Bizarre Beauty Trends From The 1920s You Won’t Believe Were Really A Thing

Everyone knows about fringe dresses and slicked bobs, but there are many beauty trends from the 1920s that haven’t made it into the mainstream. The decade was a wild time, where speakeasies were the place to be on a Friday night, women were finally allowed to vote, and more and more ladies got nine to fives and paychecks.

With this new kind of autonomy and freedom, beauty trends began to change to fit the new, bold woman better. The times of the Victorian were over, and women wanted to express themselves with their cosmetics. While history remembers the highlights — like cupid bow lips — a lot has been forgotten.

From putting blush on their knees to loving half-moon manicures and vampire makeup, ahead are a series of unknown, quirky, and even dangerous beauty practices from the Gilded Age!

Knee Rouging

Wikimedia Commons/Erotische Fotografie

While watching Chicago, you might have caught the lyrics, “I’m gonna rouge my knees, and roll my stockings down. And all that jazz.”

That’s not just a weird lyric — it was a major fad during the Roaring Twenties to rouge one’s knees. While dress hems would hit flappers below the knees, that part of the leg would usually expose itself while they Charlestoned inside dance halls. So by rouging them and rolling their stockings down, it only brought more attention to that illicit flash of skin.

Shoe Compacts For Flappers

Our Dancing Daughters; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Seeing how makeup was only worn by promiscuous women in the 1800s, putting on makeup in public was still seen as very taboo a few decades later. Sure, people knew women powdered their noses now, but they didn’t want that fact thrown in their faces.

Knowing that flappers loved to put on their makeup in public. But since their fast dancing made it hard to carry a purse, shoes with special compact-holding buckles were invented.

Friend’s Portraits Painted Onto Nails

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In the early 1900s, one’s manicure was a status symbol. Working women had rough hands with chipped nails, whereas ladies of leisure had soft hands with long pointed nails. To take it a step further, some socialite women took to get their friends’ portraits painted onto their nails as a way to show they were at the top of the social ladder. No working woman would go through such a long nail appointment only to chip her manicure while washing the floors the next day.

X-Ray Beauty Treatments

When X-Rays were invented, beauticians didn’t see it as a tool to only spot broken bones, but as a tool to burn off hair! It became a popular hair removing technique until doctors began to notice that their patients were coming back severely sick.

Radiation-Based Beauty Products

Thor Radia

Radiation-based beauty products were all the rage during the turn of the century, where beauty lovers thought they were using the next scientific breakthrough in anti-aging and skin care.

“An ever-flowing Fountain of Youth and Beauty has at last been found in the Energy Rays of Radium!” announced a 1918 advertisement for Radio cosmetics. “When scientists discovered Radium they hardly dreamed they had unearthed a revolutionary ‘Beauty Secret.’ They know it now. Radium Rays vitalize and energize all living tissue.”

Of course, women who used these radium products (which were in everything from toothpaste to lotion) saw a slew of terrible health complications years later.

Heavy Eyeliner Thanks To The Egyptians

Our Dancing Daughters; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Thanks to the exciting discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun, people became obsessed with everything Egyptian in the 1920s. From the accessories to the Egyptian-like bobs found on hieroglyphics, to the tunic-like dresses flappers loved, the interest took over the fashion and beauty world. That’s partly why flappers loved to wear their eyes heavily kohled — it reminded them of the ancient Egyptians and pharaohs.

Vampy Makeup Was Supposed To Mimic Vampires

Motion Picture Classic

Women had something of a gender liberation during the ’20s, where they no longer wanted to be confined to the stereotypical “parlor ornament” roles that their mothers had. They were newly independent, working, educated women, which meant that — for the first time ever— they had agency.

This directly translated into “vampy” makeup. Vamp was short for vampire, and the idea was that women wanted to turn themselves into femme fatales, where they used men on a whim, sucked their bank accounts dry, and moved onto the next victim once they grew bored. It was both an exercise in sexual freedom and seen as a rightful punishment for men who had used and abused women for centuries prior.

Coco Chanel Made Sunburns Popular

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Women tried to avoid tanning as much as possible prior to the 1920s, mainly because only working-class people who worked outside had tans. But when Coco Chanel fell asleep on her yacht when she was sailing on the French Riviera, her sunburn immediately came into vogue. People decided that a tan symbolized a person was wealthy enough to go on vacation — whether that was to Florida or France — and makeup brands started putting forth fake tanners to meet that demand.

To Get A Bob Was A Massive Deal

Our Dancing Daughters; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

While nowadays we see the bob haircut as a flirty style that the flappers came up with, during the 1920s it was seen as an epidemic. It was the equivalent of every woman shaving her hair off bald today — it was shocking and, more than that, it was symbolic.

Hair was seen as a symbol of womanhood and wanting to distance themselves from the stuffy gender roles of their Victorian mothers, flappers hacked off their hair to show that they were independent and modern. People were so terrified of this kind of societal restructuring that they started lashing back — doctors began publishing studies that “proved” getting a bob would lead to serious back aches or baldness, husbands started divorcing wives who went to the parlor, and employers like Macy’s and Aetna began firing workers en masse. (The employment manager of Aetna went on record, saying, “We want workers in our offices and not circus riders!”)

The Permanent Wave Machine

Louis Calvete/ Wikipedia Commons

With the bob taking over salon chairs, beauty magazines, and just about every woman’s head in all 48 states, hairdressers needed better tools to help give their clients the permanent waves that they were demanding. Enter this terrifying permanent wave machine, which had a hundred tubes coming down from the ceiling and hooked up directly to a person’s head.