Looks that Kill: 11 Impossible Beauty Standards from History

Tang dynasty lady with short, stubby eyebrows. Google images.

Eyebrow Fashions

Eyebrow fashions have varied across time and the globe. Ancient Greek ladies favored the monobrow as the height of beauty and style. If they could not grow their own, they would fake it by creating stick-on brows made of goat’s hair. Up until the eighteenth century in Europe, the eyebrowless look was in vogue, until suddenly fashion switched again and eyebrows began to make a comeback.

 Up until recent years in the west, eyebrows have tended to be quite conservative, regarding colors and shapes. However, recently, shading eyebrows in bright colors have become popular, as have a variety of different styles. This range in eyebrow fashion may seem a modern innovation, but colored and styled eyebrows were a tradition practiced in ancient China.

Painted eyebrows date to the Spring and Autumn period of Chinese history- somewhere between 771 to 476BC. Unlike today, the actual brows were not dyed but shaved or plucked away and then redrawn in a variety of colors. Initially, Chinese ladies favored black eyebrows, using expensive conch ink imported from Persia to paint their chosen design. Once the Chinese discovered they could cut conch ink with copper ink, they created a cheaper product that was available throughout society.

However, in the second and third century AD, green and blue eyebrows became fashionable- at least in royal circles. According to Accounts of the Dressing Table, the Emperor of Wei State, Wu, required all his consorts to draw their eyebrows in blue. This color, known as quingdai, was made up from an indigo base, imported either from Persia or the state of Cao in northwestern Samarkand in central Asia.

Wherever it came from, Quingdai was prohibitively expensive- which was why Wu wanted his ladies to use it; to provide a visual display of his wealth. Either way, Emperor Wu’s court set a fashion that remained popular. Wu did not just have preferences in color: he liked his ladies’ eyebrows painted in a particular shape too.

Accounts of the Dressing Table reveals that there were at least ten eyebrow styles to choose from, varying from short and blunt to long and elegant. Emperor Wu preferred his ladies’ blue eyebrows to be long and straight with tapering ends like the trailing tails of moths: the “Immortal Moth” style, a style that remained popular into the Tang dynasty.