Vintage Makeup for darker skin tones during the Jazz Age

For this installment of the Vintage Makeup for Darker Skin Tones series, I am exploring makeup during the Jazz Age. To know more about this series, please read my disclaimer.

Finding printed information, tips, and colors for makeup that originates from the Jazz Age of the 1920s is very difficult, for any skin tone. During that time period there was a huge struggle happening between the older generation that generally controlled the press and young women who wanted to wear makeup, lots and lots of makeup. Also, a significant part of the press was still controlled and written by men who really did not care about offering ladies makeup advice.

Many magazines and newspapers from the time were taking advertising money from makeup companies and printing their ads, but then articles in these publications stressed natural beauty. Poise, proper dress, exercise, manicures, hair and skin care, and feminine demeanor were all part of the important beauty regiment.

MadamCJWalker Ad02

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So many young girls figured it out on their own, getting their advice from what they saw in the movies, in magazines and on their favorite stage performers.


1920s stage performer Florence Mills

josephine baker voila magazine 1920s

Performer Josephine Baker

But very little media was actually produced in color. Movies and magazines were mostly black and white. Covers of mainstream magazines were often printed in color, but those magazines never put women of color on the covers.


Actress Barbara LaMarr on the cover of Photoplay, 1924.

So the girl with darker skin could find ideas for style in these magazines as well as African-American magazines and newspapers, but not color ideas usually.

crisis magazine nina mae mckinney 1930s

Actress Nina Mae McKinney on the cover of The Crisis, 1930 via Vieilles Annonces

But we can still piece together color advice using what was written in various publications. A lot of makeup color suggestions were based on eye color and hair color. I haven’t seen any mention in the 1920s that lady A with skin tone B should wear eyeshadow C. Skin tone did, however determine lipstick color in the 1920s.

Women with darker skin, whether Spanish or African-American, were encouraged that they could wear a deeper color lipstick like cherry or deep ruby red. (1)

lipstick colors vintage makeup dark skin 1920s

The general consensus at the time was that lips and rouge should coordinate in color, but not intensity. Rouge should be a lighter and fainter. And if you had a beautiful dusky or olive skin tone, I have come across a few suggestions from the time period of using a raspberry rouge. (2)

rouge color raspberry vintage makeup 1920s

According to Marjorie Oelrich in Home Beauty Course, 1927, “Brunettes should choose a rouge dark and rich in shade.” She also wrote, “Remember that brilliant color in the cheeks is never considered becoming in the daytime. You want the fresh, alluring rose which proclaims youth and health. At night, in making up for artificial light, you can allow yourself much more color.”

For eyeshadow, in 1926, Sunset Magazine suggested brown eyes, “demand a purple pencil to develop their full beauty.” I should mention that there was some crossover between “eyeliner” and “eyeshadow”. Eye shadow at the time usually came in a pencil form and was very similar to eyeliner. After applying it over the lower part of the upper eyelid like eyeliner, ladies would then blend it all over the lid.

The same Sunset Magazine also suggested, “Black eyes are lovely with a faint touch of red. Rub the pencil very gently over the eyelids and blend into a delicate shadow over the entire surface. Another faint line may be drawn under the eyes and treated in the same way, but should be even more shadowy and indistinct.” (3)

Of course eye color was a huge deciding factor in what eye shadow color you should wear in the 1920s, so if you are a darker skinned girl with green eyes, then a harmonizing green eyeshadow is appropriate. The same for blue eyes, although I have seen suggestions that with darker hair and blue eyes, a dark blue eyeshadow is recommended.

eyeshadow colors vintage makeup 1920s

In Home Beauty Course, 1927, Marjorie Oelrich writes that black pencil for the eyebrows is appropriate on “pronounced brunettes.” Black mascara was also considered proper for anyone with black hair and dark brown mascara for brown hair.

See more from the Vintage Makeup for Darker Skin Tones series.

Read more details about the early days of makeup in the book, Retro Makeup: Techniques for Applying the Vintage Look.

Retro Makeup

(1) Make-Up, Virginia Vincent

(2) The New Art of Society Makeup, Max Factor

(3) Fashions in Makeup, by Richard Corson

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