Your Ultimate 1930s Makeup Guide

What do you think about 1930s makeup?

So far, I have covered 1940s makeup looks and 1950s makeup looks. I figured I should also cover makeup looks from the 1930s since it was a decade with many unique characteristics. 1930s makeup has some similarities with how makeup was done in the 1950s, but there are a few important differences.

It has some characteristics that are shared by the 1980s too. But what makes this era of makeup unique?

1930s Makeup: Foundation

Foundation was very light back then. Lotion was usually first applied to the face to make the skin moist and supple. The second step was to apply powder. This powder may be translucent or it may match the skin.

The goal was to create a light, even complexion. If you didn’t have clear skin, you were pretty much out of luck as powder wouldn’t do much for you. Although, the ’30s did have something called vanishing cream which could help cover blemishes. Face powder was usually a shade lighter than one’s real skin tone.

This would create a bright, ivory complexion. Coty’s face powder from 1935 was very popular back then, and the brand still produces the same powder today (which is actually one of my favorites). It has a nice smell too.


Blush was called rouge back in the day. Rouge was applied very heavily in the 1930s. If you look at any colored advertisements of the time, they always put emphasis of the redness of a woman’s cheeks (and sometimes men’s cheeks too). But this does not mean that people were walking around with clown cheeks.

The blush wasn’t as strong as it was in the 1980s. There was still a certain naturalness to it. Cream rouge was very popular. This could be applied to the cheeks with the tips of the fingers. The goal was to achieve youthful, rosy cheeks.

More blush was acceptable for eveningwear. Powder would be applied over it to achieve an airbrushed look.

Eyes and Eyebrows

Eyebrows were very thin during the 1930s. This carried over from the 1920s which has similar eyebrows. Some women would pluck or shave away all of their eyebrows and paint them in instead. This gave them more flexibility to place their eyebrows wherever they wanted and experiment with different shapes.

You can see this most clearly with the actress Jean Harlow who always had eyebrows jumping every which way. The main difference from the eyebrows of the ’20s is that the 1930s favored eyebrows arched higher on the brow. This made the eyes look more open. Some people experimented with extreme arches (again, Jean Harlow is a great example). But many ordinary women opted for a more toned-down arch.

As for the eyes, eyeshadow was not worn much during the day. Instead, women would use petroleum jelly to give their eyelids a dewy look. But women would use all sorts of eyeshadow shades in the evening. Most women tried to match their eyeshadow to their eyes. But even in the evening, eyeshadow was worn sparingly.

1930s makeup
Jean Harlow and her famous eyebrows.

A grease pencil was sometimes used as eyeliner or an eyebrow pencil. Long black eyelashes were in vogue too. Women preferred to have long and slim rather than thick and clumpy eyelashes. Cake mascara was the only way to apply this substance as mascara tubes had not yet been invented.

Cake mascara was indeed a cake of mascara stored in a tin along with a toothbrush-like tool for application. The cake had to be wet with a bit of water or spit to turn it into a gel for application. Black mascara was popular among dark-haired girls while brown mascara was preferred among blondes and redheads.

1930s Makeup: Lips

As with many other decades of the past, the 1930s focused on red lipstick. The ideal lip shape of the ’30s was longer and slimmer compared to the ’20s. The upper lip would often be drawn to bear a Cupid’s bow shape. Lipstick back then was very thick and heavy and often had to be blotted off with a napkin.

Women often covered their lips with petroleum jelly to give their lipstick more of a shine too. Common shades were fire-red, scarlet, and dark red. With these makeup tips and tricks, you could easily make yourself look like an authentic 1930s woman.

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