Not going to lie. When I heard that skinny brows were back in style, I raised my full, HD micro-bladed brows in terror, and wondered how they would fit in.
I had witnessed the peak of the trend during the Nineties and Noughties. And let’s just say it took rounds of grooming sessions at eyebrow specialist Browhaus – and years of patience – to have my brows look the way they do now.
But just as I thought I had put skinny brows to bed, they have now wriggled their way back into my life.
Today, we are seeing the look on Gen Z celebrities like rapper Doja Cat, actor Nicola Peltz Beckham, and models Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner, as we did in the past with ’90s icons Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and Gwen Stefani.
“But Bella, Nicola and Kendall… they’re models!” makeup artist Larry Yeo replies wryly over text, with a hint of sarcasm. His gripe is that as professional models, their brows are the property of fashion trends – yet with the magic of stylists and makeup artists, their brows would look fuller in time for the next beauty trend.
“Not for regular women,” he adds with roll-eye emoji.
History repeats itself
So when did skinny brows make their debut? Makeup artist Cheryl Ow posits that it might have started during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in the 16th century. The British monarch had pencil-thin brows to match her white foundation, with arches that were plucked and made to look thin and sharp, accentuating and creating the illusion of a high forehead. This was said to make women appear more “intelligent”, a look favoured among the upper class.
“When the trend resurfaced in the ’20s and ’30s, it was skinny, but dramatically arched,” says Cheryl.
The thin brows of the Roaring Twenties was one of the ways that Hollywood actors could fully express themselves in silent, black-and-white films. These eyebrows seemed to give them a constant look of shock, further emphasised by dramatic facial expressions, which they used in the absence of sound.
The glamorous age of 1930s Hollywood showed an even more pronounced eyebrow, but with films including sound and colour, the brows were more a sophisticated beauty statement than physical expression. Seen on icons such as American actor Jean Harlow and singer Billie Holiday, the thin brows of that decade were also made to look sharper to frame the face and enhance the appearance of authority.
The ebb and flow of thin eyebrows continued into the ’70s, and this time, they were accompanied by shimmering eyeshadows and thick mascara, which were accentuated by super-arched pencil-thin brows under the disco lights.
When the trend returned in the ’90s, the brow was tweezed to reveal the brow bone. One of my girlfriends tried so hard to shave her brows into a svelte line that she accidentally (and tragically) shaved off the back end.
Today’s skinny eyebrows
Fast forward to 2022, and the current look eschews the overplucked razor-thin line of the ’20s and ’70s. Today’s skinny brows aren’t shaped like the ’90s “tadpole” squiggle either. Instead, it is a lean, high-contrast defined brow.
The high-contrast comes from having fuller but thinner brows – which means more hair on the thin line. Of course, creating the look requires sculpting from a professional brow specialist, and you’ll still need brow gels, serums and pomades to maintain the precise shape of your brows.
“I can emphatically say that whatever you do, don’t over-pluck your brows. Trends like these are fleeting, but too much tweezing can damage the hair follicle over time. Those of us who lived through the heyday of razor-thin brows in the ’90s can tell you: The hair doesn’t always grow back,” says Anastasia Soare, founder of Anastasia Beverly Hills, a US cosmetics brand known for its eyebrow products.
If you must, Anastasia suggests experimenting with makeup to give the look a go: “Use methods that first disguise your brow with a mix of skin-safe glue (to hold the hairs) and concealer to cover them. It’s time-consuming, but it will save your arches from possible permanent damage.”
It’s also important to remember that beauty trends come and go. While thin brows might be making their way back into our beauty standards, they may not be suitable for everyone (remember those straight Korean brows?). Instead, you should consider your face shape – which will guide you in how thin your brows should be – how much time you spend on brow grooming, and whether you’ll devote the time needed to maintain it.
Finally, if you can, you might want to check in with women who have lived through and once embraced the trend.
Says Cheryl: “Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, I saw how women around me were influenced by the skinny brow trend of those times. But when the look went out of fashion, many of them faced the challenge of growing out their brows due to over-plucking. In the end, many of them gave up [on brow growth] and continued plucking!”