The History of Women and Their Eyebrows

These days, it's all in the brows — but in a way, it always was.

Elizabeth Taylor
(Image credit: Silver Screen Collection)

1. The Ancient Egyptian Eyebrows of Horus, 3500 B.C. - 2500 B.C.

Both Egyptian men and women wore makeup for its supernatural powers. As an homage to the God Horus, heavily-lined eyes were the focal point of the face, which meant that eyebrows needed to be equally as prominent. They darkened, arched, and elongated brows by painting on carbon and black oxide substances. Sorry Cara, Cleopatra was most definitely the pioneer of the bold brow look.

2. The Pure Ancient Greek Brows, 800 BC to 146 BC:
The Ancient Greeks put an emphasis on purity and it was reflected in women's beauty rituals. Often times married women would sport a natural look, while those who were unwed would touch up their eyebrows with black incense. A uni-brow was recognized as a beautiful trait — not a reason to run to your salon for an urgent pre-date touch-me-up.

3. The Astute Ancient Roman Brows, 753 BC to 476 AD:
Roman women had more freedom in their beauty practices than the Greeks, but the no-fuss uni-brow was still considered the most desirable characteristic. It was a sign of intelligence and worn by the most notoriously beautiful women of the time. Brow-wow-wow.

4. The Barely-There Middle Ages Brows, 1066 - 1485:
Medieval women pointed attention to their domed foreheads, a desirable trait of the time (yes, seriously!), by plucking their eyebrows heavily. While skinny, barely-there brows were the standard, during the Elizabethan era, many women dyed their brows in reddish tones as a nod to Queen Elizabeth (most definitely not Henry VIII #getitgirl).

History of Eyebrows

(Image credit: Marie Claire)

5. The Needle-Thin 1920's Brows:
During the Roaring Twenties, women used beauty to liberate themselves. Modeling themselves after silent film queen Clara Bow, eyebrows were severely plucked and penciled in thin, straight, and extended beyond the outer corner of the eye. It was the first time commercially-made products were available and flappers went to town — and then hit the town, of course.

6. The Curvatured 1930's Brows:
The dark, heavily-tweezed brow trend carried into the 1930's, but Hollywood actresses like Jean Harlow (pictured) and Greta Garbo used more pronounced, curvature arches to add drama, drama, drama.

7. The Heavier 1940's Brows:
Brows became thicker in the 1940's as part of a softer, less severe look. Move stars such as Lauren Bacall (pictureed) and Grace Kelly sported heavier brows with a prominent arch. What would Bacall's signature expression, "The Look," be without her striking brows?

8. The Plentiful 1950's Brows:
Dior's 'New Look' called for a full face of makeup, which was often topped off by a strong brow with a high arch. The biggest Hollywood stars of the time, Elizabeth TaylorMarilyn Monroe, and Audrey Hepburn, all boasted lush, immaculately-shaped brows. Their eyebrows are up here, boys!

9. The Painterly 1960's Brows:
Sophia Loren had the most famous brows and unique styling technique of the 1960's. You might even say her eyebrowwere full of secrets. She shaved them off completely, then penciled them in tactfully with short, thread thin strokes that secured a bold, yet seemingly natural look.

History of Eyebrows

(Image credit: Marie Claire)

10. The Au Naturale 1970's Brows:
The 1970's marked the return of the natural brow as the hippie movement took flight — think natural shape and less plucking la Ali MacGraw and Lauren Hutton. If you've let your brows run wild, just call it a '70s revival.

11. The More is More 1980's Brows:
With Brooke Shields and Madonna leading the movement, the more, more, moreness of the 1980's held true for eyebrow shape. The bushier, the better, baby.

12. The Less is More 1990's Brows:
The 1990's had brows of all sizes, but there was still tweezing aplenty. The overplucked look was sported most popularly by Drew Barrymore and Pamela Anderson. Model Kristen McMenamy's career skyrocketed only after she shaved off her eyebrows.

13. The Bold Brow of Today:
The bold brow is back, thanks in large part to model-of-the-moment Cara Delevingne and what many are hailing "the power brow." Whether your brows are the real deal or your just getting crafty with brow fillers, the thicker the better. Our tweezers are on hiatus for now, but if history is any indication, it's only a matter of time before they're in high demand once again.

Lauren Valenti
Beauty Editor

Lauren is the former beauty editor at Marie Claire. She love to while away the hours at coffee shops, hunt for vintage clothes, and bask in the rough-and-tumble beauty of NYC. She firmly believes that solitude can be a luxury if you’ve got the right soundtrack—that being the Rolling Stones, of course.