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11 Plucky Moments in the History of Eyebrow Grooming

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They may not have been able to articulate it, but people have been trying to get their eyebrows on fleek for thousands of years.

1. Multipurpose beauty products

Guillaume Blanchard, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

In ancient Egypt, both men and women donned makeup as a means of preventing disease and warding off supernatural evil. Egyptians powdered a lead-based mixture to darken their brows. The only thing that could wipe these well-manicured arches from their owners’ faces was a feline death in the family—when a cat passed, every member of the household would shave them clean off.

2. The trendy unibrow

While ancient Greeks didn’t have a similar proclivity toward makeup, they made an exception for eyebrows. Married women maintained a natural face, but single ladies powdered their brows to make them black or form full-blown unibrows—and the Romans would follow suit. When powder wasn’t enough, they wore false brows made of goat’s hair and affixed them with tree resin!

3. Clearing the canvas

During Japan’s Heian period from the 8th century to the 12th century CE, noblewomen ushered in a completely new method of fashioning brows: By removing them completely and redrawing them higher on the forehead with powdered ink called haizumi.

4. No hair, don’t care

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In the Middle Ages up to the Elizabethan era, women favored a face with as little hair as possible, with some ladies even shaving their natural hairline back to increase forehead size. The style grew out of necessity after damaging hair dyes—strawberry blonde was popular as it mimicked Queen Elizabeth—and lead-based makeup caused skin and hair damage with extended use.

5. Maybe it’s Mabel

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Over the next few centuries, fuller eyebrows regained popularity, and makeup evolved with these shifting styles. Then, in 1915, 19-year-old Tom Lyle Williams found inspiration from his sister, Mabel. When Mabel accidentally singed her eyebrows in a kitchen accident, she repaired her appearance by mixing Vaseline and coal dust into a clever product that made her brows and lashes fuller and darker. Williams began marketing a similar concoction under her name, Maybelline.

6. A stark contrast

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In the 1920s, eyebrows were thin and straight (think Clara Bow) in an attempt to evoke a melancholy or thoughtful disposition. Some historians say this look allowed for more expression on camera. The 1930s and '40s then ushered in arches made famous by Joan Crawford and Veronica Lake—though brows were still skinny and dark. Marlene Dietrich took things to the next level by completely getting rid of her brows and redrawing a line above her natural eyebrows. Maybe women decided they preferred to look surprised?

7. The unibrow makes a mini comeback

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It should be noted that even while these minimalist styles were all the rage, Frida Kahlo was rocking her signature unibrow. Men were also toying with brows for dramatic effect: Groucho Marx employed black grease pencil to embellish his hardworking forehead caterpillars.

8. A fuller picture

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When the 1950s rolled around, Hollywood began paving the way for the return of the full, arched brow. Stars like Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall, and Audrey Hepburn—who deviated from the crowd with her straight-styled brows—sought a softer look with prominent, penciled-in shapes.

9. Total agency

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Everyone was doing their own thing in the '60s, and eyebrow styles were no exception. Sophia Loren's natural eyebrow shape made her look sad, so she shaved her brows and redid them in highly detailed pencil strokes for a (sort of) realistic and highly curated look. Twiggy’s eyebrows allowed her gloriously individualized eyelashes to really pop, while fellow it-girl Edie Sedgwick went bold with thick, dark brows.

10. Let it grow, let it grow

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In the 1980s, the natural look of the '70s-style eyebrows segued into bushy and “unkempt” styles, best exemplified by fresh faces Brooke Shields, Cindy Crawford and Madonna. The Material Girl’s makeup artist at the time, actress Debi Mazar, told Allure in 2012, "I was forever trying to get her to pluck those eyebrows. She would never go for it—it was her Latin heritage and she wanted to keep them. It wasn't until François Nars came in and convinced her to pluck them at a Steven Meisel shoot that she agreed to do it."

