by Poe Casavant If the sudden reappearance of choker necklaces and tube tops has brought back memories of a simpler time; one without cell phones, social media, or a reality star as president, you’re not alone. The 90s are back, in a big way.
Style trends tend to be cyclical, a constant rehashing of ideas that are dusted off and touted as fresh and new. The bell bottoms of the 70s became the flares of the 90s. The fitted pants of the 80s morphed into the skinny jeans of the oughts. Stores have even begun adding low-rise jeans—a staple of the 90s—to their selections, a clear split from the high-waisted looks of recent years.
One of the clearest signs that times are changing can often be found on the faces of runway models and celebrities. Dating back to the 70s, makeup trends have followed a twenty-year cycle, switching from minimalistic looks to gaudy colors and back again. The 70s saw the height of athletic beauty, with icons like Farrah Fawcett and Jane Fonda showing off tanned faces, neutral lips, and just enough eyeshadow to make their irises pop. The focus was young, sporty, and carefree, and this ideal was reflected in the more natural makeup of the era.
The pendulum swung to the wild side in the 80s, when musicians like Madonna and Janet Jackson proved that bigger, bolder, and brasher was better. Hair rose to new heights; and women accentuated their eyes, lips, and brows—all at once. Bright, neon-hued eyeshadow mixed with heavy blush and bubble-gum pink lips. It was the era of “go big or go home,” and the fad caught on with millions of women who embraced the excess of perms and neon.
Sadly, all fun must come to an end, and the 90s brought about the abrupt end to the previous decade’s exuberance. Curly hair was straightened. Oversized, colorful clothes were traded in for slinky, more subdued pieces. And the wild colors that had so recently been acceptable for makeup choices were deemed gauche. Shimmery, silvery tones were acceptable—a nod to the futuristic silver and blue shades that seemed to be cropping up on everything pre-Y2K. Inspired by Calvin Klein ads, pale, emaciated models became the new ideal, spawning the “heroin chic” movement. Pale skin was in, often with dark circles highlighted around models’ eyes. Raspberry, almost gothic, lips became the norm, giving models the appearance of a Tim Burton character. Eyebrows were plucked to pencil-lines of hair, as if they too were on a diet. Though the minimalism was a throwback to the 70s, the mood was far less sunny on this rotation.
When Y2K failed to produce an apocalypse-level disaster, the world lightened up, and our makeup along with it. Skin was bronzed and shimmered. Brighter colors became fashionable, with pastel eyeshadows and glossy lips leading the charge into the new millennium. Hair highlights became bolder and more colorful, leading to subgroups like Scene Kids, known for their rainbow hued locks and heavily-lined eyes. Razored, textured haircuts became fashionable, in everything from pixie cuts to long layers. Taking their cues from the 80s, the looks of this decade were anything but subtle.
Following these cycles, it would be easy to assume that the 2010s would bring a more understated elegance to the beauty world. We were coming off a decade of bright, garish trends, and consumers were in dire need of a rest period.
However, the rise of beauty bloggers and Instagram influencers turned this pattern on its head, ushering in a decade of contouring, highlighting, lip exaggeration, and accentuated brows. Young, beautiful influencers began posting tutorial videos, showcasing how to use makeup to achieve flawless looks, and potentially, attract the attention of the makeup brands themselves. Competition to stand out among the waves of influencers meant that looks needed to be exaggerated, often using far more product than necessary. This trickled down into mainstream society by adding contour kits, brow stencils, and lip liner into women’s daily beauty routines. Exaggerated smokey eyes with cut creases became the standard for weddings or events. While the color palette tended to be more muted than past decades, the application was often heavy-handed.
As we round the curve into the next decade, it seems as though makeup-routine fatigue is beginning to set in. Beauty companies have shifted their focus to embracing imperfections and flaws, not hiding them in layers of makeup. Some celebrities, like Alicia Keyes, have eschewed makeup altogether. And the 2019 runway shows were awash with minimalistic makeup looks, from Christian Siriano’s quick swipe of eyeliner, to the clean-faced and natural-haired models of Pamella Roland.
Time will tell if these looks make the leap from runway to red carpet, eventually landing in mainstream America. More than a decade behind schedule, it’s difficult to say if social media has simply slowed the pace, or changed beauty trends for the long run