From 1920 to Today: The Epic Evolution of Eyebrows
Full, natural-looking brows are such a sought-after look nowadays that a world where pencil-thin brows were en vogue seems like an impossibility. (Though we here at Team Byrdie, children of the ’90s, have photographic proof of said brows… *shudder*). Because we got a little too tweezer-happy as teens, it’s a miracle we were even able to grow back the arches we’ve come to know and love today. (Tonya Crooks’s Second Chance Eyebrow Enhancement Serum, $95, may have had something to do with that).
The transition from plucking the life out of our brows to wanting them to be as full as we could humanly grow them is an interesting one—a transition that’s ebbed and flowed throughout history. For the past century, we’ve seen brows go from long and thin to arched, from bushy back to thin, and on and on. But to visualize these transitions, we spoke to two makeup artists and rounded up the various brow trends from the 1920s to now.
Curious to see how brows have changed? Keep scrolling to see how the popular eyebrow trends have evolved from the 1920s to today.
Peck says that the concept of having mainstream eyebrow styles can be seen as early as the 1920s because that’s when print and film became widely accessible. Heavy makeup use may have surged during this decade because of Hollywood’s influence and the growth of larger cosmetic companies,1 and because makeup became more accessible, transferring from tubs and rolls of paper to portable compacts and lipstick tubes. “While images are black and white, you can see the drama and emphasis put on the eyebrow—defined and thin with the arch and tail sweeping downwards,” notes Peck. And, Amin says, “1920 was an era of sophisticated thin, yet rounded brows that emoted a whimsical and childlike awe to the face.”
While thin, drawn-on brows continued to be popular in the ’30s, women began to create much more of an arch, as seen on Jean Harlow and Billie Holliday. “Still rocking the thin brows, a pointed arch was in style—a little sharper and edgier than the previous decade, this brow lifted the face and amplified female authority,” notes Amin. Peck describes the brows of the ’30s to be “bare, hairless brow bones with a thin penciled-in symmetrical arch.” The highest point of the arches was directly over the pupil, making the eyebrow appear higher.
Our experts say that in the 1940s, a more natural, thicker brow with a defined shape came into vogue thanks to icons like Rita Hayworth. According to Amin, the trend was “throwing the tweezers out and embracing a more natural brow, softening the features while still maintaining the soft, surreal look.”
There’s no doubt that Marilyn Monroe was a trendsetter through and through. Along with her trademark curly blonde hair and sultry red lips, the icon’s prominently arched, groomed brows influenced women of the decade to follow suit. “This era was the start of the bolder yet arched [brows] that were sultry and mysterious—and oh so very feminine,” says Amin. Peck describes the shape as much more graphic and squared, with a high pointed arch. She adds, “Regardless of hair color, the trend called for a darker brow, so brows were now being penciled in.”
According to Peck, the 1960s had at least two different trends happening, all courtesy of Hollywood and the fashion industry. “During this decade, you had Audrey Hepburn with her thick, straight brows and Twiggy with her pencil-thin brows. The pencil-thin brows worked well with print because the focus was placed on the dramatic eye makeup,” she says. Amin adds that these thinner brows had a straighter arch and a shorter tail. “They were a little bit short and crisp (think K-Pop brow but with a twist) and focused on the lift without any Botox,” she explains.
“The age of disco came into power, and it was exceptionally trendy to pluck the brow into extinction,” says Peck. Amin agrees that brows got thinner and higher. “The lift continues but gets even slimmer and higher—this startling look put a spotlight on those dreamy, ravishing eyes, making them the focus (with the help of lots of mascara, of course),” she says.
But, while the disco era popularized bright, shimmering eye shadow, long lashes, and thin, drastically arched brows to allow for such looks to be featured, the decade was also a time of tremendous social change, and Peck says this was even reflected in brows. “On the other end of the spectrum, we saw young women embrace their body hair, including their eyebrows—natural was the name of the game,” she notes.
“The 1980s showed a resurgence of the natural bushy eyebrow, and bolder eyebrows were seen in fashion and Hollywood,” says Peck. Icons like Brooke Shields and Madonna famously sported dark, brushed-up brows, pioneering this beauty movement. Amin likes to describe the trend as “full ‘n fluffy.” She says, “Embracing the natural growth and un-manicured brow for an effortless ‘woke up this way’ look was the headliner in the 1980s. Even the unibrow made a comeback and was widely accepted as a sign of good fortune!” It’s safe to say wax and tweezer sales probably took a hit at the time.
Ah, the ’90s. Women of this decade put brow grooming companies back in business with their pencil-thin brows à la Gwen Stefani and Drew Barrymore. “The 1990s was the true ‘walk of shame’ for eyebrow style. Hitting rock bottom, it was trendy to completely denude the brow bone and draw on a completely unflattering, unconvincing eyebrow,” shares Peck. “If you participated in this trend, there’s a good chance you never fully recovered, and every morning when you put on your makeup, you ask yourself, ‘what was I thinking?’”
Amin describes the brows of the early aughts to be prim and pointed. “These ultra-thin brows were not to be missed. ‘The thinner, the better’ was the motto when it came to millennium brows,” she explains. “With the focus on cool-toned smoky eye makeup and a smudged out grungy look, pencil-thin brows enhanced the mood and made the 2000s an iconic [decade] for the skinny and pointed brows.”
“Well-defined and etched-out ‘Instagram-worthy’ brows brought all the attention to influencers and glam gurus, [which] made everyone realize how important brows are,” notes Amin. “The focus was on growing and grooming eyebrows and having them become an identity feature. The influence of celebrities and major makeup artists boosted and brought forward the ever-growing brow industry.” She adds that bold, sculpted, and polished were the high-points of these photo-worthy brows.
Peck adds that this decade ushered in many products and styling tools specifically for brows. “Especially since the style reflected a bold brow with an ombré color, pencils, pomades, and brow gel came on the scene with a vengeance,” she explains. “It was about letting them grow naturally, but [also] making sure they were groomed to perfection.”
Amin says that whether you like your brows ultra-groomed and manicured or au natural, there’s a unique brow for everyone these days. With that said, the trend is markedly towards fluffy brows. “With brow lamination taking the front seat, accepting natural, bushy, fluffy, and sometimes overgrown brows bring forward a certain innocence and youthfulness to this effortless ‘no makeup, makeup look’ era that we’re all about nowadays,” she explains. “Zoom call ready or out and about, these fluffy brows are low maintenance and high impact in making a statement!”
So, how should you style your brows? Amin says your brows should look the way you want them to, even if that bucks against the going trend. “It’s your unique face, and there is no one-size-fits-all [brow style]. “This is where makeup comes in—have a new brow each day, and try different trends, different looks, and find what feels best! Change your brows like you change your shoes (or lipstick).”
As Amin says, “Brows are powerful; they indicate emotion and authority.” Her sage advice? “Don’t be afraid to wear the brow as per the mood you’re feeling. As the previous decades taught us, life’s too short to commit to a single brow look!”