Old Hollywood's Beauty Tips: the 50s

Friday, November 20, 2020

Glossy red lips, Max Factor "Pan-Cake" foundation, powder puffs, glistening gold compacts and jeweled lipstick bullets... Old Hollywood practically glittered with glamour. And the starlets that lit up the silver screen became beauty experts in their own right, learning first-hand from film industry professionals - from makeup and hair artists to lighting technicians.

I want to share beauty tips, tricks, and stories from some of the most iconic Old Hollywood leading ladies in the technicolor and sun-soaked 1950s!

Audrey Hepburn
In Audrey Hepburn’s first starring role in Roman Holiday (1953), her makeup artist Alberto De Rossi spotlighted Audrey's beautiful doe eyes by painstakingly separating each eyelash with a safety pin after using mascara to correct clumps. Audrey was so impressed, she specifically requested him as her lead makeup artist for future films, and his wife as her hairdresser.

Audrey Hepburn and designer Hubert de Givenchy's relationship has become the stuff of legend. In 1957, he released L'Interdit *, a delicate floral fragrance that boasted Audrey as its muse with notes of iris and violet. But according to Audrey's publicist Henry Rogers, her husband Mel Ferrer wasn’t pleased, citing the fact Audrey wasn't getting any royalties for Givenchy's use of her image. Audrey herself was not alarmed, saying "I don't want anything from Hubert […] Yes, I even want to walk into a drugstore and buy the perfume at the retail price."

Other fragrances worn by Audrey: Joy by Jean Patou, Femme by Marcel Rochas, English Promenade 19 by Krigler (thank you Smell You Later's Sable Yong for the tip).

* Sadly, the current L'Interdit by Givenchy is a brand new fragrance

In addition to her eyes, Audrey is associated with a now legendary lipstick in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961). Sitting in a cab, Hepburn's Holly Golightly re-applies a peach pink lip while she receives bad news, a moment that swells to the climax of the film. It's been hotly debated which brand the lipstick was, and a select few in the know choose to remain tight-lipped - it seems for now we can’t conclusively know the secret to Audrey's perfect peach lips.

Until then, Revlon's Pink in the Afternoon will have to do. A lovely mid-toned pink that was actually made for Audrey herself in the 1980s when she signed on as a Revlon spokesperson, Pink in the Afternoon is still available at most drugstores.

Dorothy Dandridge
Dorothy Dandridge made history as the first Black woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress as Carmen Jones in 1954, but she almost wasn’t cast for the iconic role. When Dorothy met with director and producer Otto Preminger for an audition, he said Dorothy was "a beautiful butterfly... but not Carmen." Dorothy asked for a second chance, and decided to prove him wrong. "I hurried to Max Factor’s studios and looked around for the right garb [...] I put on heavy lipstick, worked spit curls around my face." When Dorothy, dressed in character complete with the makeup transformation, slinked into her second audition, Otto gasped and this time declared "My God, it’s Carmen!"

As for Dorothy's signature fragrance, Town and Country Mag reports Dandridge favored Tabu by Dana, a fragrance described as a warm spicy perfume with notes of orange, coriander, cloves, and jasmine.

Dorothy was a true professional, learning tricks of the trade and "the importance of lighting, camera angles, and makeup for both dramatic effect and star power" (Dorothy Dandridge by Donald Bogle). For the films Bright Road (1953) and Remains to be Seen (1953), Dorothy and celebrity hairdresser Sydney Guilaroff would work together to create her on-screen look: "Then we took pictures. And then Dorothy would take it to the new studio and tell them this was just how she wanted to look." Off screen, Dandridge admitted she preferred going fresh faced, with just "a little thickening of my eyebrows, and colorful bandanas for my hair."

Marilyn Monroe
One of the most iconic 1950s beauty icons is Marilyn Monroe with her honeyed blonde hair and glossed lips. Lucky for us, Marilyn's beauty regime has been extensively reported on. My favorite beauty antidote about Marilyn is via her sister, Berniece Baker Miracle.

In her book, My Sister Marilyn, Berniece shares makeup advice Marilyn herself would pass onto her from Monroe's experiences as a model and actress. In a letter to Berniece, Marilyn explained the magic of a lip brush and how to use different shades to create depth on the lips: "You can’t control the line if you apply lipstick with a tube […] With the brush you can apply two or three colors for shading. The first step is to outline your lips in a darker color, then shade with a lighter color for contour." Marilyn's lips were usually topped with Vaseline for a hyper-glossy finish.

