To go with the blue hair?
July 17, 2008 11:01 AM   Subscribe

Why is blue eyeshadow so common?

Blue eyeshadow seems to be, by far, the most common non-skintone eyeshadow. Why blue? All searching provides are judgement calls on whether it is still fashionable to wear it.

Is there some apocryphal origin, at least? Most standard makeup seems to be in shades that are already natural -- even clown-red lipstick. But natural blue eyelids I haven't seen.

Please help me scratch this itch.
posted by FuManchu to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Because blue is a complementary colour to caucasian skin tone, and thus enhances the "shadow" effect?
posted by rocket88 at 11:04 AM on July 17, 2008

I assumed it was because the contrast helped make brown eyes pop out more.... ?
posted by gwenlister at 11:07 AM on July 17, 2008

Seconding gwenlister - by lightly using blue or green eyeshadow, my hazel eyes can pop out strongly as blue or green, respectively.
posted by mitzyjalapeno at 11:12 AM on July 17, 2008

Blue eyeshadow is a trend that got its start in the Victorian period when a bluish tinge to the eyelids was considered beautiful (& the sign of a weak & innocent heart).
posted by WaterSprite at 11:13 AM on July 17, 2008

Also, at least this summer, if you're seeing a lot of blues and teals, it's because they're "in" due to a period of retro 80s nostalgia. Generally, I'd agree that blue eyeshadow got invented in the first place because it shows up on caucasian skin and flatters brown eyes (which most white people have) better than other non brown/grey/taupe colors. My eyes are green, so they actually pop more when I wear purple or violet shadow.
posted by mostlymartha at 11:27 AM on July 17, 2008

It may look more "natural" than other colors because outdoor shadows are blue. This is because the direct sunlight is eclipsed, but the scattered, high frequency sunlight (sky) is not. Human eyes/brains tend to correct, but cameras see it.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:28 AM on July 17, 2008

The first three answers are correct in as far as it does look nice, but that's a value judgement, not a reason.

But as WaterSprite says, it goes back to Victorian faux-translucency. Pasty-white was considered beautiful, the palest skin was skin through which you could see veins.
posted by rokusan at 11:29 AM on July 17, 2008

0) To make Paula Begoun cry?

1) Blue is probably the most common favourite colour out there, so it makes sense that given the option of brown, plum, grey, green and blue eyeshadow (for the most part), a lot of women choose blue unless they're very fashionable or if blue is very unfashionable.

2) Women often match their eyeshadow colour to their eyes or their clothing, even though, as others have mentioned, complementary colours may be a better choice to emphasize eye colour. Many women have blue eyes, many more wear blue clothing.

3) There's also fashion inertia. Eyeshadow colours go in and out of fashion. Women who were in their teens and twenties in the late 60s and early 70s when pastel eyeshadow was popular are reasonably likely to hang on to that colour along with their Farrah Fawcett hairstyle, even if they aren't wearing blue or have blue eyes.

4) When in doubt, blame the Egyptians (and the Cleopatra film with Liz Taylor in the 60s). They crushed lapis lazuli to make eyeshadow, so that shade of blue has been associated with opulence ever since.
posted by maudlin at 11:35 AM on July 17, 2008

I've often asked myself the same question -- except it's "Why do so many women wear blue eyeshadow, even when it looks terrible on them?"

The Victorian thing makes a lot of sense. But here's my brilliant theory about the modern day: we (you and I, and maybe lots of people) notice blue make-up. It's often done badly, and thus calls attention to itself. And even when it's expertly applied on a person of the right coloring, its much more noticeable than neutrals or any subtle pallette. I submit that you and I believe blue shadow is extra-popular just because we pick it out more easily. (Short answer: confirmation bias.)

