If Queen Victoria walked into a Sephora, would her mind be blown? It’s possible that the sight of people wearing glittery eyeshadow and dark-red lipstick would make her think she’d wandered into the wrong side of town. But in reality, modern-day makeup trends are heavily inspired by what came before them — even fashions from Queen Victoria’s time. With every passing decade, makeup has become edgier and more creative. From the thick, white-pancake powder of the Victorian era to the “no-makeup makeup” look of the 2020s, women have waged mini-revolutions with their cosmetics for generations.
1860s: Do as Queen Victoria does
People looked to the Queen for guidance, and this was equally true for makeup trends. Since Victoria preferred a milky complexion and clean features, so too did the women of England. Victorian-era makeup trends can be summed up in just a few words: pale, clean, and rosy. But achieving these three royal beauty standards meant navigating a minefield of potential faux pas.
Pressure to be beautiful
There was a general perception that makeup was for women who couldn’t be trusted. But at the same time, if you weren’t naturally beautiful, then you probably felt pressure to at least seem like you were. The goal was to have porcelain skin with a naturally rosy complexion, like a doll. To achieve this look, women covered their cheeks and lips with a light pat rouge and applied white powder to their faces. The white powder hid any “unclean” blemishes, such as dark spots, acne, and fine lines.
1870s: The paler the lips…
Although it was a huge no-no to wear lipstick, there were some unavoidable conditions that simply had to be addressed, chapped lips being one of them. Women started to carefully and discreetly use products such as lip salve to soothe chapped lips. But when actress Sarah Bernhardt blatantly applied red lipstick in public, she unwittingly sparked an entire movement. It’s no coincidence that some women, who often made their lip salves at home, started to sport slightly pinker smiles after Bernhardt’s scandal.
1880s: They made their own makeup out of spices and foods
For Victorian women, kitchens doubled as a place both to cook food and concoct makeup products. Although mascara wasn’t used during that time, women would discreetly smooth burnt cloves onto their lashes to darken them. As the Hair & Makeup Artist Handbook attests, women would also dab strawberry juice or crushed geranium leaves onto their cheeks as a natural-looking rouge.