Here at Byrdie, it's no secret that we love the '90s. After all, they brought us epic workout videos, slinky slip skirts, and hair accessories galore. And when it comes to iconic makeup looks, the 1990s definitely do not disappoint. That's why we've decided to hop into our beauty time machine to look back at the makeup trends that defined the decade. Perhaps doing so will spark some inspiration—or at least, satisfy feelings of nostalgia.
To show you just what we mean, we reached out to MUAs Katie Mellinger, Carolina Dali, and Tisha Thompson. Not only did they share their favorite beauty looks from 20 years ago—some of which are making a comeback among today's celebs and It-girls—but they also let us in on fresh ways to wear '90s makeup looks in the 21st-century.
Meet the Expert
- Katie Mellinger is a celebrity makeup artist. Her clients include Sofia Coppola, Emma Watson, and Chloë Sevigny, among others. She spends her time between NY and LA.
- Carolina Dali is a New York-based makeup artist. She has worked with celebrities, such as Gisele Bündchen, Constance Wu, and Storm Reid, to name a few.
- Tisha Thompson is a makeup artist and founder of LYS Beauty.
Keep scrolling for some of the most iconic makeup looks of the ‘90s.
If there's anyone we need to look to for contouring inspo, it's '90s supermodels. Here, South African model Carmen Lee Solomons does just that. Unlike KKW contouring, she favors naturally defined cheeks and lids like her model foremothers. As for what products will get you that supermodel sculpt? "Bronzer is essential," says Thompson. "I recommend concentrating the product in the hollows of the cheek and temples and diffuse using a densely packed brush to get rid of any harsh lines,” she instructs.
To create a soft, bronze glow, apply a product only one to two shades darker than your natural complexion.
Forget 50 shades of gray, the '90s were all about how many different ways you could wear blue eyeshadow. We are loving celebrity makeup artist Priscilla Ono's bold blue hue but if you're looking for something more subtle, Dali recommends, "a light soft, watercolor-like sweep of a baby blue eyeshadow over the lids, and a touch of it under the lash line—followed by several coats of mascara. To make it more modern, she suggests a matte, powdery finish. Nars Single Eyeshadow in Baby Jane ($14) never fails.
Bring on the Glitter
We can all remember the day when body glitter first entered our lives—and 20 years later, we're still lusting after it. "I am here for anything that can let me live my sparkly unicorn fantasy life," Mellinger gushes. "Plus [body glitter] is fun and super easy to pull off, especially with iridescent Persephone Glitter Gel ($12) from Slayfire Cosmetics, an Indigenous, POC, and Queer-owned line. Use your fingertips to tap it anywhere you like. I like to put it where I might put highlighter like the high points of the collarbone and the shoulders."
Baby-faced Kate Moss first showed us all how to perfect minimal makeup 20 years ago. Here, Thai-French beauty Yada Villaret perfects Moss's off-duty model look with her radiant base and popsicle-stained lips. Mellinger admits that she loves a bare face: "I know coming from a makeup artist it seems wild, but there is a way to do “no makeup” makeup, and I would love for that to make a comeback. The idea of embracing yourself as you are without trying to contort your face to something else is very appealing to me."
To replicate the look, you'll most definitely need cream blush, Thompson tells us. "The formula allows for easy building and blending. Whether it’s alone or on top of other complexion products, the creamy texture helps create a youthful, naturally flushed look." She suggests playing around with different shades—Rms Beauty Lip2cheek Cream Blush ($36) in Demure is one of our faves. Apply it to your lips if you're going for a uniform look.
Frosted Eye Shadow and Lips
There was always a free mini frosted eye shadow or lip gloss that came with our favorite teen magazine. And if we're being honest, most of our makeup experimentations resulted in some sort of glittery look, as seen here. However, if you go for a darker shade then you can make a frosted shadow look modern; speaking of which, it just doesn't get much prettier than Hourglass Scattered Light Glitter Eye Shadow in Smoke ($29). Pair with MAC Frost Lipstick ($19) in Spanish Fly for the ultimate '90s babe persona.
Spider lashes have gotten a bad rep but when done right, they are showstopping. To get the look, first, grab a black cream eyeliner and heavily trace around your entire eye. It doesn't have to be perfect, in fact, a little smudge is encouraged (more on that below). Next, up the drama by applying L'Oréal Paris Voluminous Lash Paradise Washable Mascara to both top and bottom lashes. Just two coats will have onlookers convinced that you're wearing falsies.
You can always spot a '90s lip when you see it: a brown base with a brick-like red running through it. Huda Beauty founder, Huda Kattan, goes all out in brown and we can't take our eyes off of her Liquid Matte Lipstick ($20) in Spice Girl—it's what we really really want. Looking for more lip options? Christian Louboutin Velvet Matte Lip Color ($90) in Zoulou is Dali's go-to lipstick. "If you’re a newbie to a brown lip and feel like you need a baby step in that direction, try Nars Audacious Lipstick ($34) in Deborah," suggests Mellinger. "It’s the perfect shade of brown with just a hint of red that looks flattering on everyone," she adds.
