Through thick and thin: how eyebrows have evolved since the 1920's


Looking back at recent beauty trends, nothing has undergone a more dramatic transformation than the humble eyebrow. They’ve been through a lot, our brows. We’ve plucked them, shaved them, dyed them and, in some cases, forced them into near-extinction. But how did we get from the barely-there look of the Roaring Twenties, to the bold but perfectly preened ‘Insta-brow’ of today? Here, we chart the ups and downs of eyebrows…

Back in the 1920s, actress Clara Bow set the bar for brows. Her over-extended, pencil-thin arches were duplicated by women of the era, sparking a new fascination with the ‘skinny brow’. Also dubbed the ‘sad brow’, the downwards extension of this style created an appearance of constant sorrow. Useful for a silent film star, but not ideal for the everyday.

1930s and 40s
This era took the minimalist look to a whole new level, with striking actresses like Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo reportedly shaving off their brows and drawing them in above the natural brow-bone every day. By the 1940s, thin brows were on their way out, replaced by a much softer, more feminine look.

Hollywood starlets like Elizabeth Taylor were ahead of the curve (literally) in this decade, defining softly-arched brows with a generous amount of matte powder. It was the era of the natural brow, but there’s never any harm in a little bit of definition.

Brows ‘au naturel’ grew in popularity in the Sixties, spearheaded by big-brow advocates like Audrey Hepburn. But this bushy style wasn’t entirely natural – women in the golden age of Hollywood were fans of shaving the ends from their brows and drawing them back in at a higher angle.

1970s and 80s
Thick, well-defined brows were all the rage in the Seventies and Eighties, with the queen of pop Madonna and young starlet Brooke Shields leading the way with their ‘power brows.’ Even naturally bushy brows were given extra definition with a generous dose of eye pencil.

In the Nineties, women abandoned big brows, picked up their tweezers and plucked their way to the pencil-thin look once more. With model Kate Moss leading the trend, this thin mentality was adopted by women everywhere, many discovering that their eyebrows didn’t return to their previous incarnation even once they’d stopped plucking.

The happy-go-plucky approach showed no sign of slowing down in the early Noughties. It wasn’t until the middle of the decade, when Angelina Jolie taught the world how to work a seriously arched brow and put paid to the tweezed-to-death look.

2010s to now
Model Cara Delevingne’s rough-and-ready look is credited with almost single-handedly bringing back the strong arches of the Eighties. Bold ‘power brows’ are more fashionable than ever and sales of brow gels, pencils and powders are soaring as women aim to master the full and flawless brows that dominate Instagram.

Catherine Devane