Book review: Retro Makeup by Lauren Rennells

Following Marie’s introductory note, this is my first post on our lovely new blog.  And what better way to start than to write about two of my favourite things: books and make-up. Luckily for me, the opportunity to do both has presented itself in the form of a recently purchased coffee-table favourite of mine, Retro Makeup: Techniques for Applying the Vintage Look by Lauren Rennells (always out of stock on Amazon, I bought mine here).

Step-by-step techniques for vintage makeup styles

I came across Lauren Rennells first of all by buying her book Vintage Hairstyling and reading her blog that is full of pretty things, vintage style tips and if you look far back enough some step-by-step guides to hairstyles. When I saw that she had a guide to ‘retro’ makeup out, I didn’t hesitate – I’d not seen another book quite like it.

And how glad I was when it turned up! It’s a genuinely fascinating read for the history of make-up with each era well contextualised and is packed full of tips on how to apply it – from how to contour your face to flatter your best features, to differentiating cupid’s bow and eyebrow shapes depending on which era you are trying to recreate.  There’s also a fantastic section that goes beyond the ‘are you cool or warm toned?’ angle of suggesting which red lipsticks will suit you best.  This is a god-send for someone like me who is English-rose pale yet almost yellow, with cool grey eyes and orangey light brown hair.  Lauren suggests for me true reds, warm reds, brick red and tawny orange lipsticks – and I’d agree, knowing through extensive trial and error (and several unintentional ‘nauseated goth’ looks that were the result of thinking I could wear blue-based reds) that she’s not far wrong there.

But of course, one of the best things about the book is the way it puts together all of its tips and advice into 16 step-by-step guides for recreating certain looks, often based on familiar faces, from the 1920s – 1960s.  It’s not aimed at professionals and it’s kept so simple that even I can manage them (see below for a demonstration!)  I particularly like how you’re given the choice of several styles for each decade – of course, Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe and Bridget Bardot are all there, but there’s much more besides. Refreshing to be away from the cliches!

My main criticism is that I’m a sucker for recreating things perfectly and what this book doesn’t do is list any of the products used to create its looks.  Of course, some people will love this because the idea is likely that anyone on any budget can create the looks and I agree with this principle, but still, I really want to know what the pale peach-pink lipstick was in the 1950s ‘Gamine’ look!  I’m also not going to pretend that I’m a historical makeup expert and those with a better grounding than me will probably find less that’s new.  But I genuinely had no idea that lipgloss has been around since the 1920s…

So, whether you want to emulate a particular star’s look or want to learn more about the history of make-up, this is a beautifully-presented book that is bound to teach everyone a few things they don’t know.

And now, to the proof that even a fool can do it! This below is ‘The Superstar’ look from the 1950s, based on model Suzy Parker and concentrating on strong brows and winged liner.

A subtle 1950s makeup look based on Suzy Parker

The steps were basically:

– Pencil in eyebrows with a sharp, angular, high arch
– Sweep brown eyeshadow with undertones of pink across the lid and blend into the crease
– Use brown or black eye-liner on upper-lid and extend the wing in the direction of the outer point of your eyebrow, as though you are going to join the two up
– Black mascara on upper and lower lashes
– Brick red lipstick
– A warm blusher to contour the cheeks

And you can see below my attempt, taken on a god-awful iPhone camera which has completely washed out the blusher (although I rarely wear this, so perhaps I was too tentative!) And as I just complained that the book doesn’t list the products used:

– Foundation – Estee Lauder Double Wear in Bone
– Eyebrows – Urban Decay BrowBox in Beige Betty
– Eyeshadow – A mixture of light browns from Lancome’s Blondette Fatale Les Oeillades palette
– Eyeliner – Collection 2000 Fast Stroke in Black
– Mascara – Lancome Hypnose Drama in Excessive Black (upper lashes), Lancome Hypnose Doll Eyes in So Black (lower lashes)
– Lipstick – Mac Chili (matte)
– Blusher (here invisible, but is peachy-pink) – Dior Blush Final Powder Blush in 849 Contour

Happy reading 🙂



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