Eyebrow trends can make or break a face — and, if you disagree, take a look at some celebrities whose eyebrow transformations completely changed their look. Once you find the perfect eyebrow shape for your face, your look could be completely elevated.
Cosmetics are a wonderful method of self-expression, but that doesn’t mean every trend has staying power, and that’s especially true of eyebrows. While there is a very real reason we have eyebrows, they are also an integral part of any woman’s beauty regimen. Figuring out the perfect brow shape and products, and then shaping and trimming them takes time. It’s no wonder women want to make sure they get it right. Throughout history, eyebrows have played a major role in the ever-transforming standards of beauty. From ancient Greece to today, women have experimented with all kinds of brow practices. There have been times when a bold, painted-on brow was all the rage, times when going natural was the only option, and even a period when having no eyebrows and high hairlines were seen as the pinnacle of beauty. While some of these trends were inarguable misses, we wouldn’t mind if others made a comeback.
Here are the best and worst eyebrow trends in history.
Best: The natural eyebrow trend of the 1940s will always be in style
One thing most stars of the early 20th century had in common? Their remarkably thin, long, drawn-on eyebrows. Thankfully, all that was done away with by the 1940s. When, according to fashion historian Lydia Edwards in The Conversation, women began embracing their natural brows. Undoubtedly, stars like Lauren Bacall, who tossed aside the tweezers and allowed their natural shape to take over, influenced the trend of the decade. However, Edwards posited another theory for the sudden change. In the World War II-era, women took on more and more work outside the home, likely leaving them with little to no time to fuss about with their eyebrows. So, instead, they let them grow, perhaps realizing their brows looked better more natural anyway.
The eyebrows of the 1940s stand out as one of history’s best eyebrow trends because they exemplified a no-fuss, carefree, natural beauty routine that is somehow still difficult to pull off. It is so easy to tip the scale from effortlessly chic to “I haven’t looked at a mirror in decades” when going the 1940s route, but somehow the women of that era seemed to always get it right.
Worst: The eyebrow trend of the 1920s was thin and droopy
In the 1920s, women favored long, droopy, thin, drawn-on brows, as noted by Cosmopolitan. However, historians believe the reason thin eyebrows were popularized during this time has less to do with cosmetic preference and more to do with the fact that it was the height of the silent film era — when actors had to rely on their facial expressions to convey the story, rather than their voices, as noted in Victoria Sherrow’s Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History. Apparently, the movement of thin eyebrows (which are so important to conveying expressions) was easier to see on camera.
According to Smithsonian Mag, make-up became more accessible and user-friendly during this time. So everyone could afford to pluck their eyebrows as thin as possible and then draw them back on like their favorite stars, trying out the eyebrow trend at home.
Make no mistake, these types of brows were all the rage during the ’20s, but women everywhere should be thanking their lucky stars that they went out of fashion. Not only is this eyebrow trend one of the most unflattering in history, but it also sounds like it was a real pain to achieve.
Best: Marilyn Monroe's angled arches marked one of the best eyebrow trends in history
The 1950s were all about high-definition, arched brows ushered in by stars like Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall, Audrey Hepburn, and more, as noted in Victoria Sherrow’s Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History. The beautiful, natural eyebrow trend of the 1940s received a slight upgrade that only added to their beauty. The brows of that era were the definition of classic, and anyone who dawns them today would no doubt look like they walked off the set off a glamorous 1950s period piece, yet still not be out of place in the 21st century.
According to Marie Claire, Monroe believed her high arches made her forehead look less wide. However, it seems an attempt to hide a feature she was less than impressed with turned into an eyebrow trend that would not be out of place today. In fact, Monroe’s brows would probably be just as jawdroppingly beautiful today as they were back then. The classic Old Hollywood look really is timeless.
Worst: The barely-there eyebrow trend of the '90s and early 2000s were a dark time
Many women today who lived through the ’90s and 2000s now spend time filling in their brows, trying to make sure they are thick and full enough after years of plucking them into the smallest, thinnest lines possible. Thankfully, this period of eyebrow trend history is over.
