Hair, make-up, model and author – Christina Cooling
Photographer – Tessie Cooling

Christina is an internationally published make-up artist, based in Monmouthshire, South Wales. She specialises in bridal and special occasion make-up and is also trained in theatrical and special effects make-up.

The 1930s was a decade heavily influenced by Hollywood, with actresses such as Greta Garbo, Carole Lombard and Joan Crawford showcasing a glamorous and new feminine look. Cinema provided much needed escapism from the economic hardship of The Great Depression.

The playful sexuality and rebellion of the roaring 20s Flapper swiftly moved aside, with the introduction of silver screen celebrities. At the beginning of the 1930s, the desired make-up look was significantly softer than the heavy and dark dramatic style of the previous decade. Make-up was becoming much more refined and women aspired to look like their dazzling Hollywood idols.

A major development in 1930s make-up was lipstick and the application technique. The ‘Crawford Smear’ or ‘Cruller Lips’ – full lips with horizontal lines and an elongated bow that rounded at the corners – replaced the once popular overdrawn ‘Cupid’s Bow’. At the beginning of the decade, popular colours included light rose and raspberry tones, with maroon and bright reds dominating the latter years. Despite the economic hardship, cosmetic sales rose significantly and lipstick sales went through the roof. The British Daily Mail reported that for every one lipstick that was sold in 1921, 1500 lipsticks were being sold in 1931! This could have been due to their accessibility and instant gratification.

Painfully thin eyebrows were another standout feature of the 1930s face, epitomised by famous actresses. Hair was either plucked or shaved out of existence and then redrawn using pencil thin lines, arched upwards towards the temples. To give them a smooth glossy look, eyebrows were then dressed with Brilliantine, a hair grooming product, or petroleum jelly.

Elizabeth Arden, Revlon and many other famous make-up brands were established in the 1930s. Max Factor became a household name and launched the first water soluble foundation, “Pan Cake”. Pan Cake replaced heavy powders and greasepaints until the 1940s, when more moisturising and less drying formulas were released. In the early 1930s, pale skin was still very popular and a complexion like Gardenia (white and waxen) was common. Towards the mid-and-latter years, women preferred to look as natural as possible, with colours such as ivory in varying tones of pink, light blue and orange cream.

Hollywood very much set the scene for fashion and make-up, with film fan magazines such as Photoplay featuring regular beauty guides with new make-up products. In 1932, a Max Factor advert described the necessity of mascara and how one will achieve “dark, long-appearing, luxuriant sweeping lashes… Transforming eyes into brilliant, flashing, bewitching pools of alluring loveliness – wonderfully expressive”. The fashionable technique of the 30s concentrated predominantly on the upper eyelashes, using either a cake or bar with a brush to apply.

Eyeshadow also changed from the deep edgy kohl look of the 20s, to softer more subtle colours. Many different shades were available from blues, greens, purples, pinks, and browns. Women now began to contour the eye, tracing a triangular pear type shape from the tear duct out to and beyond the natural edge of the eye. The look was very romantic and further emphasised a woman’s femininity. For evening events, a darker eyeshadow or cream shadow was smudged into the eyelid crease, creating dimension and depth to the eye socket. During the daytime, women developed an interesting routine, applying petroleum jelly to the upper eyelids to complement their shiny eyebrows. One might suggest the combination of mascara and petroleum jelly to be quite chaotic, as it wasn’t until 1939 that Helena Rubinstein launched the first commercial waterproof mascara.

The final change in 1930s make-up was rouge. Unlike the 20s, where blush was applied heavily to the apples of the cheeks, it was now used lightly in a triangular shape higher up on the face; the face was gently contoured and given a healthy flush of colour. Colours ranged from very soft pinks to deeper raspberry reds and even brown as the decade continued, with the Coco Chanel sun-kissed look becoming more prevalent.

The Stylish 30s disregarded the heavy make-up and rebellion of the 20s and shaped a more feminine and glamorous modern woman. Hollywood and the sirens of the silver screen visually dictated fashion. Make-up brands and formulations continued to grow and provided women with a much-needed distraction from The Great Depression; this was then unfortunately met with the outbreak of World War II.

Lisa Harrison
Written by Lisa Harrison
Lisa is the Deputy Editor of Vintage Life Magazine and Publisher at Dragoon Publishing. She is avid bookworm, collector of vintage homeware, loves travel, lazy weekends away and eats way too much cake!