The Complete History of False Eyelashes

As reported in Marie Claire and The NY Times, it’s said that false eyelashes were invented in 1916 by American film director David W. Griffith to create a fluttering lash effect for silent film actresses. However, false eyelashes were around for a while before this. In 1911, Canadian Anna Taylor received a patent for the artificial eyelash — back then, a crescent of fabric implanted with tiny hairs —  to “improve the personal appearance of the wearer, without adding discomfort.”

Before Anna Taylor, German Karl Nessler is said to have manufactured false lashes in the first part of the 20thc as a “guard against the glare of electric lights,” marketing them with “chorus girls who bat their eyes at customers.” There are further reports from 1899 of “eyelash transplants” — a process involving a fine needle (that we are very glad is out of fashion). 

“An ordinary fine needle is threaded with a long hair, generally taken from the head of the person to be operated upon. The lower border of the eyelid is then thoroughly cleaned, and in order that the process may be as painless as possible rubbed with a solution of cocaine. The operator then by a few skilful touches runs his needle through the extreme edges of the eyelid between the epidermis and the lower border of the cartilage of the tragus. The needle passes in and out along the edge of the lid leaving its hair thread in loops of carefully graduated length.” IRRESISTIBLE EYES MAY BE HAD BY TRANSPLANTING THE HAIR, The Dundee Courier, 6 Jul 1899. 

It was David W. Griffith’s aforementioned film (Intolerance), however, that popularised the false lash. Reportedly, Griffith wanted Owen’s eyelashes to be “supernatural” and practically “brushing her cheeks,” so he ordered the film’s wigmaker to glue lashes made of human hair onto Owen’s own eyelids using spirit gum. Although this left Owen’s eyes swollen, it did kickstart the trend and, by 1930, false eyelashes were everywhere (and haven’t really left since). 

1940s-50s

Vogue began advertising false eyelashes in the 1930s, but it was the 1940s and 50s when falsies really took off. Hollywood starlets in the 1940s and ’50s often sported a false eyelash, with big names like Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth known to wear them in their photo shoots. 

This was also the decade when synthetic eyelashes (made from plastic) were introduced, which resulted in lower prices and higher sales. 

1960s 

One word: Twiggy! In the 60s, model Twiggy’s signature look included larger than life “spiked” lashes, with thick (and often painted on) bottom lashes. Inspired by the model, women would pile on 2 or 3 pairs of eyelashes layered on top of each other to get the thickest looking lashes possible.

 By the 70s, American sales of false eyelashes were at 20,000,000 pairs a year!

1990s

After a short hiatus in the late 70s and 80s, where women opted for a much more “natural” makeup look without falsies, lashes were back in the 1990s. According to Business Insider, “for women like Anna Nicole Smith, Pamela Anderson and model Cindy Crawford, eyelashes were an easy way to achieve a sort of retro/bombshell 1950s glamour.” 

Between the 90s and 2000s, semi-permanent lash extensions were also born, offering people a natural (but enhanced) lash. 

2000s – Present

Welcome to the mainstream! If lashes were popular before, they certainly are now. False eyelashes are part of many people’s everyday makeup routine and are sold everywhere — not just in makeup stores. 

With more lashes, comes more types and styles. Silk, synthetic, mink and faux mink lashes are available, with the latter a popular choice for those trying to be more sustainable. Eyelash application has never been easier either! From magnetic lashes to ergonomic applicators and professional eyelash adhesive, you can achieve your dream lash look with ease. 

While natural and classic long lashes are still in, we can expect to see bigger and bolder lashes than before as we move towards the latter half of 2022. Think bright colours, 3D embellishments and wet look lashes that re-define what we understand to be a lash. 

Amit Kumar

Amit Kumar is a Digital Marketing Strategist in a leading organisation. A creative marketing strategist with over 8 years of experience developing digital marketing strategies and guiding business development