There’s no denying that the beauty icons throughout history were inspirational. Women admired these beauties and men lusted after them. These beauty icons were (typically) celebrities who defied traditional beauty standards and created their own. Thanks to them, we had timeless trends. Each decade is historicized and can be remembered by the beauty icon that defined it. Their effect on the world was prominent then and is still prominent today. As we reflect on 21 beauty icons that were esteemed throughout the last century, we reflect on the standards of beauty and glamour that were associated with their popularity.
1920s – Coco Chanel
Born in Saumur, France in 1883, Coco Chanel had a less than glamorous upbringing. Her mother passed away when she was only 12, and her father abandoned her to an orphanage shortly thereafter. But despite the hardships of her youth, she became an influential and innovative woman. By the 1920s, she had become a beauty icon, fashion designer, and perfume creator. Her career liberated women and redefined gender roles.
Her established beauty and fashion sense made her a prominent figure both in life and in death. She was a lover of crimson lipstick, an advocate for individuality, a supporter of signature scents, and a woman who aged gracefully. Women of the ‘20s wanted to be just like her. They copied her short curls, arched eyebrows, and colored lips. She created the standards of beauty of that decade, becoming an everlasting icon.
1920s – Louise Brooks
Mary Louise Brooks was a silent film actress in the 1920s and is now regarded as a Jazz Age icon. At 15, she was the youngest member of the Denishawn Dancers, which helped accelerate her into Europe’s dance scene by 1925. During the 1920s, her roles in silent films and flapper films influenced thousands of women to get their hair cut into a tiny little bob.
This bob would later become one of the most influential hairstyles of the ’20s, thanks to our flapper fashionista. Brooks was known for wearing a lot of daring and glamorous outfits, as well as heavy fur coats. Women around the world also copied her style, beginning to wear the cloche hat to add to her outfit. She also loved furs, silks, and velvets, something women began to buy in droves.
1930s – Katharine Hepburn
There’s no denying the fact that Katharine Hepburn had an immense influence on fashion and the image of beauty in her lifetime. The Hollywood star graced the silver screen for more than 60 years—but it was during the 1930s that she became a true beauty icon. Her defined cheekbones, feminine features, and radiant glow differentiated her from other actresses and stars.
What made Katharine Hepburn so alluring was her aversion to beauty standards. She was naturally and effortlessly beautiful, and completely unaware of the fact. Her acting roles throughout the ‘30s were diverse, making her a cultural icon. She was always a leading lady but was spunky and headstrong. Christopher Strong, Morning Glory, Alice Adams, and Bringing Up Baby are just a few of her most memorable films. She was mesmerizing both on screen and off.
1930s – Marlene Dietrich
Women can wear pants nowadays, but that’s partially thanks to Marlene Dietrich. Dietrich was a German actress who gained huge success in the 1930s after her role in Blue Angel. After her fame, she relocated to Hollywood and became one of the most famous actresses of the period (and perhaps the century).
Marlene Dietrich had an androgynous style. She’s quoted saying, “I dress for myself. Not for the image, not for the public, not for fashion, not for men.” Although she loved menswear, she also loved all things luxurious. She wore pencil skirts, form-fitting dresses, and silky blouses. This made items like this fly off the shelves because women wanted to emulate her look. Dietrich also always wore a hat, whether it was a cloche, fedora, beret, or top hat.
1940s – Rita Hayworth
If you were alive during the 1940s, it’s likely you obsessed over Rita Hayworth. The glamorous actress and dancer achieved fame during her youth and became one of the most prominent stars of her era. She was undeniably beautiful and talented. And because of her beauty, she became both a glamour and pin-up girl. Her soft, blonde curls, full lips, and endearing smile made her a beloved star.
Her career spanned over 30 years, and during that time, she appeared in more than 60 films. Women admired Rita Hayworth’s immense talent and beauty. Her timeless Hollywood style was elegant and sophisticated. And every photo published of her was perfectly poised. Many tried to imitate her beauty and fashion style, which is why she’s still considered an icon today.
1940s – Bette Davis
Bette Davis was a 1940s (and 1930s) style icon. Today, we know Bette Davis as being the first actor to receive 10 Academy Award nominations, including two wins. Along with this, she was the first woman to serve as the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It’s hard to describe Bette Davis as anything other than a force of nature.
Women wanted more than to look like her – they wanted to be her. She became a huge fashion icon during her stint on the screen. Bette Davis had plenty of fashion choices that ended up influencing fashion from black leather boots to a Balmain coat.
1950s – Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe was (and still is) considered to be one of the most influential beauty icons and sex symbols in American history. She was an actress, model, and singer who became emblematic of a new and changing era. She was often defined by her long legs and hourglass figure—which redefined beauty standards during the 1950s.
Her signature makeup look has transcended time. Her long lashes, winged eyeliner, and voluminous red pout became the standard of beauty. Within a matter of days, it was nearly impossible to walk down the street without seeing at least one woman with red lips! She was also known for her iconic beauty mark and bright blonde pin curls. Even after her death, she continues to be a pop-culture icon and fashion and beauty muse.
