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Sep 6, 2011

Eyebrows-a-palooza or "We're Plucked!"

Friends, I would love to write the definitive eyebrow blog post today.  I fear this won't be it, but rather a somewhat scattered stream of consciousness on this highly alterable facial feature.  It's such a rich topic.  Almost everybody has eyebrows.

Those born with bushy brows wish they had less; those born with skimpy ones wish they had more.   Of course, my primary focus today is the female brow -- it's just more fun.  Men's brows will just have to wait (Sorry, Zac Efron).

Eyebrows are one of the most expressive parts of the human face.  They shoot up to express surprise (unless you're pumped full of Botox, that is).  They furrow to reflect concern or confusion.  They can communicate terror, lust, rage -- the full range of human emotions, and some inhuman emotions as well.

But why does brow fashion change -- and it does change often -- again and again and again?

It's easy to explain changes in clothing trends, which reflect the fashion industry's need to get the public to buy more clothes.  Of course there are other factors involved in changing fashion, like new technologies (stretch fabrics!), greater need for comfort and practicality (women in the workplace!), and a breakdown in central authority (Who cares what Paris thinks we should be wearing?!).  But how do you explain shifting eyebrow trends?  It's a puzzlement.

As with most things fashion-oriented, Hollywood both set the trends and reflected them.  Think how closely some of the stars below were associated with their eyebrows.

Clara Bow's narrowly penciled brows were all the rage in the Twenties.  They were long and low.

Pencil-thin brows continued to be popular into the Thirties, but drawn higher than in the Twenties (think Jean Harlow).

Marlene Dietrich boasted some of the highest eyebrows in Hollywood.  Not for the shy.

Joan Crawford, who changed her look constantly throughout her long career, had dramatic eyes that demanded a strong brow.  But there's strong and there's massive, and as Joan grew older, her brows got bigger, darker, and scarier! 

The highly stylized Dietrich/Harlow look got softer as the Thirties wore on. When Ingrid Bergman came to America just before WWII, she was a fresh-faced, natural brow trendsetter.

Lana Turner was said to have had no real brows at all after an early MGM plucking, and had to draw them in with every film.  As a teen starlet, Lana's brows look natural.  As her image got more glamorous in the 1940's, so did her brows.

Judy Garland started out with natural-looking eyebrows, which grew more and more stylized and weird, much like Judy herself.

Something unusual started happening in the 1950s: women's brows got heavy.  Liz Taylor  and Audrey Hepburn could pull this look off -- barely -- but on most women these dark, dramatic brows looked bizarre.

Queen of the Bushy-brow is Brooke Shields.  Her early Eighties look still startles, imo.

Setting aside Hollywood, let's not forget Frida Kahlo, the Mexican painter arguably more famous today for her monobrow than for her artwork.

Friends, there's so much more to say about eyebrows, and I invite you to say it!  What do you think about shifting trends in eyebrows -- where do they originate?

What about your brows?  Are they plucked within an inch of their life, drawn high in the middle of your forehead, or bushy as a lumberjack's mustache?

How about the controversial "chola brow"?  Too much, even for Sandra Bullock?

Who's your eyebrow icon (eyebrow-con?).  Jump in!


  1. I'm a 50s chick so I keep mine neat but I still can't do that heavy eyebrow painted in look that some 50s chicks can get away with, I just look like a crazy lady!

  2. Eyebrows are one facial feature that once you notice them you can't UN-notice them. Joan Crawford and Elizabeth Taylor's brows are a good example.

    Me, I have very pale eyebrows and have never gotten interested in penciling them. It looks too clownish on me.

  3. I have a natural dark, heavy, bushy uni-brow. I wore this look for years, but then at the age of 15 I dared to split the brows. That was a moment to remember! I stared at the mirror, horrified - my nose elongated, and I thought I looked like Odo from Star Trek. It took me hours to get used to my face.
    I wore bushy brows for the next 10 years. Then, after seeing one of my photos I realized I needed to trim and laminate them a bit.
    Now I like the way they look - they have natural curve, they're still heavy, but quite feminine (at least I think so!).

  4. I was always afraid of over tweezing. I would pluck a bit between my brows but that was largely it. The bridal package at my hair salon included eyebrow waxing so I figured why not try? Like AnaJan said, it took a bit to get used to seeing my face like that. As much as I said I didn't want them too small, that wouldn't be me, they still took a fair bit out. What I took away from that was that I couldn't over tweeze. I pluck from the centre and a bit under on my eyelid and that's enough shaping for me.

  5. I naturally have a unibrow. So I keep the middle plucked, but otherwise leave them to their own bushy devices. Basically, it's an I-give-up look. Makeup literally gives me hives, so other than said middle-brow plucking, I'm completely wash and wear!

