If you’re like me (constantly hungry, bespectacled, obsessed with dogs), your formative makeup years were not the blazingly bright 1980s or the “various shades of morose brown” early 1990s but the shiny, proto-futuristic, low-waisted years of the early 2000s. It was a time where the term “social media” would have been reserved for a single-panel comic depicting a bunch of personified TV stations making quips and The Simpsons were obliterating any lingering hopes of ever being good again. It was in 2000, in the Bloomingdale’s in Manhattan, when my mum bought me my first nice makeup: A Hard Candy eye shadow stick in a shimmery light blue, glitter eyeliner pencil in a slightly darker shimmery blue, and a bottle of nail polish in Frigid (if you’re wondering, it had a blue star ring. NOTE: For those of you who might be slightly younger, this was back in the day when Hard Candy was considered a mid-range brand on par with Urban Decay and other “hip” up-and-coming makeup lines. I don’t know exactly what happened in the middle, but now they are sold at Wal-Mart, so clearly something happened). If you want a soundtrack for this article, just put on Sonique’s “Feels So Good” on repeat. (Speaking of that video, remember when athleisure meant baggy clothes made of fleece? We should really just bring back fleece vests, guys.) So get out your Victoria’s Secret body sprays, it’s time to venture back to a world in which Britney and Christina were still sweating and grinding to prove who was the best, Urban Decay packaging looked like either manhole covers or subway tokens, and hair mascara was the height of crusty, sparkly teenage glam.
(HERE COMES THE ASTERISK: From punk to emo to Lolita chavs to ganguro to rockabilly to cybergoths, there were a lot of subcultures happening in the 2000s. In this column I will be primarily focusing on mass-market popular Western trends. Due to globalization there was a lot of makeup trend homogeneity across countries in the 2000s, which of course is still true today.)
The early 2000s (and — while I will keep referring to the 2000s — the late 1990s, from 1998 onwards, blend into these trends as well) were a cacophony of glitter, light-coloured metallic eye shadows, and Bonne Bell. The approach of the new millennium ushered in a sort of weird futurism in makeup and clothing (i.e., lots of Y2k silver; non-Western influences — especially South and East Asian — worked into everything; the mid-2000s 1980s pseudo-revival; and FUTURE COWBOY). Unless you are under the age of 16, you will have strong memories of the early 2000s. Maybe you were an emo kid wearing red lipstick as eye shadow and weeping Great Lash-streaked tears to Dashboard Confessional (“Well as for me I wish that I was anywhere with anyone making out“). Maybe you were a prep and you wore three pastel Abercrombie & Fitch polo shirts and a low-waisted denim miniskirt. (Shit, remember when light-wash denim was everywhere and everything was about one inch away from ending up on a viral video titled “FAIL ARMY: INDECENT EXPOSURE”? If there is a fashion god, we shall never return to that horrible time, because I cannot be bothered to wax that much of my body.)
I feel like for every decade I just stand here and shriek one word (LIPSTICK! BLUSH! ARSENIC!), and the 2000s (especially pre-2004) can be summed up by yelling GLITTER! and chucking a handful of it at someone. If you’re the kind of person who has a Pinterest board full of disco balls and piles of sparkles, then you might want to step in a time machine and go back to an era when you didn’t need contouring because you had copious amount of glitter or crystals everywhere (THROWBACK TIME: Speaking of crystals, remember when Traci Bingham wore THIS to the 2001 Grammy Awards? I’m no prude, but I’m still not convinced that $48 of crystals from Michael’s counts as a top). From 1998 to around 2003-2004, body and hair glitter was one of the main trends — from lipstick to eyeshadow to moisturizer, glitter was in basically everything. This can be partially chalked up to the Y2K-inspired futurism that influenced fashion in the late ’90s and early 2000s, a time when the world felt open, sparkly, and many thought a glittering global future lay before us.
If faces at the time were defined by GLITTER!, lips were defined by GLOSS! (and later STAINS!). MAC Lipglass was the most popular lip goop of the time, a product that looked amazing on Beyoncé (back in the Destiny’s Child days) and was a magnet for bits of hair for everyone else on the planet who wore it, as we all know that Bey has some sort of force field installed around her face so that her makeup never smears.
Shimmery and metallic glosses were also popular, as once you have glitter on your face and on your eyes, you might as well put it on your mouth. Urban Decay had Lip Gunk, L’Oreal had Glam Shine, Stila had Lip Glaze, and many other brands had pigmented glosses filled with sparkles and shimmer. While gloss continued onwards through the 2000s, lipsticks stayed more natural and sheer until the mid-2000s, when vintage-inspired reds came back and ushered in several years of red and berry pouts (and if you think that liquid lipsticks have only become hot in the last few years, the late ’90s and early 2000s would like to have a word with you).
For eye shadow, more was more in the early 2000s, and the “more” meant more shimmer, more silver, and more of it smeared straight up towards the eyebrow. Eye looks tended to trend towards one colour on both the lid and the brow bone, usually in lighter, metallic shades. Cream products were also quite popular at the time, with a number of brands putting out cream-based eye products (also in shimmer shades. Seriously, it’s like a decade of people being terrified that something, somewhere will be matte). Aside from the metallic shades, smoky eyes became popular around 2003, around the time Christina Aguilera dyed her hair black and wore what appears to be the backside of a flamingo as a dress (popular choice: Benefit’s BADgal liner drawn around the eyes). While liner tended to end up all around the eyes, shadow remained mostly on the upper lid during this time period. Meanwhile, the late-2000s love of lash extensions and fake lashes inspired a world of blog posts titled “I GLUED MY EYELIDS SHUT OMFG.”
