How eyebrows have shaped (and been shaped) by history.


Like any other aspect of beauty, eyebrows have grown, and shrunk, and lengthened, and shortened, and widened over history. They tell us, in a glance, how much or how little effort the owner has put into his or her look.

“Well-shaped—or rather, well-groomed—brows are powerful,” says Blair Petty, a New York City-based hair and makeup artist. “They suggest that, at the very least, you’ve considered some part of your appearance before leaving the house.”

And while brow maintenance is a barometer for one’s investment in her appearance, it also clearly marks an era. Let’s use actress Elizabeth Allan’s ultra thin arches as an early case study. When the Hollywood starlet took a lead role in Jack Conway’s A Tale of Two Cities in 1935, her brows were barely there, with the tail ends of each extending along her face, nearly onto her temple. Silent film star of the ’20s and ’30s Clara Bow’s were the same—plucked away into fine wisps of hair that lacked an arch, all for her role in the 1926 flick Mantrap. Thin was in.

Fast forward to the ’70s, when bombshell Brigitte Bardot ushered bold brows into the mainstream. Supermodel Brook Shields carried that covetable bushiness well into the ’80s—she wore a natural look in her iconic Calvin Klein ad campaign.

“Brows are the anchor for the face. They draw attention towards the eyes, and can even alter how we perceive the actual shape of someone’s face.”

Tame Those Strands

Achieve the perfect arch in seconds.

But, just as fads ebb and flow in fashion and art, beauty trends change in the blink of the eye, too; the ’90s saw barely-there brows come full circle. Gwen Stefani made her mark on the music world sporting micro arches, and Pam Anderson, in her Baywatch prime, had so few strands, they looked drawn on by a thin-tipped marker.

(If you over-plucked in the past—and most of us did—have hope. “There are definitely ways to beef brows back up if you’ve sinned,” says Petty, citing Castor oil and even a mild Rogaine regime to encourage regrowth.)

But brows do more than act as something to primp and pluck and grow. They can define an entire look. “Brows are the anchor for the face,” says Petty. “They draw attention towards the eyes, and can even alter how we perceive the actual shape of someone’s face. A high arch on the brows, for example, will make the face seem more heart-shaped.”

And lately, trends are moving beyond the perfect shape. At the fall 2016 Giambattista Valli show, models like Gigi Hadid stormed the runway in Paris with silver liner advantageously  swiped under their arches, the metallic makeup drawing attention to the face in a new and unique way. Even celebrities on the red carpet are embracing it; model Lily Aldridge’s usually dark brows were completely covered in gold foil at last year’s Met gala.

This autumn, full brows are still where it’s at, with or without embellishments. “They’re not as gigantic and bushy—which is a bummer—but they are healthy, brushed, with any little strays taken out,” says Petty. So there’s no need to grab your tweezers and wax kit just yet—especially if you’re worried about your brows aging you (and, yes, that’s a thing). Petty guarantees that full, straight brows are a sure way to a youthful look in 2016.

Many of the silver screen’s favourite faces are signing on with the “bigger is better” mantra. “Jennifer Connelly is an obvious standout, with those piercing eyes and the strong dark brow and dark lashes,” says Petty. “And, Lupita Nyong’o also has a great shape to her brows, which suit her face beautifully—full, but not huge.”

This beauty isn’t limited to the brows of the ladies, either. There are some men who put some seriously subtle effort into their grooming. “Tom Hardy doesn’t look like he does much to his brows, which, for men, is huge. ‘Put…the damn…tweezers down,’” says Petty, explaining that men also run the risk of over primping. “Hardy also has a scar through one of them, which is sexy,” says Petty. “And it’s not filled in. At least I hope it’s an actual scar, because if it’s a fake, I take back everything I said.”

Looking forward at potential trends, Petty predicts a look that hasn’t been big since the Roman era making a move into the mainstream: the unibrow. “Mark my words, we’re going to get a stunning actress or model who’ll have something very close to a unibrow and it’ll look incredible on her,” says Petty. “And we’ll all have to go back to the drawing board.”