1950s – Sophia Loren
Sophia Loren is an Italian actress that was one of the most beautiful women that ever lived, so it’s no surprise she was a style icon during the ‘50s. Loren appeared in over 100 films, with her breakout role being in 1953 when she appeared in Aida. Loren was nominated for two Oscars, winning one, and was later given an honorary Oscar for how much she attributed to film.
Loren was quickly embraced by the fashion world was an inspiration to women all over America, Italy, and the world. During the ‘50s, women emulated her coral red lips and dramatic eyeliner. The clothing she wore was always cinched at the waist, whether it was a dress, skirt, or even pants. In the 1950s, it was all about feminine and light.
1960s – Audrey Hepburn
Audrey Hepburn is remembered as an icon of Hollywood’s golden era. She began her career as a chorus girl, but soon became a leading lady. Her talent as both a dancer and actress made her extremely valuable—as did her beauty. She had a distinctive look that set her apart from other actresses at that time. Her brunette bob, thick brows, and slim figure were dainty and elfin. As many women attempted to emulate her look, Hepburn began to recognize her impact on the standards of feminine beauty.
In 1961, at the beginning of the decade, Audrey Hepburn starred in her most memorable film—Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The role of New York City socialite Holly Golightly defined her career. Aside from her acting, she’s remembered for her captivating fashion sense. She popularized high-waisted trousers, A-line dresses, oversized sunglasses, and the “little black dress.” If you’re looking to reinvent your wardrobe, take advice from the style icon herself.
1960s – Twiggy
You can’t get through the ‘60s without mentioning Twiggy. Twiggy was an English model, actress, and singer that became a fashion icon when she was just a teenager. She became a trendsetter and even worked closely with fashion designers to create a look that was unique…at least until it got popular and everyone wanted to wear something similar.
Twiggy adored wearing skirts that were super short, around six or seven inches above the knee. This helped popularize the “Chelsea Look” of the ’60s. This fashionista also wore tons of shift dresses and “mod” fashion, which was extremely popular in London and the United States. Naturally, her makeup also had a huge influence as women wore tons of eyeliner and mascara.
1970s – Jackie Kennedy
No woman was more of a fashion icon than Jackie O. The wife of John F. Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy reportedly spent more than $45,446 on her First Lady Wardrobe, according to Time Magazine. Women admired her for what she stood for, especially as she was so elegant in every situation.
Jackie had a few signature pieces that really influenced the world around her. The first was the pillbox hat, as worn by her famous pink suit and matching pillbox hat. Then there were the oversized sunglasses that were both stylish and functional. Of course, there’s also the perfectly styled hair and elbow-length gloves. Honestly, if you need inspiration on what to wear, Jackie O was the person to mimic.
1970s – Cher
In the 1960s, pop icon Cher gained popularity as she and her then-husband Sonny Bono released their song “I Got You Babe.” By the ‘70s though, she had established herself as a solo artist. She emerged as more than a singer and songwriter, she emerged as a beauty and fashion icon. Audrey Hepburn was her inspiration. She loved the unconventionality and oddities of Hepburn’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s character.
Cher embraced a youthful version of female beauty. Her hip-grazing locks were sleek and straight and her silhouette was slim. Her look became androgynous. Both men and women wore their hair long and dressed in clothing that accentuated their thin figures. When on stage though, she embraced a more eccentric and exaggerated version of her glamorous and bohemian style. She wore fringe, feathers, and sequins—unafraid of being bold. She will always be known as one of the most prominent beauty and fashion icons of the 1970s.
1980s – Cindy Crawford
In 1986, Cindy Crawford was featured on the cover of Vogue magazine for the first time. After that, you couldn’t walk by a newsstand without seeing her. Her supermodel status landed her on more than 1,000 magazine covers. Men and women were in awe of her. She was unintentionally redefining beauty standards.
Her voluminous, brunette hair, sultry smile, and undeniable charm captured America, momentarily distracting them from the blue-eyed blondes that they were so accustomed to. Her “girl next door” look was refreshing and inspiring. Women began to look to her for beauty inspiration. In an interview with Refinery29 in 2016, Crawford reflected on beauty standards of the ‘80s and said, “I was always a size 6; I was never super skinny and I never felt bad about it.” She was unapologetically herself, which made her even more relatable and lovable.
1980s – Madonna
Madonna is the Queen of Pop and was a huge fashion icon during the ‘80s. She became super famous in the mid-1980s due to her hit songs like
“Papa Don’t Preach,” “Material Girl,” “Crazy for You,” “Express Yourself,” and many others. Now, Madonna has eight songs that peaked on Billboard 200 and is certified five-time platinum by the Recording Industry of America.
In her earlier videos, she mimicked the style of past style icons, like Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Later, she got more comfortable in her own style, wearing corsets and leather. She gravitated to edgy pieces that still maintained a bit of femininity. Accessories were also a huge thing – tons of bracelets, lace gloves, and a thick hairbow.
