Nov 8th, 2016, 03:01 PM

Thick and Thin: Eyebrows Through the Ages

By Karen Leong
Image Credit: Denitslava Makeup
Turning back the beauty clock on eyebrow plucking, tweezing, waxing, and threading.

Eyebrows are the new “natural” makeup trend sweeping popular culture today — and the obsession with them has hit critical mass.

The brow obsession here in France is going strong and growing more and more popular. Similarly, in the United Kingdom the brow business is worth more than £20 million, a £6.5m jump from just five years ago.

We all know the various methods of brow care (plucking, tweezing, waxing, threading, etc.). But to understand brow trends today, we need to turn back the beauty clock. 

3100 BC – 332 BC Ancient Egypt

As depicted on the bust of Queen Nefertiti, Ancient Egyptian women used mineral powders to darken their arched brows. In this time period, thick dark brows were in fashion. Interestingly, the Egyptians were highly superstitious about brows. One tradition dictated that you had to shave off your eyebrows as a sign of mourning if a cat died in your home. 

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Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra. Image Credit: Marie Claire

Ancient Greece (800 BC – 146 BC) and Rome (753 BC – 27 BC)

In both cultures, natural eyebrows were perceived as a sign of beauty. Women touched up or slightly darkened their eyebrows with black powder to create drama. In contrast to what is seen today as unattractive, back then a unibrow was prized as beautiful, desirable and a sign of intelligence — all features of a "perfect woman." During this period, women would even color in the gap between the eyebrows to create a unibrow using black paint.

Ancient Greek eyebrow trend. Image Credit: Hooch

The Middle Ages (5th to the 15th century)

During this period, the forehead was the most important feature of a woman. To prevent obstruction of the forehead, they would remove any and all facial hair including eyelashes and eyebrows. Later on, the trend shifted at the end of the 16th century when Queen Elizabeth I inspired many women to start dyeing their hair and brows in reddish shades similar to hers.

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Mona Lisa. Image Credit: DocuMystere

Victorian Era (1837 – 1901)

The Victorian Era preferred a very natural look as women who wore obvious makeup were thought to be prostitutes. With this in mind, most woman left their eyebrows bushy and untamed.

Victorian era eyebrow trends. Image Credit: Answers


With the introduction of film, it was in this era that movies started to have a big impact on fashion trends. Women had exceptionally thin, but at the same time straight brows, to give themselves a dramatic and pensive look à la silver screen stars. Vaseline was extremely popular as well at the time to add shine and emphasis to their brows.

Actress Clara Bow.  Image Credit: Wall Paper Folder


10 years after the thin eyebrow trend started, it continued into the 30's, just with a slightly different shape. Women now preferred dramatic high, rounded brows to flat ones.

1930's eyebrow trend. Image Credit: EmmaGem


It was during this era that a more natural look brow came back into fashion again. Eyebrows were thicker but still arched, perhaps the beginning of the shift towards the eyebrows of today.

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Lauren Becall. Image Credit: ABC News


This time period sported thick, dark brows that were often penciled in to achieve a bolder, more enhanced look, the first turn back in brow history to ancient Egyptian times. Brows retained arched shapes similar to the brows of the 40's, but this time, the effect was stronger and more pronounced as the defining feature of the face. 

Audrey Hepburn. Image Credit: Suitcase Magazine


Sophia Loren was the most important figure of this decade. To achieve the perfect brow, she shaved them off entirely and shaped them with a black pencil. Because this technic was so extreme, the natural brow look of the 50's was still the popular trend amongst most women at the time.

Sophia Loren and her famous brows. Image Credit: Kitt Noir


Thick natural eyebrows with thinner ends were very trendy at this time. Woman favored a more natural look by removing only a few hairs to create an arch shape.

Lauren Hutton. Image Credit: Gogirl!


Bushy and thick brows were perceived as glamorous and women would use brow pencils and powders to emphasis the color of their eyebrows. This decade would serve as the precursor to present day brow trends.

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Brooke Shields. Image credit: The Huffington Post


The 1920's trend resurfaces back again with extremely thin, arched eyebrows. These really thin eyebrows were usually not well shaped required the most maintenance. It's safe to say the 90's were not a good time for eyebrows.

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Drew Barrymore. Image Credit: IMDB


Eyebrows became a huge beauty obsession, starting in the late 2010's. New advances in brow styling techniques such as eyebrow transplants and microblading (a kind of tattooing where tiny strokes of ink are added to resemble hairs) gave way to the bushy and thick, but natural and well shaped brows of today. Cara Delevingne, a bona fide brow icon, may very well be the source of the trend. 

Cara Delevingne. Image Credit: Harper’s Bazaar