Whenever I look at any selfie of a celebrity posted by a makeup artist on Instagram or Tiktok, I see the hidden undercoats of mascara camouflaged in an effort to make the eyelashes look as though they naturally extend to the heavens. And if you look closely, you may notice a pair or two of fake eyelashes.
It’s now a widely practiced beauty ritual that got me thinking. As it turns out, fake eyelashes have a long, rather rocky history that goes back to ancient Rome.
People who wear them— Kim Kardashian or any good drag queen — pull it off with ease. But once upon a time, it was a look that could have, figuratively, killed. Let’s take you through the journey of fake eyelashes and how they became a popular cosmetic item today.
The Beginning of Fake Lashes
Sadly, we must begin our history with some ickiness. We must first examine why long lashes were seen as an enticing attribute to comprehend why false eyelashes were even invented.
In ancient Rome, author Pliny the Elder helped make long lashes more desirable when he suggested they were linked to virtue.
Pliny falsely argued that eyelashes fell out due to frequent sex and that it was, therefore, crucial for women to maintain long eyelashes to demonstrate their virginity. Therefore, women sought to have the longest lashes possible.
Several decades after Pliny made that statement, lashes came into favor again, and this time things got serious. According to Racked, there are stories of women having eyelashes surgically transplanted into their lids around 1899.
And sure, it was a common practice, especially in major cities like Paris.
During this time, those with weaker wills tried to glue human hair to their eyelids rather than thread it, but the technique wasn’t very successful, and the hair frequently fell off.
The Emergence of Synthetic Eyelashes
In the early 1900s, false lashes began to gain popularity thanks to a picky Hollywood director. D. W. Griffith, who was filming Intolerance with actress Seena Owen and thought that something was not right when he took one look at her in Babylonian attire.
He felt that her lashes were too short and instructed the makeup department to create something that would make them look longer. The movie wigmaker used human hair as eyelashes and spirit gum to adhere the hair on Owen’s eyelids.
Of course, it ended up as a disaster, with the actress developing an allergic reaction to the glue, causing her eyes to swell shut.
Despite the setback, the idea of false eyelashes caught on, and many actresses started using them to enhance their looks on camera. As the popularity of false lashes grew, manufacturers began experimenting with different materials for lashes.
In the 1940s and 5os, synthetic lashes made from a plastic called celluloid became available, and they were more durable and affordable than human hair lashes.
However, false eyelashes were still primarily limited to the entertainment industry and not yet widely adopted by the general public. It wasn’t until the 1950s that fake eyelashes became a must-have accessory for everyday wear.
During this time, the fashion icon Twiggy popularized the doe-eyed look, and women worldwide began to covet the appearance of long, fluttery lashes.
False eyelashes were an essential part of achieving this look. They quickly became a staple in the makeup bags of women like Jean Shrimpton and Penelope Tree, who frequently appeared in the pages of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, showing women across the globe that fake lashes were a thing.
Between the 1970s and ’80s, fake eyelashes fell out of favor for most women. There’s no rational explanation for this — other than that fads come and go.
During the 1990s, fake eyelashes saw a resurgence in popularity, thanks in part to the emergence of new, improved materials that made them more comfortable and natural-looking.
Adhesive formulas also advanced, making it easier for women to apply false lashes at home.
Celebrities like Paris Hilton and Jennifer Lopez helped popularize the trend, often sporting dramatic, full lashes on the red carpet and in music videos. At this point, false eyelashes were a luxury service celebrities could only afford.
The Evolution of Eyelashes
Fake eyelashes underwent an extremely sophisticated and ritzy transformation in the 2000s. Madonna hit the headlines when she wore false lashes that cost $10,000 a pair (mink + diamond ).
At the 2001 Academy Oscars, Jennifer Lopez wore false eyelashes made of red fox fur, sparking controversy and criticism from animal rights activists.
On the other hand, Madonna made a statement again with her false eyelashes made of mink fur, which she claimed were cruelty-free as they were sourced from the fur naturally shed from the animals.
However, as the world became more conscious of animal cruelty, faux fur, and synthetic lashes became the norm, with major brands like Ardell and Eylure offering various false eyelashes made from synthetic fibers.
As the demand for false eyelashes grew, manufacturers began producing various styles, including full, individual, and even colored lashes.
Today, countless options are available, from subtle and natural-looking to bold and dramatic.
In recent years, the popularity of false eyelashes has only continued to grow, thanks in part to the rise of social media and influencer culture. Beauty bloggers and celebrities alike have helped to make false lashes more accessible than ever, with many affordable options available at drugstores and online retailers.
But it’s not just about aesthetics; false eyelashes have also been used for medical purposes. For instance, patients who have lost their eyelashes due to chemotherapy or other medical treatments can use false eyelashes as a temporary solution while waiting for their natural lashes to grow back.
However, as with any beauty trend, there are potential downsides to wearing false eyelashes. Improper application or removal can cause damage to natural lashes, and some people may experience allergic reactions to the adhesives used to attach the lashes.
Despite these risks, false eyelashes remain a beloved and widely used beauty accessory, helping women (and some men!) achieve the fluttery lashes of their dreams.
From ancient Rome to Hollywood and beyond, the journey of fake eyelashes has been long and fascinating, and it’s clear that they’re here to stay.