  6. My eyebrows have always been thin and pale looking. My natural coloring is overall too dark for the eyebrows to look normal. Still they required plucking to give some shape and the pencil so people can tell they exist. I was always afraid of fading into a wall somewhere without my eyebrow pencils.

  7. I have light patchy eyebrows (yeah I have thought about getting my thyroid checked, getting to it soon) and I have just started learning to fill them in with a little, gently colored soft brown powder. It makes a huge difference in my face. Lip color and eyebrows and nothing else, and I'm practically a different person. Brows are very important.

  8. i have two different shaped eyebrows which is a total nightmare one inherited from my mother perfect long and rounded the other from my father shorter and more pointed at the middle :-(

  9. My eyebrows have been an issue for me my whole life. They're very dark and thick naturally, and if that wasn't enough, I was in a car accident when I was 14 which resulted in a scar that cuts through my right brow. I try to keep my brows somewhere in between huge and pencil thin, but my main goal now is always to make sure there isn't a gaping hole in the middle of my brow where the scar is (hair does not grow where scars are), which means they're thicker than what is considered "normal" nowadays.

    I'm sad to say that I often get comments from strangers (on some Internet profiles) telling me how ugly my brows are. It's not something I can change at this point, so I've learned to accept how I look and laugh at the stranger's assumption that I care what they think of my appearance. =]

  10. Rita Hayworth had lovely eyebrows, nice subtle curve to them...

    My eyebrows are naturally straight, I do get them threaded occasionally but can never get a 40s style arch, much to my disgust. It must be genetic.

  11. My best friend and I plucked our eyebrows out completely once, while pretending to be ancient Egyptians somewhere around age 9 or 10. I'll never forget my dad at the dinner table, fork frozen in mid-air with uneaten steak: "Where are your eyebrows?" me, with a shrug, "I dunno." dad, "WAS YOUR HEAD WITH YOU TODAY?"

    Oddly, they grew back in a perfect shape - they had been kinda bushy before. I never need to tweeze but now that I am in my late forties, they are getting lighter and I lightly feather stroke a few lines of color in with pencil. I have large aqua eyes and they look strange without a little bit of brow.

    After a certain age, a girl's best friends are her aesthtician and a good eyebrow pencil. I love Boots #7 in brown.

  12. Interesting! I never gave much thought to the issue, but how odd that these extreme eyebrow styles were somehow associated with glamour.

    I don't think I've consciously tried to follow her, but Grace Kelly had a similar look - no, I'm not kidding myself that I look anywhere as glamourous as she did, but we share the skin and hair color and small features. She did a relatively natural brow shape.

    I put a lot more effort into creating an actual brow back when I was a more public person, but now I just try to keep the two from becoming one and call it done.

  13. I just worry that if I keep plucking out the white ones that I'll eventually have to draw mine on every day. :)

  14. My eyebrows are pretty natural. My BFF took me to get them waxed before my wedding (some 13 years ago) and I've just tried to keep up the lines with tweezers since then.

    The Hubs grows tufts at the top of his eyebrows. I insist that he trim them, otherwise the few wild hairs become the focal point of his face. Otherwise, we're a pretty low maintenance household.

  15. I have to chime in here. In traditional Face Reading, which stems from Chinese philosophy, the brow, and eyebrows, are an indicator of self-confidence and personal power. In my experience, people who pluck their brows down to nearly nothing will very likely notice a decrease in self confidence, so be careful of over-doing it!

    If we would all be a little more willing to celebrate our features as they are, be it eyebrows, short legs, long noses, etc., we could learn to be a lot more understanding and accepting of ourselves and others.

    Think of what is scary about the big bushy brows - it could be interesting food for thought.

    OK, that's my serious moment for the day..... ;-)

  16. I think it's the scary Joan Crawford face they're growing out of, Jilly!

  17. I have given a lot of thought to eyebrows ever since college days when I was in a Chaucer class and we discussed Criseyde's eyebrows, which met in the middle, while reading "Troilus and Criseyde." The prof said it was considered a mark of beauty at the time, but I have also read that it was considered to be a sign of vanity.

    My observations are roughly yours, Peter. Eyebrows are strange and wonderful things, amazingly expressive. My own are pleasant and conventional and I appreciate them, but I admire all sorts of variations on other people.

  18. I have naturally Brook Sheilds-ian brows, which I've never been fond of, but it wasn't until about 5 years ago that I realized I could do something about the issue.

    Friends told me there were places you could go to have your brows "done" -- ideal bec. I'm hopeless at any kind of plucking or waxing on myself (esp. since I wear glasses so I'm rather blind doing things on my own face). Now I get my brows neatened up every 6-8 weeks, & I love the look. They're kind of like that natural Ingrid Bergman pic.

