A Hairy History of Eyebrow Trends


Cara Delevingne shows off her very thick, of-the-moment, eyebrows in 2017. Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

A true fashionista knows that even the most glam look can be ruined by a pair of eyebrows that aren't totally on fleek. Though people have been messing with their eyebrows since ancient Egypt, in the last 100 years or so, the pace has picked up. The cosmetics industry exploded around the 1920s, ushering a tinkering with eyebrow shapes that seems to change with each decade.

From thin to thick and back again here's a look at eyebrow trends by the decade.

The 1920s

Marlene Dietrich plucked her eyebrows off and then drew them back on super-thin with a pencil above her natural arch.
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The Roaring '20s was rife with major changes to women's fashion, like bobbed hair and flapper dresses. The decade marked the beginning of women taking fashion cues from the silver screen. Some historians believe that since silent movie stars had to use their eyes to create emotion, makeup artists preferred thin brows, the better to show the eyes. Actress Marlene Dietrich popularized incredibly thin brows. In fact, she was known to pluck hers all the way off, then draw them back on super-thin and straight with a pencil above her natural arch! She wasn't the only one, however – Clara Bow and other actresses followed suit with enthusiasm. Most everyday women didn't go quite so far, but still embraced the uber-thin brow. Some also used petroleum jelly to keep wayward hairs in place and add shine.

The 1930s

Thin, high and rounded brows, like Jean Harlow's were all the rage in the 1930s. Here she poses with co-star Clark Gable in the movie 'Saratoga.'
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The '30s saw a slight softening compared with the severity of the straight-line brows of the '20s. Although style remained thin and dark, women sported them high and rounded. Those with a finger truly on the pulse of high fashion dared to carry the brow all the way out to the temple. Film stars like Jean Harlow and Merle Oberon flaunted this look with aplomb.

The 1940s

Lauren Bacall's brows were more realistic, not too thin, not too thick, as shown in this 1945 photo.
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Although they still liked to pluck, women in the '40s longed for a more realistic look. Stars such as Lauren Bacall and Joan Crawford led the charge, with brows that were arched, yet far fuller. Even Dietrich joined the party, with brows that remained thin, but were huge compared with her 1920s style.

The 1950s

Audrey Hepburn wears a tiara and her trademark dark brows in the 1953 movie 'Roman Holiday.'
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Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor are arguably three of the most famous women ever to walk the red carpet. So it's little surprise that when they sported dramatically thicker brows, regular women followed suit. The shape wasn't all that different – a high arch was still in vogue, although a subtle point at the peak was common. However, most fashion-forward women darkened their brows using pencils to help them really pop.

The 1960s

Twiggy's eyebrows took a backseat to her eyelashes.
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Whereas brows were the eye-catching feature of the '50s, women in the '60s longed instead to play up their eyes, especially those fans of Twiggy's mod look. As a result, brows became less enhanced and thinner, with focus shifting to the lashes. Brigitte Bardot sported an understated brow, although some stars maintained a slightly fuller, rounded brow, like Nina Simone. Sophia Loren took brow-styling to the next level by shaving them off completely, then using a light hand to draw them back on with a pencil using a surprisingly natural-looking technique.

The 1970s

Donna Summer liked her brows thin, perhaps the better to show off her eye makeup.
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Everything seemed to get bigger and glitzier in the '70s, except for the eyebrows. They were plucked and waxed into submission until they turned into ultra-thin, high arches. Perhaps stars like Donna Summer preferred it that way to make room for more eye makeup? Liza Minelli was another notable member of the mega-hip, mega-thin brow crowd. The style was hardly uniform, however. Diana Ross favored a sharp arch, whereas fellow diva Aretha Franklin preferred a more natural, yet nicely groomed, appearance.

The 1980s

Brooke Shields (with her trademark thick brows) attends an AIDS benefit with William McNamara in New York
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The '80s were go big or go home in so many ways, and eyebrows were no exception. It Girl Brooke Shields set the trend for thick, natural, borderline bushy brows. Some stars took the full effect to the next level, with Whitney Houston brushing hers upward to make a statement we still don't understand, and Madonna completely eschewing tweezers altogether. This was the decade when we saw the rise of the "brow specialist."

The 1990s

One thing these supermodels had in common: thin eyebrows. (L-R: Carla Bruni, Naomi Campbell, Gianni Versace, Nadege and Linda Evangelista at the Versace High Fashion Show in Paris.)
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All the excess of the '80s made everyone dial way, way back in the following decade. Probably too far back. Barely there brows became the norm in the 1990s, with stars like Drew Barrymore and Pamela Anderson tweezing theirs into lines so fine you almost didn't notice how much darker they were than their bottle-blonde hair. Kate Moss ruled the high-fashion catwalks of the '90s, and her brows were practically nonexistent, adding further fuel to the trend.

The 2000s

After the overplucking of the '90s, brows slowly came back to the middle, as Tyra Banks demonstrates in this 2005 photo.
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The decade of overindulgent eyebrow tweezing that was the '90s saw many people scrambling for the pencil when the fuller, more natural brow came back into play in the early 2000s. Although far from the bushy days of the 1980s, the 2000s saw women sparingly waxing, tweezing and filling brows in to make them long, consistent and arched. And just in time too, for the next decade.

The 2010s

Actress and model Cara Delevingne kicked off the 2010s with a bang, brow-wise. Her thicker, more natural brows inspired many women to fatten up theirs. Those who couldn't do it naturally could pull it off with the help of eyebrow kits, which include some combination of eyebrow waxes, powders, brushes and pencils. (The Guardian reported that Net-a-Porter had 20 brow products for sale in 2013; by 2016, it had 150.) Starlet Lily Collins is another trendsetter whose thick, dramatic brows have become a trademark aspect of her overall glam look. So are the Kardashians. There's even a trend called the "Instagram brow" that some people find truly scary.


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