doe eyes

1930 - Nina Mae McKinney

Nina Mae McKinney is the first Black American actress to appear on British Television. Nicknamed in Europe as “The Black Garbo” for her stunning looks like Swedish actress Greta Garbo, racism in the American entertainment industry drove many African Americans to work in England, France, and other European countries. With triumphant performances on theater and television, McKinney returned to the U.S., performing in Harlem, Astoria, and Brooklyn. Although the actress faced hardships in her personal life, she continued her international career on stage, television, and movies until the 1950s and ultimately her passing in 1967. McKinney received a posthumous award from the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1978 for her lifetime achievement. 

Makeup: Proportionate lips, arched eyebrows, thick mascara on top and bottom lashes

1930 - Anna May Wong

One of the first American movie stars in Hollywood of Chinese descent, Ana May Wong is known for acting in silent films, talkies, on television, on stage, and the radio. Like McKinney, Wong went to Europe for some time, gaining international recognition and formal training in acting. Upon returning to the U.S., Paramount hired Wong to play a Chinese role using stereotypical Japanese mannerisms, but she refused to fall into stereotypes. Instead, Wong took what she knew about Chinese culture and her heritage to create a more accurate portrayal. Unfortunately, she would continue to be typecast in stereotypical “evil Chinese” roles while white actresses took lead roles as Chinese characters wearing “Yellowface.” Wong pushed against disparities in pay, Chinese portrayal in entertainment, and the Hays Code. Her legacy has humanized Chinese people and culture into mainstream American audiences. 

Makeup: Cupid’s bow lip, pencil-thin eyebrows, eyeliner around the entire waterline, mascara on long lashes at the top and bottom

1940 - Pearl Mae Bailey

Fortunate to experience higher education at Booker T. Washington high school as a black woman, Pearl Mae Bailey went on to have a fulfilling career. From Vaudeville, Bailey transitioned to Broadway with her hit acting debut in St. Louis Women performing “It’s a Woman’s Prerogative.” Best known for headlining an all-Black version of Hello, Dolly! Bailey has received many accolades for her acting and singing. She was also well-liked by political figures Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan, gaining political recognition and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Female impersonator Lynne Carter credited Bailey for launching his career. Meanwhile, she was close friends with other actresses like Joan Crawford and Perle Mesta, calling them her sisters.

Makeup: Arched eyebrows, proportioned lip, curled lashes, and light eye makeup

1950 - Celia Cruz

Celia Cruz

Coined as the “Queen of Salsa,” Afro-Cubano singer Celia Cruz began her career in Cuba with the musical group Guarachas. Forced to leave home in 1960 because of the Cuban Revolution, Cruz relocated to Mexico and the United States, where she spoke of the Cuban community in exile. She revolutionized Latin music, earning Grammy Awards throughout her long career. One of the most recognizable symbols of Salsa music is her catchphrase “Azucar!” meaning sugar. 

Makeup: Fuller horizontal eyebrow, proportioned lip, heavy eyeliner, mascara on top lashes

1950 - Milicent Patrick

The inclusion of women in Hollywood Horror films has grown, but there are still significant disparities. Milicent Patrick started at Walt Disney Studios in 1939 as the first female animator. More notably, she created the iconic Gill-man monster in Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Fired by Universal Studios, Patrick went unrecognized for years with a man taking credit for her work. However, Patrick’s story inspires other women in special effects makeup like Christina Kortum, Anna Cali, and Montse Ribe. 

Makeup: Extreme cat-eye, wide lips, no eyebrows, and gills

1960 - Rita Moreno

Originally from Puerto Rico, Rita Moreno is known for her acting, dancing, and singing in musical films like West Side Story (1961), playing Maria’s (Natalie Wood) friend and girlfriend to Maria’s brother, Bernado (George Chakiris), the leader of the Sharks. One of the songs, America, sung by Moreno, originally painted Puerto Rico in an unfavorable light to which Moreno had the lyrics changed. She is only one of sixteen EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) winners. Moreno also has other notable accolades like the Presidential Medal of Freedom, The Triple Crown, and Kennedy Center Honor for her contribution to American culture. 

