Drawing on black eyeliner has been a makeup rite of passage for people since the dawn of time. Dating back to ancient Egypt, the likes of Cleopatra and Queen Nefertiti reached for kohl for not only aesthetics but also believe it could prevent and treat eye infections. In India, kajal has been smeared on in hopes of warding off the evil eye for centuries.
The early 20th century marked black eyeliner’s rise to popularity in America as silent film stars, like Theda Bara and Rudolph Valentino defined their eyes with it. We saw its resurgence in the ‘70s and ’80s as the sootiness rimming the lids of musicians of the likes of Prince, Mick Jagger, and David Bowie. Black eyeliner later took a pop-punk turn in the early 2000s with Avril Lavigne, Billie Joe Armstrong, and Pete Wentz making thick rings of charcoal their signature stage looks.
Back then, I was in high school and took major cues from them. My lower lash lines were never not coated in smoked-out black liner. The harsh-yet-timeless look captured my teenage angst and hatred of my hometown perfectly. As soon as I got to college, though, I preferred sharp wings as the cleaner, sleeker look came into trend once again. (History really is an endless loop.)
But then black eyeliner sort of faded into the background, becoming a supporting character in our makeup bags. Glowing skin and bold lipstick became more popular staples well into the 2010s with the rise of Glossier and Instagram. Then, colorful liners took the helm.
The Unexpected Black Eyeliner Revival
Now, in 2021, a year into the pandemic, black eyeliner is back and took over New York Fashion Week. More collections featured the beauty product than not. Victoria Beckham kicked things off with the most subtle take. Makeup artist Lucia Pieroni buffed out the new Victoria Beckham Beauty Satin Kajal Liner in Ash for a look that could pass as a glam version of makeup you forgot to wash off.