A Background Actor’s Guide to 1950s Makeup

FEBRUARY 12, 2024
1950s makeup in Lessons in Chemistry.
Lessons in Chemistry (Apple TV+)

When you work with Central Casting, you can be booked as a Background Actor in a variety of time periods, including the 1950s in shows like Genius: MLK/X, Lessons in Chemistry, and Quantum Leap. Creating your makeup look for a period role can be fun, but also a little intimidating if you're unfamiliar with the time period. We've got you covered with this introduction to 1950s makeup to help you get started on your perfect look for set.

1950s makeup overview

After WWII, the minimalist makeup styles of the 1940s gave way to more glamourous and put-together looks in the '50s. This included a brighter palette of pastels that were used for eyeshadow, blush, and lip colors. Not sure what colors to use for your 1950s palette? Pink is a great place to start. From bright pink, to coral, to fuchsia, pink was to go-to color of the decade.

If you're looking for makeup inspiration, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Dorothy Dandridge, and Eartha Kitt were all style icons of the 1950s.

1950s makeup icons.
Grace Kelly (Vanity Fair) | Audrey Hepburn (Vogue) | Dorothy Dandridge (FOX) | Eartha Kitt (Publicity)

Basic '50s makeup elements

Many essential 1950s styles are still popular today, like bright lips and winged eyeliner, so there may be some similarities to modern looks you can pull from when putting your look together for set.


Foundation was a key part of the makeup process and was applied heavily in natural skin-matching shades, often with warm undertones. The matte look was desired, so translucent and other powders were a must to control shine and finish the look.

Blush and lipstick

While blush was a part of makeup routines in the 1950s, it was toned down to a more natural look than the bolder styles of the previous decades. Blush was always in pink or red tones and applied lightly to the apples of the cheek, just enough to add a natural flush back to the face after applying the heavy foundation.

Liner was used to make lips a defined, voluptuous, round shape. Matte reds and pinks were the most popular lipstick colors, the hue often chosen based on what matched best with hair color.

Eyeshadow and eyeliner

Eyeshadow was mostly used sparingly in one color, brushed along the entire lid, then blended outward. For daytime looks, eyeshadow usually matched your eye color, so greens, blues, browns, and pastels were popular. For evening or formal looks, it was more common to match eyeshadow to the dress or accessory color.

Eyeliner came in black, brown, gray, blue, and purple and was often applied to the upper lid with a winged edge in a cat eye style.

Eyebrows and lashes

In a major departure from previous decades, eyebrow styles in the 1950s became fuller and darker. Brows were penciled in thick with a darker shade than the natural hair and styled to create a defined arch.

Mascara became a sign of the ultra-feminine look and was applied heavily in black, brown, and blue.

Examples on '50s makeup in TV shows.
Them (Amazon Prime) | Lessons in Chemistry (Apple TV+) | Quantum Leap (NBC) | Quantum Leap (NBC)

Creating your own 1950s makeup look

As with any role you book with Central Casting, creating your look always starts by reading your details fully and carefully. Depending on your role, your details may include very specific makeup notes from production or you may be given more general notes and color palettes. It's extremely important to follow these directions so you show up to set as expected.

Don't forget to bring any makeup to set with you that you'll need to keep your 1950s look camera ready throughout the workday.

Looking for more 1950s inspiration? Check out our 1950s wardrobe guide and other makeup guides in our Hair & Makeup article category.

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By Meghan Dubitsky

Article Category:

Hair & Makeup