If you wear brown lipstick alone, it can wash you out so be sure to finish off your look with a touch of matte bronzer and a light dusting of a pinky or peachy blush on the cheeks. To modernize the look, add a touch of gloss to the center of the lips and Cupid’s bow.
We can't help but gravitate toward pastel eye shadows and this dreamy pink number on Luna Blaise is no exception. The soft tones have some kind of calming effect—not to mention, they're fashion-forward. The key to nailing pastel lids is to go for a shade that complements your skin tone and eye color. "Blue eyeshadow can be very flattering, specifically on brown, hazel, and green eyes," notes Dali. Alternatively, if you are obsessed with unicorns, then why not embrace every color of the rainbow with Ulta Pastel Skies Eye Shadow Palette ($12).
The Gloss-and-Liner Combo
Perhaps one of our favorite '90s cool-girls, Brandy—and her t.v. persona Moesha—had everyone emulating her signature liner-and-glossed lips. "I grew up on the gloss and liner trend, and it’s something I’m slowly starting to see come back," Thompson tells us. "This trend is really easy to update with so many lip colors in the market to explore, so I always love seeing people experiment with different bold liner colors. Our Speak Love Glossy Lip Treatment Oil ($12) is a great lip topper to recreate the late '90s lip with a contrasting lip liner, except now we can use mauve, pink, nude, brown, etc." Dali opts for Kevyn Aucoin Unforgettable Lip Definer ($22) in Pure.
Natural Matte Finish Skin
Glass skin might be all the rage these days, but that's not to say that natural matte makeup is going away. This '90s trend is one of Dali's favorites and she lets us in on how to DIY: Once skin is cleansed, exfoliated, and moisturized, use Chanel Ultra Le Teint Velvet Matte Foundation ($50) on the face and neck followed by a cream concealer. To add dimension (remember that supermodel sculpt we talked about earlier?), blend Nars Matte Bronzing Powder ($38) around temples and along the jawline, the hollows of cheekbones, and the contours of the nose. Continue with a dusting of pinky or peachy powder blush to cheeks and a touch to the center of the nose. Finally, finish with IT Cosmetics Translucent Setting Powder ($30) on the face and neck.
Deep Shaded Lips
Chloë Grace Moretz may be too young to remember '90s makeup first-hand, but she could've had us fooled with this dark statement lip. Mellinger admits she is obsessed with a dark pout and would suggest complementing it with a mostly bare face. "To really channel the '90s vibe, use a dark burgundy or, even better, a brown lipstick," she adds.
Kristen Stewart makes grunge look glam with her smudgy black eye and bare skin. This look earns the top spot on both Dali's and Mellinger's list of favorite '90s beauty trends—and for good reason. "I don’t love the idea that makeup has to be perfect and symmetrical all the time. I don’t think we need to be covered in makeup to look beautiful," says Mellinger.
To replicate Stewart's hypnotic eyes, "You want it to look as smokey and rock and roll as possible," emphasizes Dali. To do that, she instructs, "Using a small eyeshadow brush, apply eyeshadow that’s the same color as the pencil, over the pencil liner to create even more smoke (this will also help the liner stay in place). Apply liner to the inside water line and in between every lash to create a tight line."
While not as heavy as grunge eye-makeup, an eye rimmed all the way around in black—including along the waterline—can be just as dramatic. According to Mellinger, it's one trend from the '90s that actually never went out of style. "I definitely rocked this look in middle school, and I think every middle schooler has done it since. It’s easy to do, it’s not a lot, doesn’t require a lot of skill, and it makes you feel like you’re definitely wearing makeup because it’s hard to miss."
20 years ago, everyone from prom queens to pop stars could be seen sporting overlined lips. Today, the '90s makeup trend is getting a second wind, only this time with a more subtle finish. "I’m a fan of a lip that’s lined in a darker color and left neutral in the center. It makes the lip pop and your pout look fuller," says Mellinger.
"To achieve a natural version of this, use a lip liner a couple of shades darker than your natural lip color—my fave lip pencils are Charlotte Tilbury’s Lip Cheat ($22). Line or overline slightly as desired. Buff/ blend the inner part of the line with a stiff-bristled makeup brush." You can go with a matte finish or Mellinger suggests, "Apply either a clear or lighter shade gloss in the middle of the lip—I love Tower28’s Shine On Milky Lip Jelly ($14) in Oat—and press the lips together."
First things first: before you start debating whether you want to play up your eyes or lips, make sure you've got a strong foundation (literally and figuratively). "I really loved the polished complexion looks from the '90s and I love seeing the updated version of that with so many more shades available for deeper skin tones," says Thompson. "It’s much easier to find foundations in different finishes, formula types, undertones, etc. nowadays that cater to the myriad of skin tones out there. When you have access to your perfect shade, the rest of your look will come together."
Beauty as a form of creative self-expression never rang truer than in the '90s. Dali sums up the decade best when she says, "Individuality was celebrated in the '90s, people wanted to be and look different, they would put their own twist to what beauty meant to them. The beauty icons of the '90s reflected that (think: Kate, Naomi, Cindy..they all looked so uniquely different). I feel like we’ve lost that in the past decade. It’s become about this artificial/IG face. I hope we can again embrace our individuality, get creative, experiment, and have fun with our makeup."