1990s – Naomi Campbell
Discovered at only 15, Naomi Campbell has been in front of the camera for the majority of her life. Soon after her claim to fame, she established herself as one of the most in-demand models of the ‘80s and ‘90s. She was declared a supermodel and became a part of the elite group known as the “Big Six.” This group consisted of Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Kate Moss, Linda Evangelista, Claudia Schiffer, and Christy Turlington. These were all women who impacted the progression of beauty
The mark that Naomi Campbell has left on the beauty and fashion industry in indelible. She paved the way for women and models of color, influencing other black women to make a name for themselves in the world of beauty. She cultivated a personalized look that was breathtaking. Her tall stature, dark eyes, and sculpted cheekbones turned heads. And she was always changing and evolving.
1990s – Kate Moss
The ‘90s had a huge fashion movement called “heroin chic.” This encouraged women to be super thin, pale, and with dark red lipstick. Angular bone structures were highly desired, so enter Kate Moss. Discovered when she was just 14, Kate Moss became the most sought-after model in the ‘90s.
Kate Moss wore all sorts of things from feminine to masculine. She often wore slinky, spaghetti-strap sundresses but would commonly throw a big coat over it. When out and about, she would wear something comfortable like a tank top and jeans. Since it was the ‘90s, frosted makeup reigned supreme, so you better believe she wore plenty of frosted eyeshadow and lip gloss.
2000s – Britney Spears
In the 2000s, Britney Spears threatened to dethrone Madonna as Queen of Pop. Later, she would be dubbed the Princess of Pop, all thanks to her first hit single “Hit Me Baby…One More Time.” From there, Britney Spears exploded in popularity. She’s now a multi-platinum, Grammy Award-winning icon, who is celebrated as having one of the most successful careers in music.
In the 2000s, her style influenced everyone from girls to women. Frosted makeup was still pretty popular, so she wore that, but added in a few key things like denim (absolutely huge), the “schoolgirl look,” and crop tops. We also can’t forget to add in super low-rise jeans. The popstar wouldn’t be caught without them.
2000s – Jennifer Lopez
Jennifer Lopez’s beauty transformation is unreal. She’s as beautiful at 50 as she was at 20. But it was during the 2000s that she became a true beauty icon. Her bronzed skin and fresh and glowing makeup created an appearance of beauty and youth. Her go to was long, glossy locks and a shiny, nude lip. She wore foundation that was light and glowy, allowing her natural skin to shine through.
The singer, dancer, and actress continues to be our modern-day muse. Many of us actually wonder if she’s aging backwards. Throughout her career, she’s redefined beauty standards. While she’s opted for metallic eyes, long lashes, and bold lips at times, she’s best known for her “J.Lo Glow.” Her simple, yet iconic beauty will always inspire—no matter the decade.
2010s – Bella Hadid
Internationally famous supermodel Bella Hadid has become a beauty and fashion icon in less than half a decade. When she was only 21, she revealed to Allure that she emulates stars like “Cher and Monica Bellucci.” The most powerful beauty icons look toward those who came before them for inspiration. While these two celebrities have impacted and influenced her beauty standards, she’s also created many beauty standards of her own.
Women attempt to replicate Bella Hadid’s glowing skin, effortless style, and innate coolness. In her day-to-day life, she walks runways, poses for photographers, and endorses brands like Dior, Versace, and Alexander Wang. Her sculpted cheekbones, arched brows, and deep brunette hair has made her a full-fledged model in her own right. And her trendy street style has made her an icon in the fashion industry. I think it’s safe to say Bella will continue to be looked to for inspiration in the years and decades to come.
2010s – The Kardashians
It’s hard to nail down exactly which Kardashian (or Jenner) had the biggest influence on fashion, but it is easy to say that the whole family had a huge influence on it. From Kim Kardashian and her husband Kanye West to Kylie and Kendall Jenner, the family has continuously made money off of being influencers and starting trends.
This family has one huge focus: brands. Other than that, the Kardashians helped spur some of the biggest trends of 2010 including bodycon dresses, sheer tops, and athleisure. In addition to that, Kylie has set trends in makeup for huge, full lips and bronzer to create a chiseled look.
2020s – Zendaya
Zendaya is a newer actress that popped up in a lot of huge hits from The Greatest Showman and Spiderman all the way to Euphoria, an HBO series. She’s a great actress, and her TV shows and personal style have already impacted the fashion and beauty community.
The makeup style and fashion wore in Euphoria influenced a lot of younger fashionistas in early 2020, making her already a huge icon for the decade. The makeup was bright, soft, and accentuated feminine features. As far as Zendaya’s personal style, it’s all about comfort. That’s something we can get on board with.
2020s – TBD
Honestly, it’s super early in the 2020 decade to tell who will stand out. There are a lot of stars that are making waves because they were pretty huge in the earlier decade. People like Bella Hadid became really popular in the 2010s, but she could the beauty and fashion community even more in the coming years.
Then we have the Jenners – Kylie and Kendall – who have their own brand and audience. Of course, newer social media stars are influencing the way we dress and look from Charli D’Amelio to Doja Cat. Then there’s the amazing and body-positive Lizzo! It’s just too soon to choose someone!