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How Cosmetology Has Changed Over the Years

Posted on Dec 30th, 2015 | Topic: Cosmetology


Appearance and beauty have always been a major aspect of womens’ lives, regardless of the era, century or decade. Changes were slow and less prominent in the earliest centuries, but by the 20th century, trends and styles changed faster and faster from decade to decade. However, the changes in cosmetology, clothing styles, accessories and hair styles throughout the times uncover much more than a skin-deep history.

These changes provide insight into the social roles of women throughout history, as well as how women viewed themselves. The history of cosmetology reveals each societal definition of physical beauty itself.

What Is Cosmetology?

Cosmetology, quite simply, is the study and practice of beautification. In today’s world, it has become a professional field under which several specialized fields are categorized as well, including hair colorist, esthetician, nail technician, makeup artist, electrologist etc. Cosmetology courses, cosmetology certification, and online cosmetology classes have all developed in response to cosmetology becoming a respected, professional field.

A cosmetologist is like a master of all aspects of beauty, but they can also specialize in one area. For example, an esthetician specializes in skin care and helping clients achieve flawless skin. A colorist specializes in hair coloring and color theory for hair. A nail technician specializes in the art form and care of nails. Regardless of what specialized field one enters, they all require cosmetology courses and training, certification, state licensing, and continued education.

Where and When Cosmetology Began

Make-up and cosmetics were used long before the first century. As for who the first cosmetologist was, that’s debatable. If we’re talking about the first person or people to actually mix ingredients together for the purpose of applying and beautifying, then most would give the Egyptians that title. Although some sources say the first cosmetologists were ancient hunters who used urine and mud to camouflage their scent, in that case everything from bug spray to VapoRub is a cosmetic. Not all materials that are mixed together and applied to the face qualify as cosmetics.

Max Factor, while being a cosmetic line to this day, is also a man who is generally credited for inventing modern day makeup, because he successfully marketed the make-up he created for both movie actresses and everyday women in the first couple decades of the 20th century. Also during that time, Maybelline was created by 19 yr. old entrepreneur, T.L. Williams, who came up with the name by fusing the name of his older sister Mabel, and Vaseline – the main product used in the company’s first mascara.

Madam C.J. Walker was not only the first black female entrepreneur in the U.S., but she was the first female self-made millionaire who built her business upon cosmetics, hair, and beauty products for black women.

How Cosmetology Has Changed

That said, Egyptians are typically regarded as being the first “cosmetologists,” due to archeological discoveries of primitive make-up kits, and, of course, the Egyptian art that shows us how and where they wore make-up. They were known to neighboring cultures for “painting their eyes” using eyeliner and primitive mascara – and in a style and manner that is still replicated today whenever someone wants to emulate the Cleopatra look. Egyptians used kohl for eyeliner, as well as a galena, which was a type of lead. Red ochre was also used to redden the lips, which was crushed into a powder.

The Romans and the Greeks soon followed the precedent set by the Egyptians. The first commercialized cosmetics were made in ancient Rome, and they included both higher quality and lower quality products. Wealthy women wore expensive cosmetic imports from China and Gaul, while poorer women bought cheap knock-offs – however, because make-up was and still can be a time-consuming affair, many poorer women simply didn’t have the time or the female servants to apply it.

Poorer women in ancient Rome would also use mulberry juice or wine dregs to color their lips. If nothing else was available to the poor, it was not unheard of to use blood to redden cheeks and lips. You might remember a scene from Schindler’s List that depicts Jewish women in a concentration camp applying blood from pricked fingers to their lips and cheeks in order to appear healthier for inspection.

The Romans’ standard of beauty had many similarities to those of future eras: white pale skin, straightened hair, large eyes, long eyelashes, and straight white teeth. Because Roman women typically had olive-toned skin or darker, they had to really work at achieving this standard via plenty of skin whiteners, which included chalk powder, crocodile dung, and even white lead, despite their awareness of lead poisoning. Whether poisoning themselves slowly or having a doctor surgically re-arrange their face, women have always been willing to go to extreme lengths to achieve their definition of beauty.