    Doing this is like getting a good haircut/color, to me. It's primping, it's fashion, it's freshening up my style. Just looks a little less unkempt.

  19. I started with the tweezers at 15 in an effort to avoid the Frida look. We watched a Frida Kahlo movie in Spanish class and after that I couldn't look in the mirror without seeing the unibrow. Still fighting it today, although I am more worried about over plucking than I was when I was younger. I have to say, I really appreciate Natalie Portman's eyebrows - not too thick, not too thin, natural looking and compliments her delicate facial features. I guess my goal is to have Natalie-brow and not Frida-brow.

  20. Hehehe Peter...Joan Crawford's face shows more than a few disturbing features!

  21. Fun topic! I am a natural redhead and have always had very light brows. Strangers have often commented on them. Can you imagine? How rude! Years ago a bad-smelling man on the bus said, "You ain't got no eyebrows." I restrained myself from saying, "You ain't got no teeth." I actually do have nicely shaped brows, so I used to get them dyed at the hair salon. I am over that now. Life is too short to care what people think. Also, I no longer ride the bus.

  22. Have to say I enjoy seeing "signature" brows. They sort of define the ladies in a cosmetic short-hand. The high arch of Vivian Vance's brows, the endlessly seductive pair Julie Newmar was born with, and the brief but emotive pair Shirley MacLaine wielded to stardom and beyond.

    As a self-described "tweezologist", and a man, I am all for keeping the land between the brows open and uncluttered regardless of gender. If the law allowed for putting violators in a headlock and giving them a courtesy pluck, why there'd be no time for anything else.

    Perhaps in an effort to put this nation back to work, government issued tweezers could find their way into the hands of 9.1% of the population, and this topic would become moot.

    Unabashedly body hair opinionated,


  23. I have eyebrows that don't match any pencil, so I have to be careful about overplucking, lest I create a "hole." Generally, mine are shaped OK - at least for me, and the strays are minimal. My sister can give Brooke Shields a run for the eyebrow money. My mother overplucked hers at some point and no longer has "ends" to them. Weird looking.

    Best eyebrows ever were the ones I drew on the Samoyed (pure white sled dog) I used to have. Dogs have very expressive brow movements but no brows to accent with. Until I drew those in. We laughed for days.

  24. I like brows in the middle---natural looking but not too heavy. My eyebrows are both broad and sparse, so while I pluck the area below them, I always darken the eyebrow-area itself, although I usually use a narrow brush and powder rather than a pencil. My goal is a natural look, though---I wouldn't want anyone to look at my eyebrows and go: wow, she plucks those narrow! or, Wow, she totally darkened them.

  25. Actually, I get a lot of compliments on my eyebrows, more than any other part of me! They are natural, with only a smidge of plucking when there is a stray in the middle or on the edge. They are somewhere between the Ingrid Bergman and the Elizabeth Taylor:

  26. Plucking, shaving, waxing, threading, lasers--my brows are still as thick as a Brazilian forest, it's one thing menopause didn't seem to change.

  27. Interesting topic! My eyebrows are blonde, and read clear. I dye them when I remember to, which I like better because they show up. Other than that, nothing. I'm lucky I'm not very hairy because I am just not into ripping hair out (of any part of my body).

    My boyfriend grows realllllllly long hairs in his eyebrows, like an inch long or longer, and they grow all wild in all directions. They drive me crazy but he won't let me trim them.

  28. Frida Kahlo said her brows were her favorite feature because they reminded her of the wings of a bird.

    I personally enjoy having two eyebrows. Mine have always grown together in the middle. In fourth grade my mom held me down with a hand on the forehead and plucked in between. I've been doing it ever since.

  29. I'm aghast at the number of people who have had strangers comment on their eyebrows.

    Brooke Shields' brows are actually quite lovely in my opinion.

  30. I was blessed with dark, heavy brows (from my dad's side) which are much darker than my hair, but beyond shaping them, they've always stayed as they are :)


  31. Great topic Peter! My husband's eyebrows had started to grow a bit wild and I used to trim them up for him, but lately he has actually been using his hair/beard trimmer thingummy on them! It looks fine actually, but they are very pale, and part-hidden by glasses. For me, I mostly just pluck out the strays, they are one part of me I'm pretty satisfied with.

  32. I do thread my eyebrows once in 20 days! I started doing this as the beautician who dressed me up for my wedding, did the brows without asking me! and i am left with no option now but to thread them to keep them in shape. I am blessed with thick eyebrows and i love them!

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  33. Now I may not be telling the truth with this, but my observation is, the more dramatic the make-up, the heavier the brow to balance it.... Think the 80s.... Or Drag Queens for that matter. The brows frame both the eye and face and if they're not as strong, Wowzers!

