It's easy to assume that the beauty world has never been so innovative as it is now—and in many ways, it's true—but did you know that Grace Kelly was contouring her cheekbones long before Kim Kardashian ever did? Or that screen siren Marlene Dietrich debuted one of the earliest versions of nail art in order to make her manicure last longer? Some of the greatest starlets in history had plenty of tricks up their sleeves to maintain their iconic looks—and now, we're diving deep into their choice secrets.
From Marilyn Monroe's eye-opening eyeliner method to the surprising key to Elizabeth Taylor's impossibly smooth skin, welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Old Hollywood beauty.
We wouldn't exactly recommend copying Hepburn's trick for emphasizing her doe-like eyes: The actress famously separated each lash with a pin after applying mascara. To get the same definition without the risk factor, just comb through with a spoolie brush (like BareMinerals The Brow Master, $22) instead.
Songs have been written about Davis's mesmerizing gaze, and needless to say, the actress relied on quite a few tricks to keep her eyes looking their best. For one, she targeted dark circles with the help of cucumber slices and a thick layer of petroleum jelly before bed. (Try Caudalie's Resveratrol Lift Eye-Lifting Balm, $62, for some similar TLC.)
Dietrich was notorious for going to beauty extremes: She famously removed her back molars in order to hollow out her cheeks, for example, and would pull her hairline back with thread—to the point of bleeding—in order to get an instant facelift.
But our favorite hack of hers was actually her most forgiving: The actress liked to leave the half-moon on her nails unpainted so a grown-out manicure would be less noticeable. It's still one of our favorite methods for spacing out nail appointments.
Genetics certainly played a role in Taylor's regal good looks, but she also had a secret to her smooth skin (which she shared with Marilyn Monroe, actually): Born with a condition that gave her a thin layer of peach fuzz on her face, she shaved regularly in order to keep it in check—and that regular exfoliation gave her an unrivaled porcelain-like glow. Sound crazy? It's not: Face-shaving for ladies is actually having a resurgence. (And no, doing it won't make your hair grow back darker or thicker than before.)
To maintain a smooth, even complexion, Rogers reportedly toned her skin with cotton pads saturated in witch hazel—a natural astringent and anti-inflammatory—after cleansing. And her method is tried and true: Thayer's rose-scented Aloe Vera Witch Hazel Toner ($9) is a drugstore cult favorite to this day.
Kelly's majestic beauty is inimitable in many respects, but many have cribbed her trick to sculpted cheekbones. The actress would contour with two different shades of blush (which is a decidedly more low-key way to do it than layering multiple shades of foundation, no?).
Lombard was self-conscious of her crooked nose and created the illusion of a straight bridge by drawing a highlighted line down the middle of it. As for emphasizing her hypnotic gaze, the actress loved using blue mascara for a night out. We love a swipe of Diorshow's Waterproof Mascara ($30) in Azure for a similarly eye-popping look—but stick with neutral colors on the rest of your face to keep the look from veering too '80s.
At 81, the Italian siren credits three things for her long-lasting beauty: "a love of life, spaghetti, and the odd bath in olive oil." Done, done, and done.
Think this season's glossy eye is revolutionary? Not so, if you consider Garbo's go-to look: The actress would layer petroleum jelly under eyeshadow for that signature sultry stare. Decades later, it's still sexy as hell. Our favorite take is to mix Glossier's Balm Dotcom ($12) with a taupe-y pink shadow (like Kat Von D's Metal Crush Eyeshadow, $13, in Doce), but just going with a clear gloss is surprisingly mesmerizing as well.
"I know I devote a terrible amount of time to this hair of mine," Harlow told a newspaper in 1937. But the TLC was necessary since she found that the harsh lights of the film studio dried out her strands. In order to keep her famous coif looking soft and hydrated, she gave herself a scalp massage with castor oil once a week.
Crawford's most famous beauty ritual happens to be 100% free: After cleansing, the actress would splash her face 25 times with cold water in order to keep her complexion looking firm and refreshed. And that was just one in an arsenal of beauty hacks, which included walking around with her toes pointed inward (which she believed toned the legs) and chewing copious amounts of gum to keep her jaw looking taut.
For proof that the coconut oil craze is warranted, look no further than Mae West: The actress touted the natural multitasker as the secret behind her youthful complexion, which she famously maintained decade after decade.
We could write an entire opus to Monroe's extensive beauty routine, which is pretty much a goldmine of genius hacks and secrets. But one of the most interesting is her makeup artist Whitey Snyder's penchant for using a single product in multiple colors to add dimension—like the actress's eyeliner, for example. Snyder used Elizabeth Arden's Beautiful Color Smoky Eyes Pencil ($19) in four hues: He used a combination of black and brown on Monroe's upper and lower waterlines, extending the colors out into a wing. But his real trick involved drawing a small triangle with a white pencil in the outer corners of the eyes—between the upper and lower wings—to really give her a wide-eyed look. The final touch was a dab of red liner in the inner corners, to make her eyes look whiter.
In order to maintain her iconic auburn mane (which, believe it or not, wasn't her natural color), Hayworth regularly soaked her locks in olive oil.
Unhappy with her god-given lower lip, Leigh would color outside her natural line to make it seem much fuller. It's more foolproof when you're using a bold color, but the key to pulling it off in a more neutral way is choosing a liner that goes on smoothly, matches your natural color seamlessly, and lasts all day. For us, that's Too Faced's Perfect Lips in Perfect Nude.
Dab on just a touch of balm or salve to soften a hard-looking line and make the liner look more natural.
Hepburn notoriously preferred a natural look, forgoing the very made-up look of her day for something far more minimalist. But she also knew that in order to embrace a fresh-looking face, she needed to pay special mind to her skin—which she did by exfoliating with a homemade lemon and sugar scrub. It's a simple but winning formula: The natural acids in lemon help brighten up the skin while sugar gently but effectively sloughs unwanted skin cells.