The Renaissance may be the only era in which women did not have to torture themselves in one way or another to achieve nearly impossible standards of beauty. Rubenesque women decorate paintings from Ruben’s Three Graces – and also the artist from which the term “rubenesque” comes from – to Giorgione’s Pastoral Symphony, to Titian’s Venus and the Lute Player. It’s no secret that plump women were admired by Renaissance artists and men of this era alike. However, something else that is not usually mentioned is that, apparently, they not only admired plump women, but plump women with little breasts. In nearly every Renaissance painting featuring a model, goddess or fictional character with extra meat on her bones also depicts proportionately small breasts. In other words, the pear shape was in, for several centuries. However, the fair skin, hair, and eyes were also typically seen as ideal in a woman during this era.

Enter the Victorian era – a total reverse of the romantic freedom and natural beauty that the Renaissance celebrated. In contrast, women squeezed rib fractures and asphyxia right into their corsets, trying to crush their waists down to ludicrous sizes. Some sources say women tried to vice their waists down to 12 inches. It’s no wonder so many of them were fainting. They also never sat down while their corsets were on – they literally couldn’t. While the Victorian era emphasized modesty and minimalism when it concerned cosmetics and make-up, they spared no extreme when it came to body shape and appearance. It’s also funny to think about the fact that, for as prim and demure as Victorian women wanted to be at all times, all of them had furry armpits and hairy legs under all that fluff and lace.

It wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that women began to shave their legs, because clothing trends allowed for more skin to show. Sleeveless dresses spurred on marketing instructions and razor advertisements to encourage women to shave their underarms and legs. This led into the 20s, which was in general, a huge decade for women’s liberation. Pants had never been worn by the general female population until the 20s. Once again, trends and styles took a polar opposite leap into the Roaring Twenties, featuring short hair, boyish-looking silhouettes, curves hidden by flapper dresses, and all things Chanel. Make-up, while also not untouched by the influence of women’s lib, was still feminine. Bright red lips and dark-lined eyes were all the rage.

The 1940s brought back the hour-glass figure with A-line skirts and suits. Make-up was toned down to be more demure and less vaudeville, and foundation was used to enhance one’s natural complexion. Finally, the whole “let’s make our faces the color of chalk” standard was dying out. Women in the 30s and 40s typically strove for sleek, wavy hair with color just like the blonde, red or brunette of whatever famous actress most idealized it.

The 50s – if there is one decade where women faced a set-back, it’s this one. Due to the conservatism of the 1950s, women found themselves covering back up what had been liberated in the past 50 years. The June Beaver look was considered proper or respectable and even young women donned poodle skirts down to nearly their ankles. However, a lot of hairstyles made up for the conservatism by being extravagant. The atrocious bee-hive was a signature of the 50s, as well as poofy flip-ups. Make-up of the 50s accented the eyes, and fake eyelashes became the norm on the silver screen often accompanied by gel or liquid liner to emphasize long, dark lashes. Red lips once again made a comeback.

The 60s and 70s stomped on the conservatism of the 50s. This decade gave us a dual beauty standard: the uber-mod girl, set by Twiggy, and the carefree, flowery power of hippie attire. The former was defined by high boots, short skirts, and often bright oranges, yellows, and pinks. In contrast, loose bell-bottoms, belly-exposing shirts, bandanas, and sandals announced the presence of a woman who consigned herself to a hippie lifestyle – or at least hippie apparel. The 70s bounced in shortly after, captured by disco, Soul Train, and Farah Fawcett, all emblems of the decade. Feathery long hair, sparkly eye shadows, light pastel pink lips, and roller skates could be seen on waitresses and disco dancers alike.

