The turn of the century ushered in a new generation of women who wore makeup (gasp!) Most makeup was homemade, however some commercial pharmaceuticals were beginning to make women’s beauty products — including makeup- a household name. Limited options in 1900 quickly built up into entire brand name lines by 1920.
Between 1900 and 1910, makeup may have still been a taboo subject, but most women did something to enhance their personal beauty. Staining lips, rouging cheeks, and powdering skin were performed by most young women on a daily basis.
The reasons for wearing makeup was not necessarily about advancing feminisms. Advertisers and editorial commentary of the day suggested women choose to wear makeup as a personally responsibility of their sex to be beautiful, to keep men from having affairs with younger women, and career advancement. A nice looking girl was more likely to get and keep a job as a receptionist, typist, or secretary.
Other reasons were for the advancement of women’s issues. Many women who marched as suffragettes wore noticeable makeup without shame. So too followed a wave of middle class women who aspired to be an “upper caste lady” without need of a job. Elizabeth Arden was one such woman who aspired to dress and wear makeup in complete freedom. She opened her first salon in 1910 and made her own beauty line a few years later.
Reasons aside, commercial makeup was very limited at the turn of the century. Theatrical actresses could buy colored “grease” used to highlight eyes, lips, and cheeks. These in turn were adopted by mainstream women who attempted to emulate actresses they saw live, on stage. The face paint was very heavy and look ghastly in person. So druggists designed lighter face powders, eye brown pencils, and rouge to appeal to the masses.
Edwardian Era Makeup Guide
The ideal face of the Edwardian era was that of a porcelain doll with pale white face, flushed cheeks, small bright red lips, and arched eyebrows. The youthful “no makeup” natural look was the ideal, yet women used makeup to achieve it. Powder absorbed oils, reducing shine on the nose and forehead. Coloring eyebrows opened up pretty eyes. Applying rouge to cheeks and lips gave the face a healthy glow.
The basics of Edwardian makeup are:
- Face: Light powder with pinkish undertones.
- Eye Shadow: Smudged brown or black for anytime. Blue liner for daytime by 1910.
- Mascara: For darkening light lashes.
- Eyebrows: Deep curve over eyes. Darkened with black or brown pencil.
- Lips: Berry-red rouge cream
- Blush: Rouge was applied all over the cheeks from nose to lips over apples up to the temples.
For further reading, see our Victorian-era makeup guide. Many of those techniques and products continued to be used into the early 20th century.
The toilet preparation, a mix of soaps and waters, were part of most women’s beauty routines. There was Almond lotion designed to reduce freckles and wrinkles, dilapidators remove unwanted facial hair, witch hazel for sun burns, cold cream to smooth lips and skin (and remove makeup), toilet water and perfume to smell better, and smelling salts to revive and energize the spirit.
Women were encourage to take good care of their skin (and overall heath) to improve her good looks. Makeup looked best on fresh, clean skin that was neither too moist or too dry.
Face powders were sold in three basic shades: white or ivory, pink or flesh, and brunette or olive called rachel. Pure white was very trendy but made women look like ghosts. Adding pink helped achieve some depth to fair skin. Most modern face powders and foundation tend to have a yellow cast.
There were no face powders for deep skin tones until a chemist named Anthony Overton opened the Overton Hygienic Manufacturing Co. in Kansas in 1898. He made “high-brown” face powder for black women later expanding into more shades for deeper and lighter tones. Women had to purchase these cosmetic by mail or from a local sales rep since most drugstores refused to carry them.
Most face powders were made from rice powder, milk of magnesia, French chalk or venetian talc. Unfortunately, many contained toxic lead, arsenic and bismuth. Commercial cosmetics used dried potatoes and nuts to thicken powders without the toxins.
Face powder was stored in loose tins. Some were pressed into portable compacts with mini puff and mirror for on the go touch ups. Many powders were tinted with light fragrances of violet or rose. My grand mothers powder from the 1920s smells absolutely divine!
A chamois cloth or a puff made of wool, feathers, or soft fur was used to dust on the powder.
It was advised to apply a cold cream or face lotion first, wipe away excess and then dust with the powder using a puff. Powder was applied to the face, neck and chest. Talcum powder could be used on other parts of the body for freshness and aiding in dryness under arms.
Tip: For your foundation, choose a loose powder that is one step lighter than skin tone with pinkish undertones. I would avoid liquid foundations and powders that have a yellow or beige tint. The purpose of powder is to reduce shine, not to create a mask of uniform color.
Red rouge was sold to theater actors and actresses for years before they were remarked to the masses. Theater rouge was a cake of sticky red grease. Rouge for ladies was a small liquid bottle that was light enough to add a red stain to lips, cheeks and finger nails. Applying rouge to fingers helped them look young and healthy although rarely seen under gloves.
Salve or cream rouge came later in the decade as a gentle hybrid between liquid and solid.
Rouge could be applied to the fingers and then rubbed into skin. This tended to apply a rather deep color in splotches. Using a small puff or rabbits foot made application lighter and more even.
