Beauty Standards Throughout The Decades: The 1950s

Following the hardship of World War II and rationing, the 1950s was a time of relative prosperity in America.

By Simone Sydel4 min read
Beauty Standards Throughout The Decades: The 1950s

New beauty and hair care products were designed to allow women to do their makeup and hair easily at home – and ladies did everything they possibly could to make themselves look stunning.

And while drastically different from the things we have at our disposal today, women in the ‘50s still paved the way for beauty lovers worldwide and have inspired so many to rock the vintage looks from that era decades later.

Therefore, in this article, let's go back in time and take a closer look at some of the most influential beauty standards from the 1950s.

The Economy in the 1950s

The 1950s was considered a golden age in America. The country experienced marked economic growth with an increase in manufacturing and home construction during the WWII economic expansion. The economy was booming, people were finding jobs with ease, and consumption was through the roof, which is why the 1950s were also considered highly materialistic in nature.

People started buying and watching TV, as well as listening to music on the regular, and just having a great time. The 1950s was also the baby boom period as many troops returned home and wanted to start families. People became more relaxed, and as a result of the booming economy and finding jobs with ease, they didn't have to worry about supporting their families.

The 1950s were also the years of a major cosmetic boom, so it's not surprising that some of the world's most glamorous beauty trends stem from this era.

Beauty Routines in the 1950s

Beauty salons were very popular in the 1950s. Women were very much interested in treatments that helped them maintain their youthful looks, with many of them averaging around 2-3 hours in beauty salons a week. While it wasn't common to exercise strenuously, many achieved their beautiful looks through facials, hair styling, manicures, and weight loss treatments.

An archive film called A Visit to a 1950s Beauty Salon that explores the secrets of an old-fashioned beauty salon shows that many women went for treatments like paraffin wraps, seaweed baths, suction cup massages, and even steaming facials. Women would lie for hours while the beautician smeared their face and body in lotions and potions, which would then be exfoliated off to reveal a new layer of glowy and beautiful skin.

Knowledge of skincare and facial structure was something a beautician learned as an apprentice, and this profession was not only very important but highly lucrative too.

Makeup Trends in the 1950s

Putting on makeup wasn't just about attracting a husband in the 1950s. With the American baby boom and a significant number of women joining the workforce, wealth grew, and with it, the need to keep up with a moving and growing society. 

The 1950s was the decade of the cosmetic industry, and some brands that were started back then are still incredibly popular today. Some popular luxury makeup brands that were selling pricey goods included Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden. Both brands are still available today and have even expanded into skincare, perfumes, gifts, and wellness.

In 1952, Boots relaunched its No. 7 range that consisted of skincare and makeup, which had almost disappeared during the war. Max Factor and Avon were still the leading beauty brands, even though they were launched well before the 1950s. Max Factor, particularly, made products everyday women wanted to use, while Avon gave women the chance to earn independent income in the beauty industry. Other notable brands that appeared in the 1950s included Biotherm (1952), Clarins (1954), and Shiseido International (1957).

The leading ladies of the 1950s beauty standards were Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Doris Day, and Elizabeth Taylor; therefore, it's not a surprise that everyday women strived to look like these celebrities.

Popular makeup styles consisted of thick cream foundations, red lipstick, and elegant eyes.

The 1950s was a glamorous decade; thick cream foundations and flesh-colored powders were the “in” things. It was the era of the "mask effect," especially for celebrities and upper-class women. Besides the thick base, other popular makeup styles consisted of red lipstick and elegant eyes that were especially emphasized to achieve a glamorous look. Eyeliner and mascara created the definition of the eyes, while eyeshadow was simple, usually consisting of one pastel color such as pale pink, green, light brown, blue, or yellow.

Brows were arched and penciled in to define the eyes. The fashionable 1950s brow consisted of a strong arch and a decent thickness that varied from medium to very thick while being tapered out at the ends.

Blush in pastel and rose color was worn sparingly and was less emphasized than in the 1940s. In the golden decade, blushes were a mere hint to add a soft warmth to the face instead of being the main focus of the entire look.

Manicures in the 1950s

By the mid-1950s, nail polish was something you could buy at the drugstore, and brands like Max Factor and Maybelline urged women to paint their nails just like their favorite Hollywood celebrities. During this time, women often shaped their nails in an almond or oval shape to keep them looking dainty and feminine. They also liked matching their nail enamel colors with their lipstick; therefore, bold reds were very popular.

Popular Hairstyles in the 1950s

As with everything else, the ways women did their hair were drastically changing during the 1950s, and celebrity hairdressers were making their mark popularizing hairstyles.

Sydney Guilaroff was the most prominent hairdresser for the Hollywood movie industry and the first hairdresser to get a screen credit for their work. Guilaroff had worked for 40 years at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, and during his career, he worked on more than 1,000 films, including styling Lucille Ball's hair for Du Barry Was a Lady (1943). (Lucille was so pleased with Guilaroff's work that she kept her hair dyed red for the rest of her life.) His status was so iconic that 1950s actress Grace Kelly chose him to style her hair for her 1956 wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco.

Some of the hairstyles that were popularized by famous stylists, including Guilaroff, Lewis, and Don Macpherson, include the soft bob worn by Marilyn Monroe, the Italian cut worn by Elizabeth Taylor, the "gamine" look which was Audrey Hepburn's signature appearance, and the sleek pageboy or under bob loved by so many women, including Grace Kelly.

Coloring products and techniques also advanced in the 1950s, allowing women to change their hair color as they pleased. For example, one-step products that allowed hair to be bleached, shampooed, and dyed easily at home came onto the market in the '50s. Some products allowed women to add blacked or colored streaks to their hair, which started the trend of bleached, gold, or silver streaks painted onto the hair (usually the fringe).

Fashion in the 1950s

Fashion in the 1950s, like pretty much anything else, was exciting and diverse, and the iconic decade is still heavily referenced in the fashion world. There were new colors, fresh silhouettes, and different style options for different preferences. The 1950s fashion typically consisted of feminine, retro style, and a graceful look was the order of the day.

Some notable day fashion pieces included dresses with cinched waists, pencil skirts, poodle skirts, gingham and polka dot garments, capri pants, bobbysocks, and shirts with a Peter Pan collar. At the same time, a ballgown was favored for an evening look.

Closing Thoughts

It's not hard to see why the 1950s was one of the best decades for America. There were new and exciting styles, a huge variety of beauty products to choose from, innovative wellness treatments, a booming economy, space to grow, and so much love in the air!

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