Why is the smoky eye popular?
January 24, 2008 9:50 PM   Subscribe

Why is the "smoky eye" popular?

The "smoky eye" is currently a popular technique for eye makeup on women right now, supposedly because it gives a sexy, sultry look. I find this baffling because it's not a natural look at all and I'm curious about where this standard for beauty came from.

Why is this look considered sexy (as opposed to some other look)? Who thought (thinks?) this was an attractive look for women? Where did this idea come from? Was it associated with a celebrity or a character in entertainment?

A rational explanation would help this geek girrl.
posted by mausburger to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Well, no "look" is truly natural, so I'm not sure that matters. But my guess is that the smoky eye is really a deliberate, morning-after, slept-in-your-makeup-after-sex look. Mmmmm....sexy.
posted by clh at 9:58 PM on January 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

It makes the eyes look bigger and the whites of the eyes pop without resorting to unnatural colors like blues and greens.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:00 PM on January 24, 2008

Those aren't very good examples.

If I could sum it up in a string words: 70s, NYC, Electroclash, Cocaine, Vaguely Foreign

It kind of has that look that you've been up for 2 days doing lines and not eating and having crazy jet setter sex and you can still put on couture even though you begin to look haggard and your eyes have big circles under them and you kind of teeter around barely aware that you're awake but fuck it I'll do another line as soon as some gets some valium.

It kind of has that look. Very bohemian, very peasant girl.
posted by geoff. at 10:04 PM on January 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

Oh it is one of the looks that you have to be very gaunt to pull off, or at least have a lot of facial definition.
posted by geoff. at 10:06 PM on January 24, 2008

The "smoky eye" look is derivative of the traditionally applied kohl eye make-up used by various cultures around the world. It has been used seemingly for thousands of years to "enhance" the appearance of one's eyes.

This page offers links to a number of articles (many in .pdf form) that serve to elucidate the history of cosmetics.
posted by numinous at 10:07 PM on January 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think it's been around for a while but it was seen more on models and less on everyday people.

The emergence of everyday people doing it may be because bold 80s looks seem to be back in style. The skinny jeans, the brighter colors, the jean skirts, the lace trimmed leggings... my god, we didn't learn our lesson the first time with the leggings? If MC Hammer pants come back in style, I fear for the future of the human race. Anyway, the smoky eye is pretty bold without going all 80s teal eyeliner and Maybelline trio of purple eyeshadows.

Don't get me wrong, natural is beautiful, but sometimes it's fun to mix it up too. The smoky eye, if done right and paired with a natural lip, can look great. I like it a lot.
posted by jerseygirl at 10:28 PM on January 24, 2008

On the contrary, whole industries revolve around predicting and deciding what products and styles will become cool. In the fall of '05 cosmetics manufacturers had a coordinated rollout of "smoky" colors and "smoky eye" kits. The cosmetics companies bought ads in the women's magazines to show their new colors and promoted them to stylists so they appeared in editorial photography, and wham, it's what the hot girls were wearing. And what the hot girls are wearing is what's hot.
posted by nicwolff at 10:45 PM on January 24, 2008

It makes the eyes look large and deep set and draws attention to them.

It's also the opposite of what was most recently popular, the light colored sparkly eye (which was popular because it makes you look young). Fashion goes in cycles as others have said, looking like a teenager was in a couple years ago and looking grown up is in this year. Change drives sales.
posted by cali at 10:51 PM on January 24, 2008

I've always thought that it's the eye's equivalent of bedhead. Like clh said, it looks a little messy, a little smudgy, a little reminiscent of having been up to naughty things that mess and smudge you up.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 11:05 PM on January 24, 2008

Nic, what they're doing is to try to use a variety of means to influence social proof. Sometimes they succeed.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:08 PM on January 24, 2008

I distinctly remember reading once that smoky eyes are popular because, much in the same way red lipstick works, when a woman reaches orgasm the pigmentation around her eyes becomes darker. This was ages ago but I'm pretty sure I remember reading it on the bbc website. Sounds a bit daft but I remember there being research to back it up....
posted by Neonshock at 11:21 PM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm a geek girl who generally doesn't get why certain things are popular (what's with this tunic craze??) but for what it's worth, it seems to work on me (according to my friends and partner, anyway). Like someone upthread mentioned, it does have a connection with kohl/kajol, which is a common beauty product with South Asian women.

For me it has this come-hither, mystery connotation to it. It's almost like the phrase "smoke and mirrors" - what lies behind those eyes is a total mystery. Considering I tend to be very obvious (people can tell what I'm feeling even if I'm trying to hide it), this can act as a very useful mask. Of course, that is the super-psychological explanation: the simple reason is because it looks cool.

As for why it's in fashion? Apparently it's part of the 60s mod style which is back in style (alongside the tunic - which to me is a complete abomination for curvy people). It might also be because Bollywood style is getting into vogue, which brings back the kohl connection.

all this while I thought kajol was just another word for eyeliner. No wonder I can never get one dark enough - I need the real thing!!
posted by divabat at 12:14 AM on January 25, 2008

Nic, what they're doing is to try to use a variety of means to influence social proof. Sometimes they succeed.

