Ah, sweet victory. It was late August of 1994 and I had won the biggest battle of my life so far: my parents had finally allowed me to wear makeup to school. And wear it I did. I did not go with a “no makeup-makeup” look. I had been stocking up at CVS for years and I was ready to show the world that I was someone who could and would wear makeup (and lots of it). The 1990s was my new favorite decade.
This Beauty Decades post is the first one I can write about from experience. I was born in the 80s but as a child, I didn’t really know what was going on with hair and makeup trends. (Which is fine, because I wouldn’t have wanted my formative beauty years to be based in 80s looks.) But my teenage years–aka when you try all the makeup and make all the mistakes–were in the 90s, a decade that my brain still thinks was about 8 years ago.
In the early 90s, matte makeup was the thing. Brown and wine colored lipsticks were in (I’m looking at you, Revlon Coffee Bean and Blackberry), and lipliner was a must. I’m talking two-shades-darker-than-your-lipstick lipliner. There was also a trend of wearing dark lipliner with a light beige lipstick and I was definitely feelin’ that one. By the late 90s, lipsticks were frostier and lip glosses were everywhere.
Foundations had improved since the 80s, but the majority of them still had a pink undertone. Although more and more formulations hit the market every day, they were usually matte and medium or full coverage in the early and mid 90s. Tinted moisturizer become popular in the late 90s, finally giving an option to women who wanted some coverage but not a full face of foundation.
Blush didn’t get much love in the 90s. It was probably because most of it had been striped on people’s cheekbones in the 80s, or maybe snorted up by accident.
Early 90s eyeshadows were primarily warm matte browns. Black eyeliner was the go-to color. In the mid to late 90s, shimmery white and opalescent shadows were popular, particularly with teens and young women. And if you went to high school between 1996-2000 and claim that you never wore white eyeliner on your top lashline, you’re lying.
Colored mascara had its moment, but other than that, there wasn’t a huge emphasis on lashes. False lashes were not popular and although lash extensions were invented in 1916, they didn’t hit the mainstream market until after the 90s.
Thin eyebrows were the bomb in the 90s. Sure, you saw the occasional Cindy Crawford full and arched brow, but most were tweezed into thin little lines. It personally was too much work for me to get my brows that thin, as they are robust, Italian brows, but looking back at my photos from middle school and high school, I see that many of my friends were tweezer-happy. Brows got thicker and more stylized in the late 90s but were still on the thin side, at least compared to today.
Bronzer of the Oompa Lompa variety was popular in the mid to late 90s. A rise in the popularity of tanning booths soon followed. Those evil machines have been the cause of so much skin cancer and skin damage and are surely one of the most deadly and damaging beauty trends of the 20th and 21st centuries. I understand the desire to look tan and I definitely went in tanning booths before proms and spring breaks. But I didn’t know how bad they were, and I cringe at the thought of them now. On the positive side, this obsession with looking tan forced the market to create better self tanning products, bronzers and the spray tan. Jergens Natural Glow was created in the 90s and it’s still a popular product today.
The grunge scene had a huge impact on makeup, particularly in the early 90s. It was all about dark, thick, smudgy eyeliner rimming the eyes and in the waterline and greasy or bedhead hair. Mascara was swiped on like the wearer was in a rush to go to a Pearl Jam concert. If foundation was used it was the same color or slightly lighter than skintone. Blush and bronzer did not exist in this world. Lips were either bare or dark and matte.
The hip hop culture of the 90s heavily influenced the beauty and fashion worlds (at least in my life). Dark lipliner around the lips filled in with light lipstick was a big look, as Kim Mathers can attest to. The black pencil eyeliner at the lower lashline was about the same thickness as the popular over-tweezed brows. High, tight ponytails gave an instant facelift. Curls were gelled to within a crunchy inch of their life. Baggy jeans and a tight top or an oversized Fila or Looney Toons t-shirt really brought the look home, in case you want the full picture.
Skincare became more important in the mid to late 90s. Facials and spa treatments–once reserved for wealthy women only–became more accessible. Estheticians and dermatologists were frequently interviewed for magazine beauty articles and the general realization that good skincare was key emerged.
Nail polish was big in the 90s. Hard Candy and Essie were crazy popular and the Chanel Vamp shade was often sold out. Deep, dark colors were in but really any matte color had its moment. Acrylic nails and French manicures were for the classy ladies. And you want to put some rhinestones on those claws? Do it to it, homegirl.
Streaky highlights were so 90s. The Rachel, the cut Jennifer Aniston had on Friends, was everywhere. Frosted tips on short hair–for women and men–were in. Zig zag parts were super popular, as were plastic accordion headbands and blingy (I hate that word) barrettes. In the early to mid 90s, there were a lot of scrunchies and baby barrettes being sold.
I think the 1990s is when our culture became truly celebrity-obsessed, which had a major impact on the beauty industry. Between magazines and the new Internet thing, people were seeing more celebrity faces outside of film and television. Celebrity endorsements of beauty products became commonplace and instead of models on magazine covers, you saw actresses. In interviews in women’s magazines, it was pretty standard that an actress would be asked about her beauty routine. Whether she answered honestly or not was one thing, but you better believe if Jennifer Lopez said she used a certain bronzer, that company’s sales were about to go through the roof.
As cheesy as some of the looks were, 90s beauty was in my opinion–which is correct–a lot better than 80s beauty. It was more flattering and less-in-your-face than the previous decade and product technology improved in a huge way over those 10 years. There was a marked difference between the foundation choices available in 1999 versus 1990. And the beginning of the shift towards taking care of your skin instead of just using makeup to (try to) hide imperfections and damage was a game changer.
I hold a special place in my heart for the 90s, my coming-of-age years. This was when my childhood love for beauty products blossomed, as I finally had a small income and was allowed to wear makeup to school. Most importantly, I was able to experiment with different looks. The past few decades had made this possible. If I was a teen in the 40s, I would have had pretty strict rules about which colors to wear, which haircut was best for my face shape, how much makeup a “classy” girl wore, etc. But the country changed in the 60s (read about it here http://wp.me/pZuuY-v1), allowing women to have some choice over a lot of things, including how they looked. That continued into the 70s (http://wp.me/pZuuY-vB), where the free-spirited hippy and later disco cultures encouraged people to play around with their looks. That brought us into the 80s (http://wp.me/pZuuY-AJ), where self expression and an anything-goes take on colors was the norm. I’m grateful that I grew up in a decade where I had the freedom to try different looks and figure out what worked for me. (Frosted blue lipstick and shimmery lilac eyeshadow does not.) So thank you 90s for this and for what I consider the Golden Age of Hip Hop.
Have a beautiful day 🙂
3 thoughts on “1990s Beauty”
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Thank you so much for all these articles from these decades. I’m making a project for college about how the beauty stereotypes have been changing and this page has helped me a lot to do my project!!
You’re welcome, Marta! I’m honored that you have read these posts and are able to use them for your project. I hope you get an A 🙂