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For two small strips of facial hair, eyebrows command a lot of attention. For good reason—they have a major impact on our appearance (have you seen these celebrities without eyebrows?!) While the shapes have certainly changed over time, our obsession with brow grooming has remained constant. Behold: a sweeping survey of arch trends, from overly tweezed Renaissance women to the ‘80s bushy caterpillar brows that we all know and love.
The era: 3000 BC – 31 BC
Cleopatra and her peers were all about the dramatic, sweeping arch. Egyptians of all walks darkened their eyes and brows with black kohl, the precursor to modern eyeliner. The motivation may have been partially health-related: New research suggests that kohl, which contains low doses of lead salts, may have helped ward off infections like conjunctivitis.
Photo: "Cleopatra on the Terraces of Philae" by Frederick Arthur Bridgman
The era: 794 – 1185 AD
During the Heian period in Japan, noblewomen removed their brows altogether, drawing a smudgy pair higher up on their foreheads with a soot-based ink called haizumi. Combined with a pasty-white complexion and floor-skimming hair, they turned serious heads at the imperial court. Too bad they didn’t have Benefit Brow Zings on hand to sculpt a fresh set of arches with ease.
Photo: "Court Lady's Full Dress in the Heian Period" by Mr. H. Yoshikawa
The era: 1533 – 1603 AD
When Queen Elizabeth walked the earth, facial hair was under siege. Ladies prized a high forehead, tweezing their hairlines to achieve the coveted egg-headed look. Pair this with a barely-there brow, and you had a regular Elizabethan beauty on your hands.
The era: 1920-1929
Popularized by silent film stars like Greta Garbo, thinned-out brows became the standard during the Roaring Twenties. One theory holds that skinny, sharply defined arches looked more expressive on camera. Whatever the case, brow enthusiasts had a new weapon in their arsenal thanks to a young inventor named Tom Lyle Williams. In 1917, he pioneered the first brow-and-lash formula made from a Vaseline base: the Lash-Brow-Ine. Later rechristened “Maybelline,” this breakout product became the basis for the bestselling makeup line of the same name.
The era: 1950-1959
In the midst of the Baby Boom, the population wasn’t the only thing surging—brows got bigger, too. Audrey Hepburn subverted the trend among her fellow screen sirens by rocking relatively thick, straightened-out brows—a stark contrast to the so-called “diva arch” epitomized by stars like Marilyn Monroe. Both women would have stocked up on Sumita’s Brow Pencil, which emphasizes thin and thick arches alike.
Photo: Getty Images
The era: 1907-1954
As the patron saint of the unabashed unibrow, we think Mexican painter Frida Khalo deserves a callout. Even in Kahlo’s day a connected brow was considered eccentric, but that didn’t stop her from making her arches a focal point of her iconic self-portraits. Perhaps she was channeling ancient Greece: In Aristotle’s day, a unibrow was highly prized as a sign of intelligence and beauty.
Photo: Getty Images
The era: 1980-1989
When hair teasing reached a fever pitch, brows were in full bloom too. Leading the charge, of course, was thick-arch advocate Brooke Shields. Starlets like Shields and Madonna may have been blessed with naturally bold brows, but thankfully we can fake the look with Benefit Cosmetics Gimme Brow, a volume-boosting fiber gel that makes the most of the hairs you’ve got.
Photo: Getty Images
Bold brows are decidedly back in fashion (see: showstoppers like Cara Delevingne and Camilla Belle). But slender arches are equally cool in our book. No matter your grooming preferences, one thing is clear: We have better tools than ever at our disposal. For the au-naturel look, tame unruly arches with Anastasia Beverly Hills Clear Brow Gel. For varsity-level contouring, there’s Anastasia Beverly Hills 5-Element Brow Kit, which lets you fill in arches to your desired level of thickness.
Across civilizations and millennia, one truth about womankind emerges: we’ve never been able to leave our brows alone—and we never will.
Photo: Porter Hovey
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