Steven, they demonstrably succeeded this time, so trying to explain this fashion fad was hardly "a hopeless endeavor". And fashion marketing experts regularly predict and influence social proof well enough to sustain sizable and reliable profits for their employers, so your belief that "none of it makes any sense" is clearly solipsistic.
posted by nicwolff at 8:04 AM on January 25, 2008

The darkened eyes more closely resemble eyes with dilated pupils. Dilated pupils are an indication of sexual interest (this has been proven in psychology studies I learned in college, decades ago). That's why it's popular. The appeal of that "come hither" look is hardwired into our monkey brains.
posted by Goofyy at 8:09 AM on January 25, 2008

I've read that this style of makeup – the smoky eyes, hectic cheeks and lips – arose from the mystique surrounding women with consumption in the 19th century (cv. Camille). It's an impression of fever and intensity more than literal illness.
posted by zadcat at 8:14 AM on January 25, 2008

It's pretty sad that even after I linked to a New York Times article from August of 2005 in which executives from LancĂ´me, MAC, Bobbi Brown, and frickin' Target explained how they'd be pushing this look with their new product lines, you guys are still shitting in AskMe with the "it makes you look like you want sex" and "it's popular because it's popular" non-answers.

Was looking like you want sex not popular till now? Do you really think that fashion is purely stochastic? Read the article I linked:

Cosmetics companies are introducing makeup for both the classic Hollywood eye, created with a thick application of liquid eyeliner painted along the upper lash line, and the more smoky Pat Benatar style in which eyeliner pencil is smudged along both the upper and lower lashes.

Those companies looked at their research sometime in late '04 or early '05 and decided that women were ready to be sold a new look, and they picked the smoky eye based on a deep understanding of cultural trends and the female zeitgeist. They started work on the products they would market , and reached out to the runway and editorial stylists and then to the editors and reporters in the beauty press, including obvs the NY Times. A year later, the look is all over the magazines and the TV. A year after that, mausburger is asking why the look is so popular.

Smarter and better-paid people than you lot have studied fashion closely and diligently and work very hard to steer it to their home ports. It's one thing to not know the answer to a question; and another to wonder if a question is unanswerable; but it's hella presumptuous to tell someone that their question is categorically unanswerable based on your own ignorance.
posted by nicwolff at 10:06 AM on January 25, 2008 [3 favorites]

Images of women with kohl-lined eyes can be found in Egyptian tombs; this look has been around literally since we were able to produce records of everyday life. So, it's nothing new.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 10:37 AM on January 25, 2008

[a few comments removed -- take this to metatalk if you want to argue about it, or don't answer if you really have no idea]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:58 AM on January 25, 2008

It's one thing to not know the answer to a question; and another to wonder if a question is unanswerable; but it's hella presumptuous to tell someone that their question is categorically unanswerable based on your own ignorance.

In all fairness, while I agree with you, it is not exactly as dry cut as that. Fashion companies hire fashion consultants to work the streets and see what is new and what is cool. They usually present this in a lookbook format with broad generalizations. I have a feeling around 04, 05 it was that words like "bohemian," "70s electroclash," and perhaps even "post-punk." These are mainly brainstorming ideas. They take these images of people on the street, of clothing they purchased, of incongruent items that add to the look and present them to a team of managers. These managers go through committee and decide, especially at big chains, what they want to buy, what they want to pursue and what is mainstream and what is just trend. Usually there's always a few things they miss, but they do a good job of both anticipating broad fashion trends and, in effect, creating the fashion trends.

So to say that they are introducing it as if they are creating a market segment is not entirely true. The smoky Pat Benatar look was in with a certain segment of what the fashion consultants deemed cool, probably at least a year before it shelves. For sure, the companies figured out the best way to market this and created a style of their own which is derivative, but distinct enough to not to be the original.

Of course there is a concerted effort to push out these products in women's magazines and to make sure every 18-35 year old from Indiana to Wyoming knows that the smokey eyes look is in and this is how you do it and you can use these products and here's someone famous or good looking using it. But rarely is the origination from these companies themselves, especially large companies. It is a very random, stochastic process. Sometime in May of 02 some LES party girl found a Pat B album cover and tried to emulate it the best she could. It was a hit at the party and someone who was from LA took it and gives it an even more contemporary twist and suddenly everyone in their West Hollywood party clique is doing it and someone deemed a worthy, youth-oriented person is hired as a fashion consultant and they let L'Oreal know what they see when they are out. A bunch of ideas didn't make it, obviously, but a few end up being really popular. So for every smoky eye product there's at least a half a dozen products that didn't move off the pages of fashion magazines, or even out of board rooms.

But there's at least one style article a week that talks about the next big trend in the NYT, I bet I could find a dozen others that didn't quite take off, but were probably profitable nonetheless. I worked for for a boutique that sold their own brand and others through their storefronts. It is not entirely random, and you could get a good feel as to what would be popular and what was not, certainly it was not throwing darts against a board and hoping ones stick, but in my experience there would be relatively few items that were always hot, and no one could tell what those would beforehand.

So I hope I provided a little more nuanced view of this, and made it sound coherent. It helps not to think of stochastic processes as completely random but to having different degrees of randomness. Just because fashion is a stochastic process does not mean that fashion companies can sit back and say, "We can't predict it so we'll just let the chips lie where they are." Obviously the research and development on finding new products pays off, as evidenced by the existence of some long-lived brands, but this is not a science, this is fashion. I apologize if I misunderstood your point.
posted by geoff. at 6:57 PM on January 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

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