Break out your banana clip, because ’80s beauty signatures are back—and they look better than ever. So what does one pair with the power shoulders spotted on the runways at Balenciaga, Saint Laurent, Rodarte, and Isabel Marant? An equally bold set of hair and makeup looks, of course.
We’re not talking mall bangs shellacked with Aqua Net, or palm tree–like ponytails capped off with scrunchies (sorry not sorry, Paula Abdul), but rather bright blush draped across cheekbones, sleek side ponytails, full-throttle eye shadow, and nearly neon nail colors. “The ’80s got a bad rap, and I don’t know why,” says hairstylist Guido, who rocked an “asymmetric, over-the eye” cut while frequenting hot spots like Taboo and The Wag Club (both after-hours shrines to over-the-top dress and debauchery). “Obviously, things get lampooned, [like] the shoulder pads and the big hair, but it was a decade of different sub-cults that had a lot of great style, especially in England.” The mane master is referring to bands like the Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen, the Smiths, and Japan, as well as the New Romantics (think Duran Duran and Boy George of Culture Club) who ruled the underground club scene in London. “When I look back on it, I’m so glad I lived in that period because it’s such a reference for stuff I do now—it’s always a great source of nostalgia,” Guido adds. And judging by the undeniable ’80s spirit seen backstage at fashion week for the past few seasons, he’s not the only pro inspired by the era of excess.
“It was a time of extremes in fashion, makeup, and music…a time of major creativity,” makeup artist Pat McGrath says of the decade, which she nodded to at Louis Vuitton’s spring 2017 show with “colorful eye makeup pulled out toward the temples, in shades of purple, blue, and green.” With a shape borrowed from Carole Bouquet (the Bond girl from the 1981 box office hit For Your Eyes Only) and hues reminiscent of “’80s pop icons and club-kid culture,” McGrath brought the look into the twenty-first century “by pairing bold eyes with a nude mouth and fresh skin.” In a similar vein, Kabuki—the face painter behind the “airbrushed butterfly eyes” at Jeremy Scott’s spring show—took look-at-me lids to the next level with the addition of colored mascara. “I’m old enough to remember the ’80s, and that was the first time I ever even heard of colored mascara,” he laughed as he coated the models’ lashes with shades of cobalt, burnt orange, or green backstage. Credit-card blush was purposely skipped in favor of a more subtle contour cream, and pastel shadows were tempered with basic brown, black, or bluish-black liner buffed into the roots of the lashes. “It’s an ’80s eye, but it’s done in a pretty way,” he noted.
Makeup artist Lynsey Alexander echoed McGrath’s fresh-skin sentiments at Kenzo this season, where she applied a vivid cherry cream using makeup artist Way Bandy’s draping technique, creating an effect reminiscent of an Antonio Lopez illustration. “If you use a heavy base with this [blush], it looks retro,” she warned. In other words, skip full-coverage foundation, along with pink under-eye concealer and rose-colored powder—two products McGrath says she’d happily leave behind in the ’80s. Instead, choose a sheer formula that allows skin to shine through, like M.A.C. Studio Waterweight SPF 30 Foundation, the featherweight gel-serum used backstage at Kenzo. Alexander’s other piece of advice for draping in 2017: Use two brushes—one to apply the color and another to blend. “You have to build it up in layers,” she explained of wrapping pigment in a backwards C-shape along the orbital bone. “If you use the same brush, you add more and more product, [the shape] gets bigger and bigger, and you lose the finesse.”
If you want to use a powder over a cream, as makeup artist Tom Pecheux did at Chanel, buff the sides of your face with translucent powder first to keep color from streaking or clinging to patches. Gone overboard? Recover by blending blush with a cotton pad or puff. That, or add a very thin veil of foundation over it. “The pigment will melt into the foundation and look more natural,” says Pecheux, who transitioned from pastry chef to top makeup artist by day during the ’80s, and danced his nights away at Le Palace (the Studio 54 of Paris) in his old chef jacket that he had dyed and customized with shoulder pads. Aside from it looking like an incredible “’80s fantasy,” the real reason so many pros (like those at Adam Selman, Rosie Assoulin, Emporio Armani, and Fenty x Puma) placed blush a few inches higher this season is simple, according to Pecheux: “It lifts the face—it’s like the difference between a regular bra and a push-up.” And who doesn’t want that?
Cheeks weren’t the only bright spot on the catwalk—nails saw some awesome ’80s action, too. Unlike their makeup-artist counterparts, the polish pros seemed to abide by a more-is-more mantra at shows like Kenzo, Balenciaga, Ryan Lo, and Manish Arora, where scintillating sparkle and talon-like tips ruled. Nail artist Naomi Yasuda burnished models’ fingers and toes with Inglot Cosmetics’ finely milled body glitter before bedazzling nail beds with rainbow-colored gems at Kenzo, while backstage at Balenciaga, Mei Kawajiri secured Preciosa crystals over flashy fuchsia, electric coral, lipstick red, and vivid violet lacquer from Deborah Lippmann.