    Lips styles have also changed through the years... Clara Bow had a tiny, dark mouth, very pointy on top, this softened through the decades to a beautiful, over-bowed top in the 50s (think Marilyn, Elizabeth), more natural as the trend went more to the eyes through the 60s, 70s, 80s. The 90s saw some nasty liner (Sandra, looking at you!!!! Salt-N-Pepa (sp?) you too!), and now in the 00s, perfect symmetry and bold colour have reigned for seasons! And in the summer, glosses and indeterminate shape. :)

    Peter are you thinking of plucking????

  34. Please, Peter, next time you see Cathy, tell her that she certainly possesses lovely eyebrows. I realise she is an experienced starlet of heightened fame and notoriety and doesn't require vague little compliments from anonymous nobodies like me, but please tell her all the same. Cathy's brows look amazingly low-maintenance - they just look so naturally perfect!! She’s obviously a lucky lady who doesn’t suffer from excess hair, unlike the rest of we 40-something ladies….

  35. I was caught in the swing from the fine half-moon curve of 70's eyebrows and the power brows of the 80's...but half my eyebrows were gone and they never grew back :))
    My eyebrow i-con is Isabella Rosselini.

  36. What a great topic!

    I am a natural redhead with glasses - how much worse does it get?

    To create a little balance in my face, I went to a beautyparlor to get my lashes and brows coloured. What I ended up with were a pair of dark brown slugs resting on top of my glasses. SO not flattering!

    Ever since I have contented myself with some light tweezing.

  37. Oh to own a pair of brown and bushy eyebrows rather than my ultra-blonde and rapidly fading to white ones! I tried the semi-permanent colouring and it brings me out in a rash. And the powder colours look OK as long as I can get two similar lines happening. To do that, I need my glasses. But if I wear my glasses they get in the way of the brush...sigh.

  38. Cool topic! I enjoyed reading everyone's brow-stories :D Sad for Nichole, that you feel insecure about your scar. There was a time as a teen I contemplated plucking out a section and painting in a scar! I just thought it would look bad-ass :P

    I'm blessed with very nicely arched brows a bit darker than my hair. All I do is tweeze the middle, the strays on my eyelid and thin them a wee bit right under the arch. I am guilty of over-plucking as a teen. I looked pretty stupid while growing them back out :P I tried penciling in my brows, as well, because "everyone" did it. That also looked stupid. This is more or less how my brows have looked for the last ten years:

    My boyfriend has pointy-arch brows, which would look just fine if he'd let me tweeze his darn strays!

  39. I have a love hate relationship with mine. For years I shaved them off then re-drew them in. They ranged from being Clara Bow thin to straight pointing to my temples, color matched to my clothing and if the day was extra warm just drawn in with a sharpie (yeah, I'm ghetto like that). I was constantly in fear of my eyebrows being rubbed off so I had to be extra careful at the salon, when trying on blouses, or when doing anything that might sweat them off. The fear consumed my life. I promise.

    But now I have learned from my horrible ways and keep them natural with a monthly clean up from a threading salon.

  40. I have naturally heavy, Frida Kahlo brows and have always hated them. They are threaded within an inch of their lives. While my fashion tastes lean toward WWII era, my brows are definitely Depression era, Norma Shearer, Myrna Loy, ect.

  41. I have light brown hair and black, thick eyebrows. They're fairly decently shaped, but they're very definitely standouts on my face. I was self-conscious about this for years, have had folks ask if I dye them (or my hair). I pluck or occasionally thread, but not religiously. I definitely prefer the more natural-looking, "Bergman-esque" style.

  42. I started out with Brooke Shields brows, but on me they looked more like a bushier version of Frida Kahlo's. I hated my brows all through my teens and twenties. Then eventually I realized that more brows meant more potential for shaping-- and I learned how to do a Linda Evangelista brow for which I received many compliments.

    Now I'm getting older and I'm a little scared of having my brows thin out and look puny. So I've let them grow in more, and I only pluck the strays for a more natural look.

  43. This is really great. I have a funny eyebrow story. About 3 months ago I was up late working, it was after 3 AM, I got up to go to the bathroom and looked in the mirror, for no reason I started getting really frustrated with my eyebrows. I started plucking at them and became really frustrated with how unruly they were, I had my personal trimmer on the sink so I decided to shorten the longer hairs on setting #4. I went ahead and ran the clippers over my brows, to very little effect. At that point, being a little punchy, I decided to skip setting #3 and jump directly to #2. Never again, you really don't realize how important your eyebrows are until they're gone.

  44. I pluck my babies until I cry- usually after two minutes.

  45. Having looked at every picture in this post, I can honestly say that everybody's eyebrows look weird. Early shots, late shots--eyebrow OD alert. The weirdest for me was that vast disparity between hair color and brow color. Thanks for writing a post that made me giggle.


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