Rouge coverage was ample and rosy. Red checks looked youthful when covered in rouge from the outer temples across the apples to the nose then down to the outer lip. Rouge closer to the nose made faces look younger while further out was a better for already young faces. Mature ladies would avoid too much rouge otherwise they tended to look unnatural.
Some commentary suggested rouge should only be worn in the daytime. Drinking and dancing in the evenings caused cheeks to flush naturally- no need for makeup!
Tip. Avoid powder blushes. Instead purchase a liquid rouge such as LBCC Liquid Rose or a gel blush in red. Don’t worry about the red color, it will soften on the skin into a bright pink tone. However BE CAREFUL using liquids and gels. A little goes a very long way and it is not easy to undo. Dab and rub, dab and rub until you get a good even coverage. If you think the color is too strong, top with a layer of face powder.
Liquid or cream rouge was applied to the lips. It acted like a Beetroot stain which many women continued to use at home. Later in the 1910s tubes of cream rouge became the first lipsticks, available in very limited light and dark pink-red tones.
Lip color was applied to the natural lips. Most illustrations showed women with pouted or kissy lips under the nose and very thin outer lines. On real faces women would line the center and avoid the outer edges to emphasize a small pouty lip.
Tip. Using the liquid or gel rouge from your cheeks on your lips. This is the closest match to an authentic Edwardian lip color and it works on all skin tones. If however you want to use a tube lipstick choose a matte color that is a berry-red such as raspberry red. Do not use a “red-red” “cherry red” “pink” or “mauve.”
Eye Brow Pencil
Prior to the to brow pencil women used home remedies to make eyebrow powders and eye liners. Smashing cloves or burning cork into dust and mixing with a spec of water or Vaseline was one timeless method. The mixture was then applied with the fingers and rubbed in to the hair.
Black, brown or blond eye brow pencils held in metal tubes became convenient in the mid 1900s.
Mascara was not invented yet however China ink mixed with rose water was another home remedy to darken and lengthen eyelashes. It could be used on black eyebrows. Otherwise women use eyebrow pencils on lash lines too.
Tip. Apply eyebrow pencil to your eyebrows, first by raising your eyebrows such as what you do when you are “surprised.” Hold the position and outline the top curve the the brow down to the inner and outer edge. A strong narrow arch was one ideal look or a full brow without an arch closer to 1910.
Eye shadow as we know it today was not invented yet however many women used the same crushed cloves or burnt cork to rub along the lower eyelid. From the theater women used colored crayons in shades of black, browns, chestnut, blonde and blues to deepen the eyeline.
Blue crayon for young women became trendy in fashionable cities such as New York for both day and evenings. Women would ask photographers to hand color portraits with a little blue color on the eyes.
Tip. Stick to an eyebrow pencil/eyeliner pencil and avoid liquid liners. Apply along the lash line and rub to soften just a bit. Go ahead and use mascara as usual.
These are a few natural makeup products that would have been in use in the early 1900s. Some modern ones are included too that can work well enough.
Authentic Makeup Example
I am by no means an expert of makeup application. I don’t wear makeup daily and when I do put on some for a vintage event it tends to be light and natural. With that being said I believe you can achieve an authentic Edwardian makeup look with some reproduction beauty products and when lacking, modern products.
This is what I set out to do today, to show you what I might have looked like had I lived in 1900.
The products above are all reproductions from LBCC except for a bit of Bare Minerals powder and a modern eyebrow pencil. I used a white face powder (seriously its very white), burnt cloves, and liquid rouge.
- I began with face lotion so that the chalky white powder would stick to the face. It didn’t. It does take out some shine which is what it was intended to do. I wanted a bit more coverage so I use my Bare Minerals loose powders and dusted that on all over. It provided more coverage but the color was yellow/beige and just looked wrong for this decade. Back to the white powder which now clung to the Bare Minerals and gave me a better “pale” Edwardian face.
2. Step 2 was to apply the rouge. The liquid rouge is very strong so I was careful to dab and rub all over my cheeks up to the temple, across to the nose and down to the outer lip creating a “Triangle” of rouge. More rubbing and spreading to blend in the color. It looked very pink so I dusted one more layer of white powder to tone it down a bit.
3. Step three was to take the liquid rouge and drab in on my lips while I pouted. I let that dry and went back over the lips one more time, filling in any cracks I missed, focusing on the center.
4. The next step was the eyebrows. I used the burn cloves to color them in. They worked but it was taking a long time and several cloves to cover one eyebrow. I then used my modern eyebrow pencil in brown to fill in the rest. If find that If I lift my eyebrows and then draw over the top hairline it creates a good strong arch. This looked perfect in person but did not photograph very well.
5. Finally I added some mascara and brown eyeliner to the top lashline. I have the worst time getting my eyes right so this area still needs improvement.
That’s it. Simple, natural, minimal and I would say 85% authentic.
If you want to use more modern makeup products and techniques there are a few videos on Youtube you can look at.