by | 20 Mar, 2021 | Music | 0 comments

Style PLUS substance- Trends in fashion and music

Black eyeliner and the 1960s


Music and fashion have been intrinsically linked since the first commercial recording was made, with certain looks, garments, trends, and aesthetics forming part of the package that communicates a genres origins and intentions.

There are some things that will forever be intrinsically linked to a time, a place, and a sound. Think the Hawaiian shirts of the Beach Boys; the military chic of Adam Ant; Geri Halliwell’s Union Jack dress; the Nikes-without-laces of Run DMC. There’s a huge list of artists and their associated looks- the hairstyles, make up and clothes- that give us all a chance to copy the style of our heroes and visually announce our allegiance or fandom.

This will be the first in a series of looking at specific moments in musical history and the fusion between what our favourite pop stars were wearing and how this caught on outside of the music and came to be worn by men, women, and teens in their homes, on the streets, in schools and at work.  *This will tie in to the You Tube series of the same theme so be sure to look out for the videos on the Molly Tie channel- coming soon!*

This post is going to look at black eyeliner and its use by the 1960s female vocal groups such as The Ronettes, The Supremes and The Shirelles.

A potted history of black eyeliner

Black eyeliner is a make up staple for many people now- whether going for a subtle line around the eye or a full-on winged look, many of us wear it almost daily. And there’s so many types of eye liner to suit all abilities and inclinations- gel, pencil, liquid etc. And although modern society may have diversified and perfected the design, the actual art of eye lining goes back to at least the ancient Egyptians.

Cosmetics go back about 12000 years and in Egypt and Mesopotamia, men and women wore eyeliner for two reasons- to define their eyes but also to cover up wrinkles caused by sun exposure. Egyptians used a substance called kohl to do this- a mixture of galena ( a form of lead), various other minerals, water, oil, or animal fat.

Here it had a bit of a contained history. It wasn’t particular popular in Europe since the Romans, but continued to be popular in the East in countries like China, India and Japan.

Since then, different forms of eyeliner have been found in societies all over the world. Women of the Roman and Greek empires would use kohl much like the Egyptians; Maiko (geisha apprentices) in Japan would use charcoal and some Native American tribes would use coloured paint (often red) around their eyes.

In the 19th Century, in the West, eyeliner (and make up in general) fell out of mainstream favour as it was considered vulgar and associated with lower class women. But by the 1920s, it had come back into fashion in a big way. Fashion and behaviour changed quite dramatically in the UK in the 1920s. Europe was still recovering from the horrors and losses of the First World War and a whole generation was collectively scarred by their experiences. Society, and particularly younger people felt they had made huge sacrifices for the war and eagerly grabbed at the chance (in this new peace time) to have fun, express themselves and indulge. Hence, the hedonistic ‘roaring twenties’ was born.

Entertainment companies were growing; the technology to deliver films and photos was advancing and the general public’s appetite for glamour and escapism was insatiable. Commercial cosmetic industries picked up on the fact that actresses and dancers were now becoming celebrities and many women would want to emulate their style. There was as big a range as ever in terms of lipsticks, powders, accessories, and creams and to purchase them was an act of escapism and of economic independence.

If you look at Art Deco designs and fashion at the time, you can see the influence of Egyptian aesthetics- the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 and the popular images of Queen Nefertiti’s bust were big influences on both fashion and interiors. The 1917 silent film Cleopatra starring Theda Bara, had been a huge box office draw at its time of release and the popularity of the costumes and general aesthetic would carry on over into the next decade. Many silent film stars wore heavy black eyeliner for practical reasons as it emphasised their facial expressions which was essential in films without sound.

By the 1950s, many of the fashion trends of the 20s and 30s had fallen out of favour as a much more soft, feminine look was desirable. However, the black eyeliner remained- the cat eye flick was an essential part of the 50s look.

By the 60s and 70s, use of eyeliner changed depending on the scene- the mod girls a la British model Twiggy and Warhol muse Edie Sedgewick used the liner in creative ways- eye lash shadows (drawing lines under the eye to form exaggerated eyelash ‘shadows’) and thick black lines between the creases. Goths and punks (such as Siouxsie Sioux) were different yet- big bold shapes could be drawn around the eye, incorporating it into a wider work of art on the face.

And so, the use of eyeliner persists. It is no longer the preserve of women but instead a unisex product, worn by people across the spectrum of interests and looks,  with a million possibilities. There are countless You Tube tutorials on the internet guiding us on how to achieve the perfect eyeliner look and judging by the amount of ‘cat’s eye’ tutorials available, it would seem that 12000 years on, we still haven’t quite got the hang of that look.

60s girl groups and the extravagant eye

One of the cohorts synonymous with the big eyeliner look in the 1960s was the numerous female vocal groups that had their heyday during this time- bands like The Ronettes, The Shirelles, The Shangri-Las, The Supremes……there are loads!

Many hailed from the East of America (cities like New York and Detroit) and were associated with a handful of record labels, songwriters, and producers such as Phil Spector, Motown Records, Carole King etc. As their popularity grew, more and more groups put out hits throughout the 1960s- bands such as The Marvelettes, The Chiffons, The Chantels, The Crystals.

As well as being known for their songs and vocal harmonies, many of these bands were fashion icons- always exquisitely adorned and flawlessly coiffured. Their look was edgy for the time- sexy and stylish with flowing sharp lines and drama; physics-defying beehives and heavily yet expertly lined eyes, with very large flicks extending out from the outer corner of each eye. Their standard uniform was mascara/eye liner and miniskirts or pencil skirts that were tight around their legs creating a wiggle.

One of the most classic examples of this look is The Ronettes.

The Ronettes were one of the most iconic girl groups of the 1960s- and there were certainly plenty around at the time.

As well as being known for their style as they are for their hits such as Be My Baby and Baby I Love You. See my detailed post about 60s girl bands where I talk about The Ronettes here: Let’s hear it for the girls- Big hair and big hits! Sixties girl bands and the beginning of Motown. – Molly Tie reckons……….

The record cover of their hit single Be My Baby showcases the quintessential look of the time- the voluminous hair in a beehive style, and the dramatic eye liner that was their trademark and generally synonymous with 1960s fashion.

The popularity of the band and the subsequent media coverage of them (and similar bands) meant they were beamed into homes of teenagers all over the world as well as being pictured in their magazines and adorning their bedroom walls. Although many ordinary fans may not have had the budget (or occasion) for flowing sequin ball gowns and silky cocktail dresses, the make up and hair styles were relatively cheap and easy to copy.

And this is how great, iconic styles catch on- when they are relatively easy to recreate at home but can still make you feel like you’re close to your idols and rocking an eye liner flick can make you feel like the Supreme or Ronette that you are!





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What are your favourite fashion crazes that come from a band or a singer? Do you know the history behind some of your favourite styles? This is the start of a new series for the Molly Tie blog about the intersection of music and fashion- starting with eyeliner and the 60s girl group craze!

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