Why did women do this? Did we not learn from the eyebrow catastrophe that was the 1920s and ’30s? It certainly didn’t help that some of the biggest names in pop culture were sporting needle-thin brows, and they were the envy of women everywhere. Stars like Drew Barrymore, Christina Aguilera, Angelina Jolie, and more had us all thinking that our eyebrows had to be thin to the point they were barely even noticeable. Luckily, this trend soon faded, though an expert told The Zoe Report in July 2019 that this once-dead trend may be making a comeback. If Rihanna’s 2019 cover of British Vogue is any indication, that expert may be right.
Best: The thick and bold eyebrow trend of ancient Egypt was flattering
Elizabeth Taylor’s dark and bold eyebrows in Cleopatra weren’t too far away from the reality of eyebrow trends of ancient Egypt, according to The Atlantic. While there obviously aren’t photos of the women from this period, there is an extensive repertoire of art, and it seems the ancient Egyptians were all about their brows. The dark, defined, and thick brows of that era, as Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra proves, would be flattering on just about anyone.
According to Bustle, both men and women used kohl (or “mesdemet”) as an eyeliner and to fill in their brows and make them longer. But the eyebrows were just a small part of an Egyptian’s eye makeup routines. To complete the look, they used colored eyeshadows not too dissimilar to what women use today, according to Victoria Sherrow in her book For Appearance’ Sake.
While women today may not apply their products in the same elaborate, geometric shapes as the ancient Egyptians did, their makeup wasn’t all that different.
Worst: The "Instagram" eyebrow trend only looks good online
Makeup is an art and an amazing form of self-expression — there’s no doubt about it. However, some makeup looks only work on social media. The rise of Instagram and YouTube gave makeup artists a platform to show off their looks and provide tutorials for those less-adept with a brush. With these new platforms, makeup artists began to experiment more. One of these experiments turned into a trend that just doesn’t seem like it’s going to quit: the “Instagram Brow.”
According to Jared Bailey, a “global brow expert” for Benefit Cosmetics, the “Instagram brow” is “an overdramatized fade where the brow is significantly lighter in the front then gets deeper in color as you move throughout the brow to the end,” as he told Bustle. The eyebrow trend isn’t restricted to makeup artists showing off their work online, though. It’s the style of brow frequently seen on Kylie Jenner, whose influence on the beauty industry has risen alongside the brow trend.
Just because the eyebrow trend has been given a stamp of approval from the beauty world doesn’t mean it works on everyone. In fact, the “Instagram Brow” should probably stay on, well, Instagram.
Best: Brooke Shields set an eyebrow trend in the 1980s
Brooke Shields was the definition of eyebrow goals in the 1980s. During the decade before, women had started experimenting with fuller, more natural brows, but as soon as the ’80s (and Brooke Shields) hit the scene, big, natural, full brows were what every woman wanted, as Victoria Sherrow reported in her book Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History.
Turns out, we have Shields’ mom to thank for the eyebrows that caused Time to name her “The ’80s Look,” as noted by InStyle. According to Shields herself, her mom stopped makeup artists and agents from doing anything to her brows, making sure they were nothing but natural. In fact, any time she did clean up her brows she realized it was a huge mistake. She let them grow, and so did most women in the ’80s. The best part about ’80s brows, though? They wouldn’t look out of place no matter what the current eyebrow trend is, as natural brows always make a person look like their true self.
Worst: Everyone wanted to try the eyebrow trend set by Clara Bow in the 1930s… unfortunately
If stars in the 1930s couldn’t pluck their eyebrows into the shape they wanted, they just completely plucked them off and then drew a line with a pencil, as Victoria Sherrow noted in her book Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History. Stars like Clara Bow, Greta Garbo, and Marlene Dietrich took the barely-there look of the ’20s to extreme lengths in the ’30s. The result? A style of brows that would look plain scary in today’s world.
Marlene Dietrich, in particular, popularized the “It” eyebrow trend of the era by completely shaving off her brows and then drawing a thin line above her natural browline (via Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History). This style gave women the creativity to make their brows however thin they wanted them to be. Beauty historian Rachel Weingarten, though, warns women against trying to emulate this look today. She told New York Post, “I don’t know how to caution people strongly enough. This look is not your friend.” You don’t need to be a beauty historian to know that Weingarten is certainly right.
Best: The Victorians embraced an admirable no-fuss eyebrow trend
Throughout history, eyebrow trends have swung from “get these things off” to “there’s no such thing as too full.” Generally speaking, the natural, fuller brows tend to have been the most flattering on the face, but somehow still the stick-thin brows always come back in style. During the Victorian era, women had it right, generally sticking to natural eyebrows. However, their reasons for sticking to a natural brow are probably pretty different than why women might opt for a fuller look today.
