The best films for period hair and make-up

The best films for period hair and make-up

Authentic primary referencing is the most important type of research you will do as a make-up artist. Always look at the original before considering any imitations or recreations of work.  It is worth appreciating that the hair and make-up in dramas and period films are adaptations of the original hair and make-up styles worn in that period.  Therefore, the authenticity is rarely accurate and this is for certain artistic reason. In modern films, many actors now look more polished or glamorous than a character in the 1930’s (for example) actually looked. The look is designed to be more relatable to a modern audience. 


Titanic is a classic example of a stunningly designed film, depicting the end of the Edwardian era. Tina Earnshaw was the designer on this film, earning her an Oscar nomination. Tina will be the first to admit that the hair and make-up was not accurate to the period due to the Hollywood nature of this film. Kate Winslet had to look completely flawless, and we all know that the Edwardian’s did not have full coverage cream or liquid foundation. You can read all about Tina’s master class at Delamar, here.


There are so many types of hair and make-up to focus on within film, so to whittle it down; we have selected the ultimate classic films for beauty hair and make-up, which were aspirational for the period.


For accurate hair and make-up prior to 1920, you have to look at original paintings, busts and generally visit galleries and look at books. Google is not as helpful as immersing yourself in some old fashioned research.


So, with this preamble in mind, what period films should make-up artists be watching?


1920’s – The first era where cinema became accessible to all people, although the films were still silent. The 20’s were characterised by finger waves and dark lips. This period has influenced fashion for many decades since. To see the authentic hair styling and make-up trends, be sure to watch:


Clara Bow’s films:





Please note – during this period many actors did their own make-up and helped each other get into character with hair and costume.  It was not until the 30’s that make-up artists were recognised in the film industry.





The Wizzard of Oz Starring Judy Garland and Frank Morgan





This iconic film featured wig design work by Max Factor and a whole host of original industry heavy weights. This was the first decade where make-up artists were formally credited in film.  For the very long list of make-up and hair credits, you can see it all on IMDB.



The fantasy characters were a huge advancement in the make-up and prosthetics world. Judy Garland’s beauty make-up is a classic reference point for what was considered most beautiful in the 1930’s.






Gone With The Wind



Scarlett O’Hara was the character played by screen icon Vivien Leigh. Ben Nye designed this look on Vivien. This make-up was softer than the dark, dramatic 1920’s look. Focus was on a on a fuller rosy pout and flushed cheeks.  On men we see a slicker style with combed over hair and a side parting.







Casablanca 1942






This is a classic film depicting the affluent party scene in Monaco. The hair styling is especially beautiful and an excellent example of 1940’s hair.




“Perc Westmore designed the hair and make-up.The son of an English wigmaker, he began his Hollywood career in 1921. Westmore developed cosmetics that would look the same under diverse lighting conditions and with different types of film.”



Gilda starring Rita Hayworth





Rita Hayworth is easily one of the most iconic 1940’s actresses, with her waves, light eyes, red lip and dark but thin brows. As we approached the 50’s make-up and hair was less about wartime utility, and more about fun glamour. Lips became shinier, brows became fuller and lashes were more prominent.   




The Seven Year Itch starring Marilyn Monroe



You know this film without even realising – the scene where Marilyn wears a white dress and stands over the vent on the street? Yes, that one!




The hair and make-up is pure glamour – to our industry, the make-up artists were as star-studded the cast. Marilyn’s make-up artist, Adam Snyder did some of his most recognised work in this film. Ben Nye and Helen Turpin (hair stylist) also worked on this film.


The classic Marilyn look was a shiny red lip, exaggerated doe-eyed flick and lashes. Brows were becoming less severe and thicker in shape.  Very clever contouring was becoming more widely used in film, although not a trend worn by the every day woman.




Breakfast at Tiffany’s


Audrey Hepburn’s most famous film – here you will see the hair up-do’s, big eyes and full eyebrows – even fuller than the 1950’s brows. Nellie Manley and Wally Westmore were the hair and make-up team for this classic. Like Clara, Rita and Marilyn, Audrey’s look is recreated today on fashion shoots all over the world.




These make-up artists have created trends and communicated period make-up to the big screen. After watching these classic period films you will have your eyeliner and hair styling, looking most accurate. The perfect excuse to watch some old films this weekend!


These make-up artists have created trends and communicated period make-up to the big screen. After watching these classic period films you will have your eyeliner and hair styling, looking most accurate. The perfect excuse to watch some old films this weekend!








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