Marilyn used lipsticks from brands like Coty, Max Factor, and Revlon. A modern day equivalent of Marilyn's favorite Revlon lip, Bachelor's Carnation, is Love That Red, a gorgeous cool toned red!

Marilyn Monroe gets ready for a night out in New York City. By Ed Feingersh, 1955.

When Marilyn Monroe was photographed spritzing on Chanel No. 5, it sealed the fragrance's fate: over 70 years later, the perfume is still synonymous with old Hollywood glamour and Marilyn's unique blend of vulnerability and sensuality. It was also reported that when asked what she wore to bed, Marilyn said "I only wear Chanel No. 5", a line that has been confirmed by this voice clip of Marilyn herself!

Elizabeth Taylor
Elizabeth Taylor was enshrouded in studio glamour from a young age, growing up on the MGM lot working as a child star. "MGM was a very exciting place to be […] They were all there - Judy Garland, Lana Turner, Spencer Tracy, Hedy Lamarr," says Elizabeth. "And there was the lovely, sweet smell of the pancake makeup the women wore."

Elizabeth’s eyes were particularly dazzling, in certain lighting her blue eyes looked violet, and they were framed with a double row of eyelashes. Fellow child star and friend Roddy McDowall saying, "Who has double eyelashes except a girl who was absolutely born to be on the big screen?"

Elizabeth favored Max Factor, wearing "Clear Red no3" in Father's Little Dividend (1951), and Elizabeth Arden lipsticks

And in the iconic opening scene of Butterfield 8 (1960), Elizabeth Taylor as Gloria Wandrous scrawls "No Sale" with her pink lipstick in a mirror. Elizabeth herself hated the film, but the scene was electrifying - she even referenced the scene to show how unhappy she was with the rest of the film: "While I was viewing a rough cut, [...] I walked up to the screen, took out a lipstick, and wrote a four-letter word on the screen." It’s rumored she again referenced the scene later, writing "You are fantastic, Luv" on the dressing room mirror of on-again off-again flame Richard Burton (who kept the message on his mirror for his entire run in the play).

During my research I found so many more amazing Old Hollywood beauty tricks and antidotes - should I expand this into a series and cover the 1940s and 1930s as well?

Sources and Further Reading:
Audrey Hepburn: Audrey Hepburn by Barry Paris, L’Interdit then vs. L’Interdit Now by Elena Prokofeva, Enchantment: The Life of Audrey Hepburn by Donald Spoto

Dorothy Dandridge: Everything and Nothing by Dorothy Dandridge, Dorothy Dandridge by Donald Bogle, 14 Famous Women and Their Favorite Perfumes by Town and Country Mag

Marilyn Monroe: My Sister Marilyn by Berniece Baker Miracle, Marilyn and N°5 – Inside CHANEL

Elizabeth Taylor: Elizabeth Taylor: An informal memoir & Elizabeth Takes Off by Elizabeth Taylor, Elizabeth by J. Randy Taraborrelli


  1. Ahh such a fun post to read! the 50s aesthetic is one of my timeless favourites!

    1. Thank you so much for reading √Člise! It means a lot to me <3

  2. To begin with i love the look of your blog is so unique !! This post made me emosh looking at these photos of the beautiful women legends, i mean they didnt need much to look like this absolute stunner Marilyn will always have my heart !! Her lips were usually topped with 'vaseline' u know never knew that her lips are out of this word just perfect !!

    Thank you so much for sharing, stay safe during this time and hope to see you on my blog whenever you find time for some festive vibes and posts www.the-missing-chapter.com kisses from London.. xXx

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words dear! And thank you so much for stopping by <3

  3. I've been thinking about rewatching Roman Holiday lately and now I might just have to! <3 Audrey is over there getting her eyelashes separated and I'm over here not wearing any makeup ever hahh. Love these behind-the-scenes shots you chose -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey's

    1. Eeep thank you so much Audrey! Roman Holiday is always a good idea <3

  4. I loved this post! I'll be looking for Revlon's Pink In The Afternoon next time I'm in the drugstore. haha ♥


    1. I'm so, so glad you enjoyed the post angel! Thank you <3 And omg I hope you love it! I really like it myself :'3

  5. What a great post! I love the glamour bold-but-soft femininity of the '50s. Elizabeth Taylor forever!! -steph

    1. Ahh thank you so much for reading Steph! I LOVE Elizabeth too :') <3

  6. This is so cool! Vintage Hollywood always seems os mysterious and this feels like pulling back the curtain a little bit.

    1. Ah this comment means a lot to me, thank you Jasmine! <3


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