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By Kaitlin Clark
Mar 19, 2021 @ 4:50 pm
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Best 90s Makeup Looks
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You'd be pretty hard-pressed to find a decade filled with more enduring — and divisive — beauty looks than the 90s. But why has this decade captured our hearts and won't let go?

Possibly because there's a little something for everyone, no matter your style or affinity for glitter.

From next-level layers upon layers of shimmering eyeshadow, to the birth of facial contouring and natural Earth-goddess vibes, the 90s were a not-so-bygone era of dramatic self-expression — far from today's seemingly cookie-cutter Instagram-filtered aesthetic.

Three of the world's OG makeup artists, Bobbi Brown, Dick Page, and Gucci Westman, take us through their favorite 90s looks and why we're still loving them, over 30 years later. 

Matte Skin 

Halle Berry - Transformation - Beauty
Credit: Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage

"Everyone just loves the '90s," says Brown, legendary makeup artist and founder of the newly launched JONES ROAD. "It was the decade of the supermodel and suddenly, everyone knew these girls' names. Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, and Cindy Crawford were on every runway and you knew them by their first names."

One look that epitomized the decade, according to Brown, is the totally matte face, from eyeshadows to cheekbones to lips, as if to communicate a perfectly posh, nary a-hair-out-of-place aesthetic.

"I think recreating the over-matte look can definitely go the wrong way, especially when it has a white cast to it," Brown warns. "But if you look for more skin-toned ways to wear it, it could be a modern look." One workaround is opting for a tinted finishing powder, rather than the traditional chalky powder.

Glittery Shadows and Juicy Glosses 

Britney Spears - Transformation - Beauty
Credit: Ernie Paniccioli/Retna

TRL popstars crystallized the glitter trend from head to toe in every shade of the rainbow paired with a thick coat of super shiny gloss.

"Personally, I'm reminded of the look I created for Cristina Ricci in Buffalo 66 as one of my most memorable looks," says Westman, celebrity makeup artist and founder of the natural makeup line Westman Atelier. "Her eyelids in glittery sky-blue shadow and peachy lip gloss were dreamy." 

All Brown Everything 

Beyonce Belt 2001
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If Brown could describe '90s makeup in one word, it would be "monochromatic" and the shade of the decade was bronze.

"Brown lips are ultra-flattering on every skin tone and looks so fresh," says Westman, of the enduring trend.

To modernize the look, Westman would opt for a "more bronzy tone with a glassy finish, like Lit Up in Brûlee, and pat onto lips for a gleaming bronze-gold effect," while Brown recommends a "natural tinted gloss like JONES ROAD cool gloss in nude beige or golden shimmer" for a fresh take on the '90s lip.

"It creates a more modern, youthful look," says Brown. "And I'd keep the brows perfectly groomed." 

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Barely There Makeup 

Salma Hayek Pinault - Transformation - Beauty
Credit: Fitzroy Barrett/Globe

"There's a beautiful minimalism to '90s makeup that's so refreshing right now!" says Westman. "It was just cool and confident. It was simple, pared down, but never boring."

A hallmark of minimal makeup is to "let skin be skin," says Westman. According to Page, '90s makeup mirrored how women wore makeup in their day to day lives and women most didn't wear a full face of one color foundation to neutralize their palette.

"Skin isn't one color, it isn't completely flat," says Page, who famously nixed heavy-handed applications of foundation and concealer. "You do selective damage control. You just do a little bit of cover up here and there to cover up what you need to have covered up and then let it go."

But to Page, living circa now in the post-Fenty era, is "the huge benefit nowadays is how easy it is for anyone to find their skin color, which was almost impossible in the '90s." 

Subtle Contouring 

1998
Credit: Getty

"It's the complete opposite of over-the-top Instagram contouring. This was effortless and radiant," explains Westman. "I love to use our Face Trace in Truffle as an all-over bronzing stick," she says. "It's creamy, matte, and blends so easily into the skin. Apply it to the areas of your skin that naturally get tan from the sun."

Dramatic Liner 

Linda Evangelista
Credit: Ron Galella/WireImage

When Brown thinks of '90s makeup trends, "overly-lined lips and eyes" immediately comes to her mind. "Dark liner, gray-brown lipstick, matte gray-brown shadow and power brows," she says. "Think Linda Evangelisa and Christy Turlington, they had the classic '90s look and they were on the cover of every fashion magazine and walked in every major fashion show."

Natural Glam

1993
Credit: Ron Galella/WireImage

"The healthy, athletic, and naturally bronzed look that Cindy Crawford completely owned...and still does. I mean look at her," says Brown, of the signature 90s style made famous by Crawford. "That healthy, naturally bronzed look never goes out of style," she says. "I'd create it now using my JONES ROAD Miracle Balm in tawny or bronze."

Dare to be Different

TikTok has me convinced crimping is back and better than ever
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In our current Instagram-era, there's a lack of individuality, according to Page, joking that he "missed the meeting where everyone decided that lips must be big and noses must be skinny."

In the 90s, there were no glow-ups. Instead, makeup was fun and decorative. Makeup artists, women, and teens alike took risks with their looks, and made the '90s world a lively, vibrant decade.

"Routine is the enemy of creativity," says Page. "I'm allergic to the idea that everyone wants to look the same — that's my big problem with makeup now."