Beauty through the generations

From post-war lipsticks to fake tan, we ask three generations of women what make-up means to them...

By Harriette Casey, 05 March 2018
Beauty through the generations

From the rouge lippies of the 1920s to today’s celebrity-endorsed contour kits, the beauty industry has had many makeovers during the past century.

For an idea of just how beauty buying and applying habits have moved on, three generations of one family reveal the icons and trends that influenced them.

Grandma Verity McDonagh, 81, lives in Hove with her husband.

She says: "The first make-up I remember buying was a Richard Hudnut lipstick. I was 16 and it cost the equivalent of 50p – a third of my weekly wage – but I loved the pretty pink shade and wore it to work. It made me feel I could face the world!

"After the war, there wasn’t much make-up as some of the essential ingredients like castor oil were unavailable. I’d rub an old lipstick into my cheeks for rouge and put Vaseline on my eyelashes so they looked long and shiny.

"My mum, although very glam herself, didn’t approve of my sister Antonia and I wearing make-up in our teens. So we’d pinch lipsticks from her dresser and put them on around the corner before a date or a dance. We wouldn’t have a mirror, so it was always smudged and we’d have to wipe it off before we got home!

"I didn’t wear foundation until my twenties and then I’d wear Pan Stik, which was so thick it made my skin look flawless. I’d go to the pictures and imagine I was the actress Joan Fontaine with her glowing skin.

"My make-up has always been simple. I spent two decades as an Avon Lady, but I wasn’t fussed about trends and would do my own thing. I loved bright mascaras and would team them with my outfits.

"There’s so much more to put on now, I don’t know where to begin – but I do like trying new things. When I wear make-up, people often tell me I look like Jane Fonda, which is a huge compliment. I love what I’m wearing today – I’m not washing this off tonight!"


Mum Susie Silvey, 57, is a therapist and lives in north London with her daughter Sarah.

She says: "Twiggy, the original British supermodel, was my style icon when I was a teen.

"I remember my mum always being beautifully made up with her dark lipstick but, for my generation, it was all about pale lips and dark eyes like Twiggy.

"We’d even draw on our eyelashes to match hers! I was obsessed with fashion magazines from the age of 15 – I’d spend hours looking at all the models. One of my favourites was Maudie James.

"She was blonde like me and I used to copy all her looks. I was so desperate to have those thin, perfectly arched 1920s brows that I plucked mine away in my teens – they haven’t grown back since!

"My make-up got a lot heavier after I left home and was free to spend my weekend job wages on brown eyeshadow and thick black mascara. I cut my own hair to save money and would separate out egg whites and yolks to make face and hair masks.

"Egg yolk was supposed to naturally lighten your hair and I was always trying to make mine blonder. I once braved using a sachet of hair dye, but when I went swimming my hair turned green. It took weeks to come out and I was mortified!

"When I worked as a part-time actress in my thirties, I preferred to do my own make-up most of the time, but the make-up girls at the BBC taught me a few tricks.

"They would cover my face in translucent powder to remove shine and help the other products to stay on longer. If I’m not working or going out, I don’t wear any foundation. I’ve noticed over the years that wearing as little as possible makes my skin look healthier.

"Nowadays, I use tinted moisturiser, which I love, but we never had it back then. You either wore Pan Stik or just went without. Make-up today seems much more technical – it’s all about creating shadows and blending seamlessly. I think it’s lost a bit of the fun, but I do love the big eyebrows trend. I wish they’d been fashionable in my time."


Daughter Sarah Silvey-Fine, 26, is an admin assistant from London.

She says: "Make-up is certainly a huge confidence booster for me. I started wearing concealer from the age of 15 because I was self-conscious about my dark under-eye circles, and it’s been my safe haven ever since. I used to suffer from acne, so covering it up with foundation made me feel far more comfortable in my skin.

"I didn’t start wearing proper foundation until I was about 18, which now feels quite late. My cousin, Amy, is 14 and she can contour like a Kardashian, but when I was young, we didn’t have access to extensive make-up routines from the likes of celebrities.

"I had a phase at uni where I wore a lot of fake tan, but I also learned how to apply cosmetics properly from a friend who was a make-up artist. I learnt how to pick the right foundation for my skin tone – and how to avoid that dreaded orange line on my jaw.

"Social media definitely influences the way I do my make-up now – it feels as though the rules on application are stricter. It’s all about that defined, airbrushed look that highlights your cheekbones and makes your face look slimmer. I follow a lot of bloggers and Insta-stars with flawless skin and I look at the products they use. Some of my friends are really into recreating that inflated-lips look – it might be in vogue but it’s a bit much for me.

"The make-up on today’s shoot is more stripped back than what I might usually wear, but it’s made me realise I don’t need to cake my face in lots of foundation. Sometimes I forget what I look like underneath my make-up!"


Get the look 

Celebrity make-up artist Oonagh Connor on how she used George products to achieve these natural looks...

For dewy glow

"For Verity’s dewy glow, I applied George Illuminating Primer,  before her base. After that, I dabbed a bit of the George Soft Touch Blusher Stick in Unicorn, onto the tops of her cheekbones to give a youthful sheen."

Light and fresh

"To keep Susie’s look light and fresh, I used George 4 Shade Highlight, dusting Lustre over the tops of her cheekbones for a soft glow. A slick of George Matte Liquid Lipstick in Angel Face, a subtle coral pink, finishes the look."

Smoky eye

"I created Sarah’s smoky eye by blending together three brown shades from the George Eye Shadow Pigment Palette in Nude – Crave, Truffle and Brownie. Then I defined her eyebrows with George The Tamer Brow Kit in Light."

Feeling inspired to revamp your look? Make sure you stock up on everything you need at Asda or pop into your local store