Western cosmetics in the 1970s

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Western cosmetics in the 1970s reflected the multiple roles ascribed to the modern woman.[1] For the first time since 1900, make-up was chosen situationally, rather than in response to monolithic trends.[1] The era's two primary visions were the feminist-influenced daytime "natural look" and the sexualized evening aesthetic presented by European designers and fashion photographers.[1] In the periphery, punk and glam were also influential. The struggling cosmetics industry attempted to make a comeback, using new marketing and manufacturing practices.

Influential aesthetics[edit]

Natural look[edit]

The feminist-influenced "natural look" was popular during the 1970s.

Though some feminists in the 1970s continued to wear cosmetics, many others did not; Susan Brownmiller, for instance, called an unadorned face "the honorable new look of feminism".[2] The cosmetics industry, faced with increasing mainstream rejection of sexual objectification, began to market make-up as "natural" or "invisible".[3] A 1970 ad for Moon Drops "Demi-Makeup" read, "People will think it's your own fresh, flawless skin. (Let them.)"[3] Fragrances were also marketed to the "new woman".[3] Charlie—whose ads featured a no-nonsense, pantsuit-clad, independent woman—was a marketing triumph, becoming the nation's leading scent within a year of its release.[3] Serious, polite, and androgynous cosmetics were seen as appropriate for the business world, where working women felt increasing pressure to present a meticulous appearance.[2][4]

Similar aesthetics were seen elsewhere in the fashion world. In the 1970s, American fashion designers such as Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein presented understated, neutral designs accompanied by natural make-up.[5] A similar look was embraced by photographer Francesco Scavullo, makeup artist Way Bandy, and hairstylist Maury Hobson, who collaborated on the covers of Cosmopolitan that established the 1970s "natural look".[6] Bandy's philosophy, described in his book Designing Your Face, held that make-up should be used not as a mask, but rather to alter perception and proportion, creating a personalized "ideal" face.[6]


More dramatic makeup was often worn in the evenings.[1]

Make-up used by European fashion designers in the 1970s presented a sensual look for women in striking contrast to the "natural look".[7] Though models in Yves Saint Laurent's hugely influential runway shows wore menswear and short, slicked-back hair, their lips were glossy and bright red.[7] YSL's cosmetics line also employed intense, feminine colors.[5] In the violent, sexual porno chic fashion photography of French and Italian Vogue, women wore blood-red lipstick, glossy red nail polish, pencil-thin eyebrows and black eye make-up.[8] Women employed this vision of beauty for evenings, when they could aim to seduce in the era's discos.[9]

Punk singer Siouxsie
In 1974, raspberry-coloured lip gloss, and pencil-thin eyebrows were popular trends


The punk movement that emerged in the late 1970s aimed to provoke rather than follow the trends of the day.[10] The movement, described as "anti-beauty" by Kate de Castelbajac, embraced intentionally artificial and aggressive make-up, tattooing, and body piercing to shock observers.[11] Black, fluorescents, and neo-tribalism were major aesthetic elements.[6]

Images of glam rockers like Alice Cooper, David Bowie, and Lou Reed in the pages of Rolling Stone established the influence of another extreme aesthetic.[12] The glam style drew on transvestism, androgyny, decadence, and camp; its "blasé sophistication" stood in marked contrast to the innocence and sincerity of the 1960s.[12]Glitter eye shadow and nail varnish were popular during this period.

