'30s Makeup Trends Are Making a Comeback

Just look at the runways for proof.

Marion Davies
(Image credit: Alamy)

When you think of classic Hollywood glamour, the '50s and '60s immediately come to mind, along with names like Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Lauren Bacall. These days, however, an unsuspected decade is rising in popularity: the '30s. Contoured eyes, thin brows, and dark lips emphasizing the Cupid's bow have taken over, a marked departure from the thick, bushy brows and minimal, 'clean girl' makeup looks of yore.

Runways have predicted style trends for about as long as we've had them, and this year, we've seen a throughline with '30s trends. Bleached and razor-thing brows have been spotted at several shows, including the January 2024 Schiaparelli show, along with the '30s-inspired, Pat McGrath-executed looks at Maison Margiela and Anna Sui.

Maison Margiela

"At Maison Margiela, our primary references from John Galliano included porcelain dolls from the '30s and Brassaï’s photographs of Parisian nightlife from the same era, and so we took elements from both when designing the look," says McGrath. "The key was to take these vintage references and infuse them with a modern twist."

(Image credit: Maison Margiela)

"The '30s was a period of upheaval, uneasiness and change, not unlike what we are experiencing in the 2020s," explains McGrath. "Perhaps this is why, subconsciously at least, this nostalgic look feels especially resonant today. Conversely, this was a time of slow beauty, where every detail was savored and personal grooming was an art, which serves as an antidote to today’s fast-paced digital society."

Ahead, McGrath and celebrity makeup artist Colby Smith break down the essentials of '30s beauty and explain the re-emergence of these trends today.

a makeup artist applying makeup to a model backstage at the Anna Sui NYFW 2024 show

Pat McGrath's team applies makeup to a model backstage at the Anna Sui NYFW 2024 show. The look was meant to evoke 1930s London, with its bold red lips, thin brows, and high blush placement.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

'30s Makeup Trends

By the '30s, makeup had taken a more refined approach as attitudes towards cosmetics took a turn. "The emphasis was less on making a bold statement—as in the '20s—but about enhancing one’s natural beauty," says McGrath. "The aesthetic was cinematic yet polished, marked by a sophisticated elegance."

Stars such as Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, and Marlene Dietrich epitomized '30s beauty, donning striking looks that emphasized the emotions they portrayed on the silver screen: Sharply lined lips made frowns more dramatic, and contoured eyes rendered longing gazes more sultry. Their makeup practices trickled down to everyday people, too, and reflected women's ever-evolving place in society.

collage of Joan Blondell, Loretta Young, and Greta Garbo

Joan Blondell, Loretta Young, and Greta Garbo championed the hottest trends of the 1930s, like thin brows and the exaggerated Cupid's bow.

(Image credit: Alamy)

"After decades of makeup being seen as taboo, the '30s was an era where women began feeling more confident with how they wore and used makeup," explains McGrath. "You can see that in the beautifully sculpted eyes, the gorgeous lashes, and the shapely, elongated lips. And I think that confidence comes through and resonates with how people understand and use beauty today."

woman with thin eyebrows wearing heart-shaped red lipstick and black sunglasses with a light blue turtleneck

1930s-inspired thin brows and heart-shaped lips seen at Melbourne Fashion Festival in March 2024.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Glossy '30s Eyes

black and white photo of Marlene Dietrich with thin brows

Marlene Dietrich epitomized the glossy, sultry eye trend of the 1930s.

(Image credit: Alamy)

For eyes as seductive as Marlene Dietrich's, McGrath says the key is a subtle eyelid contour and a glossy finish. She explains, "Cream eyeshadows allowed women to achieve the glossy lids seen on the silver screen without using petroleum jelly." She recommends subtly contouring the eyes, opting for darker pigments at the outer edges and lighter ones in the middle of the lids.

To top off your dramatic '30s eye makeup, apply a volumizing mascara that gives your lashes a considerable lift. "An emphasis on lashes took off in the ‘30s after the launch of cake mascara and the eyelash curler a decade earlier," says McGrath.

Thin '30s Brows

black and white photo of Jean Harlow

Jean Harlow's hyper-thin were all the rage during the 1930s—a trend that eventually came back in the '90s and early 2000s, and is making a resurgence today.

