The cabaret style of the 1920s was a bold mixture of the masculine and feminine. To achieve the flapper look, women strapped their curves down in an effort to have boyish bodies but they wore very feminine fringed or sequined dresses. They cut their hair off in the rebellious bob cut but painted their faces with heavy makeup. With the absence of long, feminine hair, the focus shifted to the women’s heavily painted faces.
Eyebrows and Lashes
Applications of cabaret style makeup meant no element of the face was left natural. Eyebrows were plucked clean off the face and replaced by drawn-on brows that were placed higher than natural eyebrows and drawn to be razor thin and dramatic. Women wore mascara to make their lashes as lush and long as possible, which brought more attention to the eyes. This type of 1920s mascara came in cake form and was melted and applied to the eyelashes with a stick. Women used combs to separate each eyelash, especially on the bottom, to help make the eyes appear larger before applying the mascara.
Eye Shadow and Kohl
As with every era, women based their look upon the celebrities of the day. Stars in the ’20s included women like Theda Bara and Clara Bow, both of whom had heart-shaped faces with big eyes. Since movies were silent, these women used a lot of makeup to make their eyes more expressive. Women used one bold shadow color, such as blue, all over their eyelids. They also used kohl to accentuate the borders around the eyes. Kohl, which was thicker and darker than eyeliner, was like grease paint. This “raccoon-eye” application of makeup made the eyes stand out even more dramatically.
Powder and Rouge
Women like Clara Bow also had pale skin and red cheeks. Flappers sought to make their complexion as white as possible by applying a cream foundation first that was lighter than their natural skin tone. White powder was then applied over the foundation and powder from a compact was added continually throughout the day and evening. Rouge for the cheeks was cream-based and almost always red, which was in line with the cabaret style of makeup. Women applied rouge only to the apples of their cheeks in a circle and refrained from sweeping it more naturally up above the cheek bone.
Lips also needed lots of color to complete the cabaret look. Bright, blood red was the most common, if not the only lipstick color that was worn. Women powdered their lips so thoroughly that they nearly disappeared on their faces before redrawing them with a pencil to create a “rosebud” look. The top lips were drawn to be more narrow than the bottom lips and to dip down in the middle. The intended result was lips that were heart-shaped. Once the outline was drawn, the inside was filled in with bright, bold red lipstick.
References and ResourcesHistory of American Dress from the 15th and 16th Century Through 1965; Frances S. Howell
Hello Giggles: Make Up: A History - Flappers of the 1920s, A Great Gatsby Inspired Tutorial
The 1920's; Kathleen Morgan Drowne, Patrick Huber
Smithsonian Mag: The History of the Flapper, Part 2: Makeup Makes a Bold Entrance
Milady Standard Makeup; Michelle D'Allaird
The Classic Ten: The True Story of the Little Black Dress and Nine Other Fashion Favorites; Nancy MacDonell Smith