Product developments and trends[edit]

Women tended to wear lighter foundation in the 1970s, which greatly increased the market for skin care products.[13] Anti-aging products were also increasingly important.[13]

Intensely colored blush carried over from the 1960s to the early 1970s.[13] Tube blush was also extremely popular.[13] Lipstick in the 1970s tended to be either color or gloss; popular hues included deep pink, purple, and raspberry.[13]

Improvements in chemistry enabled the introduction of waterproof mascara along with better lash lengtheners and thickeners.[13] Matte colors were popular for eyes, in contrast to the iridescence that characterized 1960s make-up.[13] The decade's competing visions of beauty were seen in its dichotomy of eye shadow colors: both dramatic, smoky dark gray and transparent, natural beiges and grays were popular.[13]

Cosmetics industry developments[edit]

The health of the beauty industry declined in the 1970s, as the growth of cosmetics sales failed to keep pace with overall growth in personal spending.[2][14] The industry, according to a 1979 article in W magazine, had "lost its glamour".[14] Rather than developing innovative products, many companies had depended on price increases for profitability.[15] Consumers considered cosmetics companies outdated, uncreative, and dogmatic,[15] and manufacturers received negative publicity regarding the safety of cosmetics ingredients,[15][16][17][18] animal testing,[19][20][21] microbial contamination,[22][23] and the possibility of acne caused by cosmetics.[24][25]

The cosmetics industry responded to these challenges in several ways. New products were introduced, especially in skin care and sunscreen lines.[15] Manufacturers emphasized cost controls, quality, and selectivity in product introductions.[15] They also expanded into the ethnic, teen, and men's markets.[15][26] "Natural" ingredients were incorporated into cosmetics to satisfy growing tastes for organic products.[27]

New marketing and presentation practices also emerged. The custom of having a model as the contractually exclusive "face" of a single company arose when Revlon hired Lauren Hutton to promote their Ultima II line.[28] The strategy was quickly adopted by other companies; notable 1970s spokesmodels included Karen Graham for Estée Lauder, Margaux Hemingway for Babe, and Catherine Deneuve for Chanel.[12] Cosmetics companies also focused on service and appearance at the point of purchase.[29] Clinique's projection of an image of scientific authority using immaculate make-up counters attended by white-coated employees was representative.[30]

Business structures were also in flux. Revlon acquired smaller cosmetics firms, while Max Factor, Elizabeth Arden, and Helena Rubenstein were purchased by larger conglomerates.[15][31] Independent businesswomen such as Adrien Arpel, Suzanne Grayson, and Madeleine Mono established small, consumer-focused companies to challenge mega-firms.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d De Castelbajac, p147-48.
  2. ^ a b c Inness, p20.
  3. ^ a b c d Inness, p21.
  4. ^ De Castelbajac, p147-50.
  5. ^ a b De Castelbajac, p152.
  6. ^ a b c De Castelbajac, p158.
  7. ^ a b De Castelbajac, p150-52.
  8. ^ De Castelbajac, p154-57.
  9. ^ De Castelbajac, p148.
  10. ^ De Castelbajac, p150.
  11. ^ De Castelbajac, p158-59.
  12. ^ a b c De Castelbajac, p154.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h De Castelbajac, p163.
  14. ^ a b De Castelbajac, p159.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g De Castelbajac, p160.
  16. ^ Bachrach, Eve E. "Cosmetics: The Legislative Climate." In Estrin, p163-72.
  17. ^ Baker, Frank W. & Norman F. Estrin. "Organization for Action: Development of CTFA's Scientific Programs." In Estrin, p193.
  18. ^ Marshall, Linda R. "Special Problems of Small Companies. In Estrin, p532.
  19. ^ Rhein, p343.
  20. ^ Baker, Frank W. & Norman F. Estrin. "Organization for Action: Development of CTFA's Scientific Programs." In Estrin, p195
  21. ^ Rollin & Kesel, p104.
  22. ^ Gad, p180-81.
  23. ^ Smith, John L. "Evaluating Your Microbiology Program." In Estrin, p303.
  24. ^ Butler & Poucher, p409.
  25. ^ Lees, p194.
  26. ^ Kent, p20-22.
  27. ^ Binkley, p163.
  28. ^ De Castelbajac, p153.
  29. ^ De Castelbajac, p160-61.
  30. ^ a b De Castelbajac, p161.
  31. ^ Kent, p93.
Works cited