(Image credit: Alamy)

In the '30s, McGrath says that brows were thin and precise to emphasize the shape of the eyes. For contemporary observers, this is perhaps the most striking aspect of '30s beauty, because it counters the thick-brow trend that dominated the 2010s. "You can see some '30s styles today with the thin brows," says Smith. "Most say '90s, but the '90s were a repeat from the '30s."

During this era, women often tweezed their brows or waxed them off completely, then drew a thin line on with a kohl pencil. You can certainly opt for this dramatic style, or go for a more temporary fix. Bleach your brows or cover them with concealer before drawing a dark line.

Bold '30s Lips

black and white photo of Lucille Ball wearing a fedora

Lucille Ball's glossy lips have their origins in the 1930s, but remained her signature look throughout her decades-long career.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Bold, rounded lips with an accentuated Cupid's bow are another hallmark of the era, though Smith points out the shape became wider in the '30s than it had been during the '20s. "Think of Lucille Ball, who started her career in the '30s and kept that iconic lip shape for decades," he says, adding that the look is now popular yet again, departing from the elliptical, overlined shape of the 2010s.

In terms of color, lips were "stained with red lipstick, a product incredibly popular at the time," says McGrath. She owes this popularity in large part to advancements in formula, explaining that lipstick became more pigmented and longer lasting, while shiny new emollient ingredients contributed to a trend for glossier makeup.

To get the look, opt for red lipstick with a glossy or satin finish. Conversely, you can start with your favorite matte lipstick or lip stain, and then apply a layer of high-shine gloss.

Heart-Shaped '30s Cheeks

black and white photo of Mae West

(Image credit: Alamy)

Heart-shaped makeup went beyond the lips. Blush placement in the '30s was brought up to the lower half of the eye, giving the appearance of a heart-shaped face.

McGrath calls the look a subtle contour, albeit a different one from the Kardashian-endorsed look popularized last decade. When channeling the '30s, apply your blush along your cheekbones rather than on the apples of your cheeks. To truly achieve the rounded, heart-shaped look, skip the face-slimming bronzer.

Meet the Experts

Pat McGrath
Pat McGrath

Pat McGrath is a celebrated makeup artist and founder of her eponymous brand, Pat McGrath Labs. A pioneer in the world of makeup artistry, she is the first makeup artist to receive the title of D.B.E. Dame of the British Empire.

Colby Smith
Colby Smith

Colby Smith is a professional celebrity makeup artist. Based in New York City, he has styled the likes of Alanis Morissette, Dua Lipa, Billie Eilish, Demi Lovato, and more. He has also worked on photoshoots with multiple magazines, including Marie Claire.

Gabrielle Ulubay
Beauty Writer

Gabrielle Ulubay is a Beauty Writer at Marie Claire. She has also written about sexual wellness, politics, culture, and fashion at Marie Claire and at publications including The New York Times, HuffPost Personal, Bustle, Alma, Muskrat Magazine, O'Bheal, and elsewhere. Her personal essay in The New York Times' Modern Love column kickstarted her professional writing career in 2018, and that piece has since been printed in the 2019 revised edition of the Modern Love book. Having studied history, international relations, and film, she has made films on politics and gender equity in addition to writing about cinema for Film Ireland, University College Cork, and on her personal blog, gabrielleulubay.medium.com. Before working with Marie Claire, Gabrielle worked in local government, higher education, and sales, and has resided in four countries and counting. She has worked extensively in the e-commerce and sales spaces since 2020, and spent two years at Drizly, where she developed an expertise in finding the best, highest quality goods and experiences money can buy.

Deeply political, she believes that skincare, haircare, and sexual wellness are central tenets to one's overall health and fights for them to be taken seriously, especially for people of color. She also loves studying makeup as a means of artistic expression, drawing on her experience as an artist in her analysis of beauty trends. She's based in New York City, where she can be found watching movies or running her art business when she isn't writing. Find her on Twitter at @GabrielleUlubay or on Instagram at @gabrielle.ulubay, or follow her art at @suburban.graffiti.art