I also think that, since blue is more noticeable, women will see it all over the place on other women and then use it themselves.
posted by wryly at 11:48 AM on July 17, 2008

There's a story, not sure of its authenticity, regarding why so many Russian women wear blue eye shadow. Something about it was the only color cheap enough to make en masse in the Soviet Union at the time or it was the only color made available by the govt. In any event, any time I see a woman with blue eye shadow, I lay my friends 10 to 1 odds she's russian.
posted by spicynuts at 12:00 PM on July 17, 2008

When seen from far away it can make a girl look like she has blue eyes, and it seems like blue eyes are considered attractive.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:02 PM on July 17, 2008

I think I'll be satisfied with the lapis lazuli link. That along with this page have convinced me that a crazy combination of Liz Taylor and 60s fashion brought it back. Darn them

I'm a bit curious about the Victorian source, though. The same site says that there was minimal use of facial makeup, apart from the vein highlighting.

Wryly, I totally agree that I notice it a lot because it's done poorly, but why aren't other colors applied equally poorly? That combined with the fact it's discussed on fashion sites as a trend led me to believe there was something peculiar about it.
posted by FuManchu at 12:46 PM on July 17, 2008

Aside - the current trend is to wear a very vibrant blue (aqua usually) as a liner. That might appear as 'applied poorly' but it's supposed to be blueblueblue, line-like and generally unnatural. In fact, I'd argue that it's near impossible to apply blue in a subtle way (i.e. not poorly) because it's so unnatural.

And I'll admit that I love, and have sported, this very fake look.

Also, when I first started wearing make-up, blue as an all-over lid cover was on it's way out. Only recently has makeup branched back out into vibrant colours again, as opposed to browns, greys, maybe mauve, but it's mostly as a eyeliner or for a costumey effect. So, the 1980s blue eye shadow isn't really the same as the current blue eye shadow.

Therefore, to answer your question why is blue eye shadow so common [now]? Fashion [because some of us are sick of looking natural].
posted by hydrobatidae at 1:06 PM on July 17, 2008

hydrobatidae, but then why isn't there more hot pink and neon orange eyeshadow? My question isn't the style, but the choice of color. And everything above points to it just being habit.
posted by FuManchu at 1:36 PM on July 17, 2008

why isn't there more hot pink and neon orange eyeshadow?

Blue just looks better on white people. Orange on white skin is ugh. Pink doesn't really contrast or "pop" very much against very white skin.

That doesn't hold true for other skin tones, and I see orange and pink on a lot of women with olive skin or darker, here in NYC.
posted by sondrialiac at 2:15 PM on July 17, 2008

Hot pink and neon? I would guess that the pigment is expensive. It's REALLY hard to find decennt products in those colours...
I know if we're talking about art pigment this is the case... The better the quality of pigment required the more rare and expensive the colour becomes.

If the blue pigment is cheap and plentiful - there's your answer for sure :)

And just quietly blue does not look better on white people. Blue looks awesome on.. some people? Pinks and browns are pretty safe and broad. Everybody will have colours that when you hit that certain hue/tone/shade just work like magic!! Most pinks don't themselves 'pop' but there's a few that make me pop. (Hair, eyes, complexion ect.) I have fairly translucent skin, blue (blue/grey) eyes and blue is a real tricky one. But with dark hair (and some fake tan) and it gets a whole lot easier.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 6:16 PM on July 17, 2008

Following up on WaterSprite: In general a style of makeup tends to begin as a way of heightening or exaggerating a naturally-occuring feature that is perceived as attractive. For example, the original purpose of face powder was to make women's skin look unblemished and therefore more aristocratic.

The fair and delicate "porcelain" complexion (highly prized in the 19th century) will show a slight bluish cast where the skin is thinnest, e.g., the eyelids. And so blue eyeshadow used very sparingly would create the desired "delicate" effect.

An alternative theory is that a blue eyeshadow (again, used sparingly) will tend to make blue or grey eyes look brighter, suggesting sexual arousal.
posted by La Cieca at 11:37 AM on July 18, 2008

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