“I will not retire while I’ve still got my legs and my makeup box.” –Bette Davis

Let’s face it: beauty has evolved. Of course, perceptions of beauty, the products available, and the way they are represented in media have all changed drastically over the years, but one thing remains the same: beauty is always in demand. It’s also always sought after and appreciated in a myriad of ways. 

Today, thankfully, we see all types of women –and men—depicted in beauty ads. There’s nothing more beautiful than seeing people of different shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and backgrounds represented.

A couple of other things that have drastically improved when it comes to beauty—makeup, hair, and nails—are the variety and quality of products.

Long before shopping on the Internet (so, very recently), beauty products were harder to come by, and people simply didn’t shop as they do now. First of all, the sheer amount of different products now was unthinkable then. There wasn’t much diversity in beauty wares. For example, women shampoo their hair far more now than they used to. If we’re going to go way back, the question of water was an issue. Without indoor plumbing, people bathed a lot less, and a good shampooing was quite the luxury! To even think of washing one’s hair every day was a foreign concept (and we know that it’s actually better not to shampoo every single day: let those natural oils work their magic).

Hair: Before the 1920s, women mostly wore their hair long. During the day, they usually styled it piled on their heads into a bun (think of a Gibson girl) and, at night, would let it fall, brush it out, and put it in braids with a nightcap. 

Before portable hair dryers, women were less willing to get their hair wet. Swimming without a rubber cap, are you crazy? Going to the beauty parlor once a week to have their hair set (in curlers) and styled for the entire week was very popular. A beauty parlor has always been thought of as a place of necessity—for the most basic maintenance—as well as a community hot spot. If you heard any gossip (especially in small towns), it was at the beauty salon.

Then, in the 1920s, when flappers were all the rage, women started bobbing their hair. How revolutionary! 

Soft curls have always been an incredibly feminine, lovely look. Long before electric curlers, women wore hard plastic ones to bed (can you imagine sleeping on those things?). Now, with heated rollers and sophisticated curling wands, one doesn’t have to sacrifice a good night’s sleep for voluminous hair. Thank goodness for hairspray and dry shampoo!

Hair dye has, over the years, become much more sophisticated. Women (and men) still use Clairol at home and, gasp, peroxide to achieve a platinum blonde look. Now there are so many more colors from which to choose, and it’s not considered risqué to dye your hair. One hundred years ago, it was all the rage (and pretty sassy) to put a henna rinse on one’s hair for a flame-red effect.


“If you’re sad, add more lipstick and attack.” –Coco Chanel

Women in small towns who wanted to bring a little glamour into their lives and some extra money started selling Avon and Mary Kay products. Avon—founded in the late 19th century—was the first beauty brand to be sold door to door by representatives. This made beauty much more accessible! This way of shopping has gone out of fashion because, as we know, beauty supply shops like Sephora have taken over, and, of course, there’s online shopping. 

Max Factor was probably the first big name in quality makeup (of course, quality has changed and gotten exponentially better, more ethical, organic, etc. over the years). Founded in 1909 by Maksymilian Faktorowicz, this brand specialized in movie makeup and really had a monopoly on the business. This is where the Pan Stik (or pancake makeup) began. Liquid foundation, imagine that! 

Elizabeth Arden and Revlon were also the go-to brands, but the range of colors and shades was limited early on: in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, red was all the rage. Classic, bright red lipstick and fingernail polish were pretty much the only options, and this is what women wore when they wanted to dress up and feel beautiful. Some of the vintage Revlon lipsticks that are still widely available include “Cherries in the Snow” (a pinkish red loved by Marilyn Monroe), “Fire and Ice” and, believe it or not, one of the early pinks worn by Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” called “Pink in the Afternoon.”

The glamour goddesses of stage and screen have always used false eyelashes and press-on fingernails (think of Marlene Dietrich), but today, these things are much more refined and available to the general public. Mascara has changed a lot, too. It used to come in a compact cake, and you’d have to wet it and apply it with a little brush. Now there are so many types of brushes, colors, and brands of mascara and false eyelashes can be purchased just about anywhere.


Paul McCartney said that he wrote “Eleanor Rigby” about his mother; he thought of her pot of Nivea cream (thus the lyric). This was the staple when it came to skincare: Nivea or, of course, cold cream. A jar of Pond’s Cold Cream immediately evokes a great sense of nostalgia! 

For a little bit of color or “bloom” (if rouge wasn’t readily available), women and girls pinched their cheeks. This is still a great secret if you’re out and about without your blush!

Skincare has gotten so much more sophisticated over the years: now we have exfoliants, toners, facial wash for every skin type, anti-aging serums, and masks…just about everything you can think of! Although, people have been using the bare basics (such as mud) for centuries on their skin. Rose water has also always been a beauty necessity—for cleansing and adding a hint of perfume.


Long before Spanx and Skims, women had to rely on painful corsets, girdles, and control top pantyhose. Now it’s okay for bare legs to show beneath a skirt or dress, but it used to be thought of as unseemly! Still, stockings with seams held in place by garters are incredibly sexy and romantic. Today they are thought of as more of a novelty rather than a necessity. 

For everything you need to know about sustainable, organic, inclusive, and high-quality beauty products, check out Nabila K Cosmetics (for skincare and makeup)! 

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