A well known tale has it that film director D.W Griffith invented the first set of false eyelashes during the filming of Intolerance, which was released in 1916. This profile enhancing effect gave leading lady, Seena Owen, a boost and the false eyelash was born.
But Hollywood was only following a trick that had been known for centuries and there are many references to false eyelashes before the twentieth century. Most gruesome of which is the technique of a Mrs Pomery who at her beauty establishment in Bond Street, London, removed hairs from the heads of her clients and sewed them onto their eyelids. This late nineteenth century remedy for sparse eyelashes definitely shows a commitment to beauty!
The first true false eyelashes, as we know them, were pioneered by the great Max Factor and were made from human hair and gauze and gummed to the eyelid. Expensive, fiddly and with a short shelf life of a couple of hours the use of these accessories were initially limited to Hollywood film stars who wowed the crowd with their expressive eyes and graceful lash fluttering.
The real innovation that established false eyelashes as an everyday accessory came in 1923 when Karl Nessler, of permanent waving fame, patented a new machine for making false eyelashes. He introduced his “Nesto Lashes” which were cheaper, lasted longer and gave a more natural effect.
Interestingly they were also advertised as vital tools in “saving eyes from dust and light” bringing to mind the Ancient Egyptians belief in the magic properties of kohl.
By the 1930s false eyelashes were in reasonably common usage and came in a variety of lengths indeed their purpose was to increase the length of a ladies natural lash rather than thicken them.
After these extremes a more natural look was favoured in the 1940s and false eyelashes fell out of favour, except for the movie stars, for a while before becoming fashionable again in the 1950s.
But it is the 1960s and 70s were false eyelashes really came back into their own – bigger and better than ever.
The most common form was in a strip (either a long continuous one or in eye length) but they were also available as lash by lash ones.
The 1960s lash was thick and long and definitely not natural! Quality, and price, varied with expensive lashes made of mink, sable, seal or human hair but cheaper synthetic ones were also available. They also came in a variety of colours – two toned or tweed or double eyelashes of different colours for emphasis.
Max Factor also excelled in this 1969 advert with terribly bad lines such as “personal-eyes-ed” and the classic expression “you can’t muff it!”