Unfortunately, we must begin our history with some gore. To understand how designer lashes became a beauty essential, we must understand why false eyelashes were deemed attractive in the first place.
The fascination with longer lashes derives from the belief that lashes shorten with ageing. Pliny the Elder, an author in ancient Rome, made long lashes even more desirable by claiming they were associated with chastity. “Eyelashes fall out from much sex,” Pliny stated inaccurately. As a result, women sought the longest lashes imaginable.
Hundreds of years after Pliny made that claim, long lashes were popular again in the 1800s. There were stories of women having lashes transplanted into their eyelids using needles in 1899. And, yes, it was a common operation, especially in major cities like Paris.
There’s debate about who invented the fake eyelashes we know and love today.
Anna Taylor, a Canadian woman, was the first to invent artificial lashes in 1911, using a crescent of cloth implanted with itty bitty hairs. Karl Nessler opened a hair salon in New York in 1915 and provided lash treatments, marketing fake eyelashes at his salon as “a protection against the glare of electric lights,” according to the New York Times.
But it wasn’t until 1916 that falsies became entirely famous, and it was all because of a finicky Hollywood director. D. W. Griffith. He reportedly wanted actress Seena Owen’s eyelashes to look “supernatural” and nearly “brushing her cheeks.” Hence, he directed the film’s wigmaker to glue human hair lashes onto Owen’s eyelids using spirit gum.
You’d think, due to the extreme look, that fake eyelash were some Venus flytrap or torture device. In the 1920s, many people were wary of fake eyelashes, but it was a different story among fashionistas. It is claimed that during the 1930s, Vogue gave them their mark of approval with advertising displaying more artistic artificial lashes, some encrusted with gold and platinum beads.
Hollywood starlets loved enormous lashes in the 1940s and 1950s. Hollywood starlets in the 1940s and 1950s adored artificial eyelashes, with Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth using them in photo shoots to make their eyes appear larger and more eye-catching.
The discovery of plastic materials suitable for fake eyelashes made them a superior product in the 1950s. Lashes were no longer made of human hair or cloth but of sturdy thin plastic, as some are still created today.
While the 1940s and 1950s were all about glamour, the 1960s cosmetics look was more daring, inventive, and youthful. The model Twiggy, whose characteristic look comprised big lashes that enhanced her already enormous eyes, was at the core of this movement. Though her most iconic photographs show her with lashes painted directly onto her face, she also wore a lot of synthetic eyelashes.
There’s no particular reason for this other than that trends come and go, but the 1970s and 1980s weren’t significant decades for false eyelashes. Makeup was far more understated and natural in the 1970s. In comparison, in the 1980s, blush and dark lipstick were more fashionable than enormous lashes.
Fake eyelashes resurfaced in popularity in the 1990s. Eyelashes were a simple way for ladies like Pamela Anderson, Anna Nicole Smith, and model Cindy Crawford to acquire a sort of retro/bombshell 1950s elegance in the blink of an eye.
Examples of how mainstream they became include Jennifer Lopez wearing red fox fur lashes to the 2001 Academy Awards and Madonna wearing a $10,000 pair of diamond and mink lashes to advertise her Re-Invention tour in 2004.
Designer lashes broke into the mainstream with lashes worn by some of the world’s most renowned women. Fake eyelashes are now available everywhere that sells makeup, from Harrods to Poundshop and everywhere in between. They’re now worn by practically every celebrity on a red carpet and are part of the dress code for fabulous drag queens.
With such a terrible and dangerous past, it’s incredible that false eyelashes are so popular. However, designer lashes are here to stay.