Makeup styles in the 1930s

Written by rosemary gemmell
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Makeup styles in the 1930s
Beauty products were revolutionised in the 1930s. (Beauty image by Eagle from

The 1930s was a decade with extremes of poverty and wealth. With the Wall Street stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression of the 1930s, many people escaped to the cinema. The glamorous film stars on the big screen greatly influenced fashion and beauty companies, and they revolutionised cosmetics as make-up became more sophisticated and more widely available to the public.

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1930s Makeup Styles

The make-up of the 1930s film stars, such as Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, and Carole Lombard inspired women to copy their style, and the public expected good make-up to be available. Eye make-up was more dramatic, while lip and nail colours began to match each other. Many women copied Garbo's sophisticated style of very pale face powder, no rouge, and eyebrows and eyelids accentuated with pencil rather than tinted eye shadow.

While the newer names of Revlon and Monteil arrived in the 1930s, the older companies of Houbigant, Yardley, and Coty continued to produce new compacts of rouge and powder. Maybelline introduced a new mascara, and Coty offered a special clear nail varnish. Elizabeth Arden produced a new set of six lipsticks in different colours and offered it in a case as a lipstick wardrobe. Her matching cream rouge and eye shadows began to complement women's clothing colours.

Makeup styles in the 1930s
Women copied 1930s film stars' make-up. (video film, cinema image by Oleg Verbitsky from

Max Factor

Make-up was a term only applied to theatrical products until Polish immigrant, Max Factor, made it respectable for ordinary women to use, with his 'Society' range in 1918. In 1935, Factor and his son created his famous, breakthrough foundation, pan-cake, which was advertised by glamorous film star, Lana Turner, promising that "it does everything you've always wanted make-up to do."

Factor also produced two gimmicks for the 1930s. The 'beauty calibrator' was a torturous looking instrument used to measure face beauty to an exact degree, and the 'kissing machine' measured the pressure of the lips, leaving an imprint of the shape of the mouth.

Makeup styles in the 1930s
Pan-cake foundation was invented by Max Factor. (powder detail image by Leonid Nyshko from


The Revlon company was the first to commercialise nail polish. Initially, nail polish slid off the nails, until Revlon developed nail polish with the help of a chemist. The formula allowed the polish to remain on the nails, and the company began to produce it in seasonal fashion colours. By the end of the 1930s, they sold matching lip and nail colours.

Makeup styles in the 1930s
Matching lipstick and nail polish was all the rage in the 1930s. (lipstick and nail polish image by Christopher Hall from

Germaine Monteil

Targeting middle-class American women, Germaine Monteil introduced make-up and skincare products in 1935, including her famous 'Chinese red' lipstick. Monteil taught that "beauty is not a gift, it is a habit." She introduced women to a modern beauty routine with her 'Preview Combination Set,' which included cleansing cream, day cream, night cream, powder, and lipstick.

Makeup styles in the 1930s
Beauty creams became a routine for 1930s women. (cream of beauty image by Madera from

Make-up Products Launched in 1930s

Hundreds of new products were launched in all price ranges during the 1930s, making them available to most women.There was great competition between companies. Greater detail appeared on compacts and lipsticks, and cosmetics became more widely available.

In London, factories opened in the new Art Deco area, and products were sold in chemist shops and Woolworth's. Boots the chemist produced their own line, No. 7, in 1935. During this period, make-up was often experimental, with garish colours such as orange lipstick, green eye shadow, and black nail polish.

Makeup styles in the 1930s
Lipsticks became more widely availble in the shops. (lippenstift image by martin schmid from

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