Some of the 80s’ trends are being recycled today, such as skinny jeans and bubble skirts. However, most of the beauty trends in the 1980s were much too tacky to even redeem with a modern makeover. However, the 80s encouraged even more focus on being thin, creating a steep epidemic of eating disorders and cocaine habits to achieve slimness. The 90s didn’t help women with self-image in this regard, churning out more and more shows like Baywatch and Beverly Hills 90210 to accentuate Barbie-like body beauty standards. However, the 90s also brought us grunge, which was the ultimate dressed-down style, as well as natural hair and make-up – or even no make-up, if you could get away with it. Jennifer Aniston brought on a hair-style phenomenon not seen in quite a while – girls and women scrambled to the hair salon and everyone wanted the “Rachel-from-Friends” trendy layered hairstyle.

Current cosmetic, hair, and clothing style trends re-visit almost every decade from time to time, depending upon the “look” a person is going for. Whether you’re rockin’ the 80s’ look with skinny jeans, the 60s and 70s with platform heels or revamping a 30s’ and 40s’ Hollywood icon face with red lips and long, dark-lined lashes. While the latest beauty trends of the day tend to revisit and revamp looks throughout history, the changes in style are fast occurring and constantly changing.

Followed closely behind these fast changing trends in beauty and style, are the changing expectations of styles and looks clients are demanding from cosmetologists.  Many women today look to mimic the style icons of popular culture, a pattern that can be found repeated throughout history. What set's today's standards of style and beauty a part from historical trends, is the sheer availability of beauty products and the vast array of services that can be provided by cosmetologist.  Some of the newest  trends in cosmetology today include: scientific color matching technology for makeup, eyelash extensions, body contouring, hair extension bars, the use of organic and all natural products, and so much more.

While the field of cosmetology is showing a rise in demand for trend-specific specializations,  the  job outlook for cosmetologist is also expected to grow 10% by 2024, a faster rate of growth compared to all occupations nationally. This growth in demand for cosmetology careers and changing trends in specialization,  indicate a very exiting time to start a career in cosmetology and the perfect time to attain continuing education in cosmetology.

Cosmetology Courses, Professions and Continuing Education

More and more people are jumping on the cosmetology bandwagon. You can potentially earn around $50,000 a year after only a year of schooling, perhaps even less if you opt for online cosmetology courses or you are continuing education in cosmetology. The fact that cosmetology is also a secure industry is also attractive – women will always go to the salon, and they will always care about their looks – almost more than anything else. Opening up your own salon could potentially yield a higher stream of income, sometimes even a six digit salary.

There are online cosmetology courses that can fit into your current schedule. While you earn your certification and license, you may be able to start at a salon as a shampoo technician and then smoothly transition into a regular stylist or cosmetologist once you are licensed.

There are also additional earning potentials open to cosmetologists, thanks to the many cosmetic and hair product companies. Some higher end hair product companies pay colorists and cosmetologists to travel and teach color classes, and they hold annual conventions in Europe. This is, in part, how higher end cosmetic companies market themselves as a higher quality product. Many make-up lines also work like this and are in need of licensed cosmetologists to give on-site demos. If you can leverage yourself as a person who can help market a high end cosmetic or hair product line, you may find that a cosmetology license can be a very lucrative thing.

Continuing education in cosmetology is often necessary for professionals who are already licensed and working. Sometimes a change in employment makes it necessary; sometimes a move to a different state may require further course training; sometimes it is other state regulations and laws. Most often, a working cosmetologist chooses to continue his or her education in cosmetology for personal and professional benefit. Online cosmetology courses are usually ideal for working professionals because they can be set according to personal and varying schedules. Course information can be revisited again and again, and the flexibility relieves any kind of pressure to have course requirements completed at a designated time.

Whatever your current position, cosmetology is a rock-solid profession. Although beauty ideals and standards may constantly change, the endless struggle to obtain them is deeply rooted in all of us.

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