Makeup: Arched full eyebrows, Wide and full pouty lip, mole, long thick lashes top and bottom, thick eyeliner on the top lash

1970 - Pam Grier

Prominent in the 1970s for action and blaxploitation films like Foxy Brown (1974), Pam Grier is the first Black American woman to headline an action film. Although the genre dissolved in the late ’70s, Grier continued to act in various action roles as recurring characters in Miami Vice (1985), Crime Story (1986) and played Steven Seagal’s detective partner in Above the Law (1988). Grier recently opened a Community Garden and Education Center with the National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum to teach people about gardening, health, and nutrition. 

Makeup: Nude wide lip, light blush/rouge, foundation, bold eyes with colored eyeshadow, full arched eyebrows, long top and bottom lashes

1980 - Janet Jackson

Since she was a kid, Janet Jackson has been singing, dancing, and acting, being part of the world-renowned Jackson family and, most notably, Michael Jackson’s sister. However, Jackson stands on her own with albums like Control (1986) and Rhythm Nation (1989), which revolutionized women’s sexual expression and independence. Today, Jackson is cited as the inspiration behind many artists after her and continues to sing, dance, and act for audiences worldwide. 

Makeup: Thicker arched eyebrows, heavy eyeliner, and mascara on top and bottom drawn wide lips

1990 - Naomi Campbell

Considered one of the six Original Supermodels, Naomi Campbell has walked on every runway imaginable from Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, and Yves St. Laurent. Although she was internationally known and in demand, she earned less than her counterparts, like Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista. They stood with her in solidarity when runways tried to exclude her. Campbell was also the first black woman to appear on the cover of British Vogue since 1966 and first-ever for French Vogue. Outspoken against racial bias in the modeling industry, Campbell joined other black models Iman and Bethann Hardison in a “Diversity Coalition,” bringing awareness to the lack of inclusion from high profile designers in an open letter. She also donates to other charitable causes addressing women’s health, civil rights, and natural disaster. 

Makeup: Wide penciled and glossy lip, heavy eyeshadow, eyeliner, mascara, and noticeable rouge/blush

2000 - Christina Aguilera

Christina Aguilera has been singing since she was a kid, first on The Mickey Mouse Club and other Disney movies until her early adult years. Known for her impressive four-octave vocal range and whistle register, Aguilera transitioned from innocent G-rated songs like the theme song for Disney’s Mulan to racier songs like “Dirrty” (2002), which she executively produced and co-wrote. Although the album, Stripped, was controversial, Aguilera won several accolades, including a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for her song Beautiful, which became an LGBTQ+ anthem. The rest of the album tackled sexuality, domestic violence, and gender equality. 

Makeup: Heavy rhinestones, rouge from temple to jaw, thick eyeliner, mascara, and eyeshadow, bold wide lip, thin eyebrows 

2010 - Cara Delevingne

Model, actress, and musician Cara Delevingne gained international stardom in the 2010s, although she’d been modeling since 2002. She is currently on hiatus to focus on acting and music, but her most notable film is the young adult movie adaptation Paper Towns (2015) by John Green. More recently, Delevigne wrote a young adult fiction book with LGBTQ themes about teen angst as she identifies as genderfluid. 

Makeup: Thick bold eyebrows, nude eyeshadow, nude blush, and nude lip, thick cat-eye, heavy mascara

2020 - Zendaya

Zendaya is a fashion-icon-in-the-making, model, and actress. She dazzles on the red carpet with the most in-demand fashion, and makeup looks. Acting in everything from Malcolm and Marie (2021), HBO’s Euphoria (2019), and the latest adaptation of the young adult novel Dune (2021), Zendaya has solidified her career as a drama actor. Although her star is rising, Zendaya makes charitable donations to UNICEF, Donorschoose.org, and Convoy of Hope. 

Makeup: Floating Eyeliner and cat-eye, long spider leg eyelashes, metallic eyeliner, Pronounced eyebrow, plush and glossy lip, light blush

We know so many women throughout history have paved the way for women today to have certain freedoms in expression, sexuality, and creativity. Without their public presence, experimentation, and revolutionary spirit, we may still be hiding under our makeup instead of embracing it as a form of self-expression. 

Let us know who we missed in the comments below and how you feel about their makeup! 

Back to blog