If you were going for eyeliner, you had three options: None (because you need plenty of room for your shimmery shadow, DUH), a “pop of colour” across either the top lash line or bottom lash line (but not both, because DUH), or the Avril Lavigne (where you took a stubby worn-down Benefit Bad Gal pencil and rimmed your entire eye until you appeared to be channelling a Bollywood starlet who has spent the last eight hours crying). White eyeliner also made a weird appearance in the late ’90s/early 2000s, which is just giving me a lot of unsettling feelings right now. By the mid-2000s, 1940s/’50s-inspired looks were in full swing, meaning the dramatic wing (which is INCORRECT) was back, returning eyeliner to a world of liquid liner and black on black on black, but hey, we had some fun in the early 2000s, right?
Finally, as for actual skin, the early 2000s can be summed up by screaming FAKE TAN! while rubbing a bunch of Jergens Natural Glow directly in your eyes. While eye and lip makeup was full of chunks of glitter, foundation at the time was considerably more natural. With Bare Essentials appearing on the market in 2002, mineral makeups became quite popular as well, pushing liquid-based foundations to the side for a brief period of time. But really, for paler people, it was all about the fake tan until the late 2000s. Tanning creams and spray tans were the most popular way of achieving the look without all the UV damage, meaning there was a span of about 5 to 8 years where many celebrities were just slightly too orange.
Outside of the actual trends, this was an incredibly interesting time for the makeup community. It was the advent of serious blogging, with people widely sharing their reviews, looks, and thoughts on makeup. We were still some years away from Instagram models/”influencers” and MUAs who don’t actually do makeup on anyone other than themselves, but people were starting to take to the internet to discuss makeup (such as on Makeup Alley, which started in 1999). As for stores, Sephora’s influence was growing stronger and stronger, helped along by the purchase of the chain by Louis Vitton Moet Hennesey — the Voltron of expensive brands — in 1997. By 1999, they had expanded into the US, Italy, Portugual, Spain, and Poland (adding Romania and Greece in 2000 and Canada in 2004), adding their US online store in 1999, and their Beauty Insider Program in 2003. Again, this article is focusing more on Western trends, but the Sephora model of cosmetic sales (high-end and mid-range makeup, lenient return policies, beauty bars, etc.) has definitely influenced the way that many stores approach makeup sales, which was previously the domain of department stores (high end) and drugstores (low end). Stores such as Ulta, Shoppers Drug Mart, Boots, and other similar stores have spent the last decade or so stepping up their makeup game to offer a wider range of products, more luxury options, and programs and stand-alone stores dedicated to makeup and beauty products.
Packaging also changed a lot around this time. Many brands (Wet’n’Wild, Jordache, e.l.f., etc.) on the low end of the cosmetic counter went with the clear plastic lids at the time, which were obviously designed to slide off in your purse, leaving everything covered in a thick layer of shiny goo. Packaging — even for drugstore brands — was starting to improve, as now brands referred to as “mid-range” (Urban Decay, Too Faced, Stila, CARGO, and — at the time — Hard Candy) were taking over market shares from previously unchallenged drugstore brands (CoverGirl, L’Oreal, Maybelline, etc.). Brands were also taking more risks with packaging, with Stila putting out their ubiquitous Lip Glazes in 2000 (originally created for Cameron Diaz when she was shooting Charlie’s Angels), a number of brands putting out those brushes with the squeezy bits on the end that pumped powder into them (lies, they pumped powder frickin’ everywhere), Bonne Bell creating their lava lamp-esque Lip Rush glosses, and — in 2009 — Urban Decay’s Pocket Rocket lip glosses that came with pheromone-infused lids with lenticular images of dudes in their underwear on them. There were also a lot of makeup products designed to be edible, such as Urban Decay’s Flavoured Body Powders (because the only thing better than body glitter is body glitter you can lick off your arm while bored in class) and all the stuff from Jessica Simpson’s short-lived Dessert Beauty (because the only thing better than edible body glitter is edible body glitter that makes you want to hum “With You”). While many cosmetic products are still scented today, the 2000s was the height for cosmetics that smelled like vanilla, chocolate, cotton candy, and plasticized strawberries.
The main shift from the 2000s to the 2010s is that the 2010s have so far been defined more by the idea of luxury in a way that connotes expensive, poreless refinement, versus the 2000s focus on luxury that comes from spending a day at the spa with cucumber slices over your eyes and then going clubbing at some place called Blaze or Haus or Circa.
This is my last column for The Toast, so RIP The Brush Off! Thanks to everyone who has read my insane yelling (LIPSTICK!) over the last few months; it’s been a hoot (hopefully this series will find new life somewhere else — I am planning to do audio versions in the next few weeks). If you want to read more of my stuff, you can check out my Twitter, Instagram, or website. And now, as my way of saying goodbye, please enjoy all these great early 2000s makeup commercials. Pigment to pigment, dust to dust.