Color, from Avon’s Double Dare Red of the 1940s to cashmere hues of the 1980s to the powerfully named Fearless Fuchsias and Aqua Pops of today, is evocative of an era. To celebrate Avon’s 130th anniversary, Beauty for a Purpose checked in with fashion and style historian Patrick Michael Hughes to revisit the history of color in beauty, in all of its forms – bold, demure, elegant, and electric.
The advent of the sewing machine 40 years prior to Avon’s founding in 1886, along with exciting new fabric dyes, encouraged women to integrate novel and daring colors into their dress, but makeup remained somewhat minimal. With the rise of photography, women dressed in their finery and aimed to look their best – which meant enhancing natural-looking beauty with subtly reddened lips and porcelain skin.
A husband-and-wife team of ballroom dancers popularized modern entertainment and became early endorsers of cosmetics. Along with bobbed hair and beauty cream, cheeks in a gentle rosebud hue gave the impression of healthy fullness in the World War I era.
With silent movies came the exotic, vampy smoky eye with heavy black eyeliner and mascara befitting a matinee idol. For flappers, it was all about red. Dark oxblood lips and rouge on cheeks — and sometimes even knees to highlight a daringly shortened hemline – helped make cosmetics the height of fashion.
The pretty pouts of Hollywood starlets made lipstick all the rage, especially shades like raspberry and maroon paired with a pinkish complexion. For black-and-white films, costume designers knew just how eyeshadows of various colors would translate onto the screen – robin’s egg blue appeared as a glamorous silver, while green gave a porcelain look.
Makeup was scarce in the World War II era, yet women continued to buy lipstick. With limited color options, the now iconic red emerged as a morale-building standout. Fashion influences from South America resulted in beautiful, jungle-inspired prints and bold florals.
In the post-war period, the color palette widened as beauty and fashion took center stage in American culture. Hollywood went Technicolor, and women emulated the latest starlets’ preferred nail colors — fiery reds and just about every shade of pink. Color matching became de rigueur, as ladies coordinated their makeup to their outfit, handbag, and shoes.
A diverse range of pop culture interests – from Mod high fashion and flower-power hippies to rock-and-roll and Motown – provided a sense of escapism that translated to slightly psychedelic colors entering the beauty palette, Both fashion designers and makeup trends began pushing the limits with vibrant and energetic hues.
Like a glittery disco ball, makeup went glam with shimmery, smoky eyes and dramatic, expressive brows. The independent, empowered woman reigned, with an uptick in the number of makeup shades to complement a wider range of skin tones.
The ‘80s took color to max with a bigger, better, brighter rainbow. Power red was arguably the era’s signature color, popularized by American sportswear designers. The blues of the previous decade graduated to eggplant and mauve tones, seen on eyes, lips, cheeks, and fingertips.
The 1990s cooled off – quite literally, with cool colors. With an increasing emphasis on skincare, the fresh-faced look became popular, as did the supermodels who sported an effortless-looking glow and a glossy lip in highly nuanced peaches and light pinks.
Skincare and anti-aging became buzzwords in the aughts, and the no-makeup makeup look (which, ironically, involved quite a few products) reflected trending expressive neutrals like beige, taupe, white and gray. Smoky eyes and a pale glossy lip were the color duo of the day.
Oh, happy days! We’re in an era of expressive colors from tangerine to emerald that add energy and vibrancy to any look. Deep purple, navy, turquoise, and everything in between are equally at home in eyeliner or nail polish. It’s tasteful, it’s chic, and it’s totally now.