“The difficult thing is to not take the return of a style literally, but to give it a little twist, and that is what makes it modern.” — Marian Newman
The fashion industry’s favorite manicurist, Marian Newman, who opened her first nail salon in the ’80s, says she even breaks out her airbrush machine (a contraption that was once critical to achieving Florence Griffith-Joyner–level designs) on occasion. “The difficult thing is to not take the return of a style literally, but to give it a little twist, and that is what makes it modern,” explains Newman. “Not long ago, longer nails were often considered tacky, but now the wheel has revolved a bit and they’re considered ‘cool’ again.” The key to pulling off loud color, long nails, loads of bling, or all three at once (as seen at Balenciaga)? Make sure your shape is “perfectly balanced,” says Newman. “As a general rule, the longest your free edge should be is one-third of the total nail.” (Lest we forget, Griffith Joyner was denied a spot on the 200-meter relay team in the 1984 Olympics because her signature tips were considered too long to pass the baton.) For an all-in-one option, don’t discount press-ons, as they’ve evolved since the “thick, one-size-fits-all” days, says Kawajiri. She swears by artificial nails from Pattie Yankee and Kiss for shoots and shows.
Alongside pumped-up shoulders and voluminous silhouettes, ’80s hair has even managed to make its way onto the scene again. From crimps at Marc Jacobs’ Resort show, to spiral perms at Topshop Unique, styles once labeled glaring mistakes suddenly felt fresh and modern. “Hair was huge, not just in size, but in its importance in the ’80s,” says Guido. “It was a time when people would show their allegiance to a cult, gang, or band by wearing their hair in a certain way.” While women aren’t exactly paying homage to A Flock of Seagulls anymore, the products used to achieve those looks—hair spray, gel, and mousse—are still going strong. And where there was once only a handful of formulas to choose from, like Boots’s Country Born setting gel (a bright green goop with a “pine-ish” scent, notes Guido) or L. A. Looks’s Technicolor concoctions, there are now thousands of variations designed for different hair types and levels of hold. “Products are more specific, lighter, more powerful, easier to use, and there are so many,” says Sam McKnight.
Lend a hint of ’80s flair by flipping hair to one side and raking mousse through the part with a wide-tooth comb, or create the illusion of an asymmetrical cut (seen at Isabel Marant’s Fall 2016 show) by swooping strands across your forehead and pinning them behind your ear. Boost roots with gel and twist hair into a boyish quiff before gathering your length into a low pony (a technique employed at Sacai for spring), or swap your scrunchie for a colorful elastic band complete with double-C charms (an accessory made at the “last minute” by McKnight for Chanel).
But no matter which ’80s beauty trend you adopt—be it jewel-toned shadow or a side pony—the question is: Why do these looks that were once deemed wrong feel so right? Are young designers (such as Demna Gvasalia, Alexander Wang, and Shayne Oliver) rocking the boat and causing yet another “youthquake” in fashion, as John Galliano and Jean Paul Gaultier did in the ’80s? Have no-makeup makeup and untouched hair finally run their course? Are beauty obsessives braver, as McGrath notes, in that they’re “no longer afraid to wear a black lip to the office or blue eye shadow on a date?” Or do girls simply, as Cyndi Lauper crooned in 1983, just wanna have fun? There isn’t a clear-cut reason for the recent influx of ’80s influences, but one thing is for certain: Today’s women have a lot to learn from the decade of decadence. And we’re not just talking about hair and makeup. “The digital era of fashion didn’t really begin until well into the ’90s, so we were all consumed by the world of glossy magazines, and you had to seek out art, film, and places where eclectic characters socialized,” explains McGrath. “Cell phones, computers, and social media didn’t exist, so you didn’t have this oversaturation of imagery.” In short: People ventured out to see, experience, and converse IRL. “You lived for the moment,” says Guido.
In a world where every millisecond of life is recorded (and often choreographed) for the Internet, it becomes increasingly harder to make a misstep that isn’t captured for the rest of time. “I miss the fun of the ’80s—it was a very experimental time,” says hairstylist Eugene Souleiman. “I think now we can be a little formulaic. We’re afraid of making mistakes, whereas in the ’80s women wanted to make mistakes because they thought they were doing something new.” Sure, they didn’t always nail it in the ’80s (fanny packs and feathered bangs exist, after all), but men and women seemed to have a really good time taking risks. And there’s no denying the timeless appeal of a beauty adventure. Perhaps it’s time we look up from our screens and start livin’, as Bon Jovi sang in 1986, on a prayer—maybe even while wearing some bright blush or blue mascara.