According to The Conversation, makeup in the Victorian era was kept to a minimum and that included the brows. The only women who used cosmetics were actresses and ladies of the night, and the typical Victorian woman wanted to steer clear of the stuff in fear she’d be mistaken for the wrong type. In addition to that, using makeup was seen as vain, as Victoria Sherrow noted in her book For Appearance’ Sake). So, while Victorian women’s brows were likely full, natural, and beautiful, the lack of opportunity for women to express themselves would be too limiting in the modern world.
Worst: People in ancient Greece embraced unibrows, but the eyebrow trend is tough to pull off
Frida Kahlo’s unibrow is the stuff of legend, but not many women could pull the eyebrow trend off with the flawless grace that she did. Today, women go to great lengths to make sure their eyebrows are perfectly shaped and that all traces of a unibrow are gone. But that wasn’t the case in Ancient Greece.
According to Bustle, women in Ancient Greece darkened their eyebrows and eyelashes with an ancient version of the products women used today — despite the fact that the men of the period preferred their women to be all natural. So natural, in fact, that they also preferred women whose eyebrows were not trimmed or shaped in any way and that very nearly joined together in a unibrow.
Thick and bushy eyebrows were so much the rage in Ancient Greece that women would also wear false eyebrows to fill out their own if they were too sparse, as Victoria Sherrow noted in her book Encyclopedia of Hair. Yes, that was just one example of what life was like for women in Ancient Greece. And while we’re all for letting women choose how they wish to do their brows, this is a look very few women can actually pull off.
Best: The 1960s was an era of eyebrow trend experimentation
The eyebrow trend of the 1960s might be the closest to what’s “in” today. Audrey Hepburn, in all her glory, showed off long, slightly-arched, filled-in brows in her movies, and they were truly elegant. While Hepburn’s defined-yet-natural brows were the picture of classic beauty, the ’60s was also a time of experimentation, as noted in Victoria Sherrow’s Encyclopedia of Hair. During this period, women started using more and more makeup, playing with different colors and accessories during their beauty regimens.
While brows like Hepburn’s will truly never go out of style and will look good on just about everyone, it’s the 1960s’ focus on individual preference that makes it one of the best brow periods in history (via The Conversation). Without being tethered to one specific style, women had fun with makeup and had the freedom to do what they wanted to their faces. In some instances, this meant decorating their brows with glitter and bright colors, which, honestly, sounds like a load of fun (via Encyclopedia of Hair).
Worst: In the Middle Ages, women often plucked off their eyebrows entirely
The Medieval era was a dark time for eyebrows. During the Elizabethan era, specifically, women wanted as little attention to be paid to their face as possible, as noted by Victoria Sherrow in her book For Appearance’ Sake. During this period, women plucked their eyebrows off entirely but didn’t bother to draw them back on like in other eras. Instead, they kept removing hair to the point where they even shaved the top of their head to raise their hairline. All this had one goal: draw attention to what women had going on below their faces.
If ever an eyebrow trend was a testament to just how drastically beauty standards could change over time, the medieval practice of plucking off one’s eyebrows is it. However, as it was such a prevalent practice during the period, as women followed Queen Elizabeth’s footsteps, it presumably worked the way it was intended: to emphasize a woman’s breasts, according to The Conversation. Quite simply, though, this is not a look that could work well on just about anyone today.
Best: The 2010s ushered in an era of universally flattering bold eyebrows
For the women of the world whose brows survived the over-plucking of the ’90s and early 2000s, the 2010s were a welcome surprise. According to Allure, as Cara Delevingne and her famously unkempt eyebrows became more and more widespread, women everywhere put down their tweezers and scissors and began embracing their natural brows.
Jared Bailey, global brow expert for Benefit Cosmetics, told The Guardian that Delevingne’s brows were “a bit oversized, but the way she has embraced them and made them a good thing has made women want natural brows.” According to Allure, the eyebrow trend ushered in by Delevingne isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and women everywhere should be thankful for that. It won’t be long until thin eyebrows become “in” again and how could anyone’s eyebrows survive a second round of over-plucking? It’s been said that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Let’s not repeat the thin brow eras of history — the full and natural brows of the 2010s are just perfect.
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