100 Years of Maybelline Ads Show How Little Has Changed in Beauty

The products may change, but their goals are pretty much the same.
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The products may change, but their goals are pretty much the same.
Maybelline ad, circa 1951. Photo: Maybelline

Maybelline ad, circa 1951. Photo: Maybelline

This year, Maybelline marks a century in the beauty business. To celebrate the milestone, we asked the company to share some of its vintage product pictures, ad images and commercials with us. They were both entertaining and enlightening. What's most surprising here is that while trends and looks superficially change, nothing has really changed fundamentally in beauty. Women still want lush lashes and brows and perfect skin 100 years later, though the way advertisers have marketed those products to women has changed quite a bit, as you'll see below.

1915-1920s

Photo: Maybelline

Photo: Maybelline

According to the company, Maybelline got its start with a lash and brow product. In 1915, a young woman named Mabel Williams mixed coal dust with Vaseline and used it to beef up her lashes after singing them off in an accident. Her brother Tom Lyle Williams took the idea and ran with it, producing a product — sans coal — commercially. He called it Lash-Brow-Ine and the product became popular via mail order. He called his new company Maybelline (Mabel + Vaseline) and a brand was born. Apparently women have always wanted Cara Delevingne brows! Also interesting: the company's claim that the products are "pure and harmless." Safe cosmetics, always desirable. 

1930s

Photo: Amazon.com

Photo: Amazon.com

By the 1930s, "eye lash darkener," as it was called, was officially a thing, and Maybelline sold it in cake form with a separate brush. There was a scare surrounding a lash dye at the time called Lash Lure (not made by Maybelline), which blinded some women, so the company was very careful to say that no dyes were used and that the products were "safe." 

In the '30s, brow pencils and eye shadow also came into vogue. This was also the birth of the makeup tutorial's earliest ancestor. The brand produced ads of Betty Grable demonstrating a three-step application process, which ran in popular magazines. The company also notes that in the '30s, the time of the Great Depression, women couldn't afford a new dress, but they could certainly afford a new eye shadow. Sound familiar? (Ahem, hi, 2008.)

1940s-1950s

Ad from 1950. Photo: Maybelline

Ad from 1950. Photo: Maybelline

In the 1940s and 1950s, Maybelline introduced iridescent eye shadow sticks and liquid liner.  In 1959, the company launched its first "automatic" mascara (after Helena Rubenstein got one to market first), featuring a spiral brush in the tube, called Magic Mascara. During this era, Maybelline began distributing overseas.

1960s-early 1970s

A Maybelline ad from 1960. Photo: Maybelline

A Maybelline ad from 1960. Photo: Maybelline

By this point, and as you can see from the above image, Maybelline was king (queen?) when it came to eye makeup. Then in 1971, the company cemented its hold on women's lashes for good by launching the now-iconic pink and green Great Lash Mascara. In the late '60s, the company was sold to Schering-Plough.

1970s

Here, decades before Tinder, Maybelline supports a lady's right to play the field. Photo: Maybelline

Here, decades before Tinder, Maybelline supports a lady's right to play the field. Photo: Maybelline

 In 1974, the company launched its first lip products, which included products like Kissing Sticks, Kissing Koolers, and Kissing Potion. Kissing: very big in the '70s.

1980s

Lynda Carter, aka Wonder Women, in a 1984 ad. Photo: Maybelline

Lynda Carter, aka Wonder Women, in a 1984 ad. Photo: Maybelline

The brand started offering a full complement of products, including lipstick and foundation. Lynda Carter featured prominently in many ads during this decade, ushering in the era of the actress as spokesmodel. 

1990s

In 1990, Maybelline changed hands again, this time to investment firm Wasserstein Perella & Co. One of the most famous ad slogans of all time was also introduced during this decade: "Maybe she's born with it. Maybe it's Maybelline." (Admit it. You just sang the jingle in your head.) Christy Turlington featured prominently in commercials during the '90s.  L'Oreal acquired the brand in 1996 and still owns it. Over the last 20 years, the brand has signed buzzy models like Jourdan Dunn, Gigi Hadid, Adriana Lima, Freja Beha Erichsen, Jessica White, Charlotte Free and Shu Pei Qin, and sponsored global fashion weeks. 

Cheers, Maybelline. Here's to 100 more years, and please don't discontinue Baby Lips