11. The minimalist revolt

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Fashion is cyclical, so it only makes sense that by the '90s, the era of the big brow was over as super-tweezed ones became the look to have. Looking back, the pencil-thin, color-mismatched lines (a lot of brunettes were going blonde) of Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Pamela Anderson seem a little unfortunate, but that’s hindsight for you. Today, the au natural look of yore (you can pick which yore you’re invoking) is back, and women are even coughing over major dough for hair implants in the wake of over-plucking. There’s always goat hair, ladies.

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P.G. Wodehouse's Exile from England
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You don’t get more British than Jeeves and Wooster. The P.G. Wodehouse characters are practically synonymous with elevenses and Pimm’s. But in 1947, their creator left England for the U.S. and never looked back.

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, better known as P.G., was living in northern France and working on his latest Jeeves and Wooster novel, Joy in the Morning, when the Nazis came knocking. They occupied his estate for a period of time before shipping him off to an internment camp in Germany, which he later said he found pretty pleasant:

“Everybody seems to think a German internment camp must be a sort of torture chamber. It was really perfectly normal and ordinary. The camp had an extraordinarily nice commander, and we did all sorts of things, you know. We played cricket, that sort of thing. Of course, I was writing all the time.”

Wodehouse was there for 11 months before being suddenly released to a hotel in Berlin where a man from the German foreign office named Werner Plack was waiting to meet him. Wodehouse was somewhat acquainted with Plack from a stint in Hollywood, so finding him waiting didn't seem out of the ordinary. Plack advised Wodehouse to use his time in the internment camp to his advantage, and suggested writing a radio series about his experiences to be broadcast in America.

As Plack probably suspected, Wodehouse’s natural writing style meant that his broadcasts were light-hearted affairs about playing cricket and writing novels, This didn’t sit too well with the British, who believed Wodehouse was trying to downplay the horrors of the war. The writer was shocked when MI5 subjected him to questioning about the “propaganda” he wrote for the Germans. "I thought that people, hearing the talks, would admire me for having kept cheerful under difficult conditions," he told them in 1944. "I would like to conclude by saying that I never had any intention of assisting the enemy and that I have suffered a great deal of mental pain as the result of my action."

Wodehouse's contemporary George Orwell came to his aid, penning a 1945 an essay called “In Defense of P.G. Wodehouse." Sadly, it didn’t do much to sway public opinion. Though MI5 ultimately decided not to prosecute, it seemed that British citizens had already made up their minds, with some bookstores and libraries even removing all Wodehouse material from their shelves. Seeing the writing on the wall, the author and his wife packed up all of their belongings and moved to New York in 1947. They never went back to England.

But that’s not to say Wodehouse didn’t want to. In 1973, at the age of 91, he expressed interest in returning. “I’d certainly like to, but at my age it’s awfully difficult to get a move on. But I’d like to go back for a visit in the spring. They all seem to want me to go back. The trouble is that I’ve never flown. I suppose that would solve everything."

Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack before he could make the trip. But the author bore no ill will toward his native country. When The Paris Review interviewed Wodehouse in 1973, they asked if he resented the way he was treated by the English. “Oh, no, no, no. Nothing of that sort. The whole thing seems to have blown over now,” he said.  He was right—the Queen bestowed Wodehouse with a knighthood two months before his death, showing that all was forgiven.

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Mata Hari: Famous Spy or Creative Storyteller?
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Nearly everyone has heard of Mata Hari, one of the most cunning and seductive spies of all-time. Except that statement isn't entirely true. Cunning and seductive, yes. Spy? Probably not. 

Margaretha Geertruida Zelle was the eldest daughter of a hat store owner who was quite wealthy thanks to some savvy oil investments.  When her mother died, her father remarried and shuffled his children off to various relatives. To escape, an 18-year-old Margaretha answered an ad in the paper that might have read something like this: "Dutch Colonial Army Captain Seeks Wife. Compatibility not important. Must not mind blatant infidelity or occasional beatings."

She had two children with Captain Rudolf MacLeod, but they did nothing to improve the marriage. He brazenly kept a mistress and a concubine; she moved in with another officer. Again, probably looking to escape her miserable existence, Margaretha spent her time in Java (where the family had relocated for Captain MacLeod's job) becoming part of the culture, learning all about the dance and even earning a dance name bestowed upon her by the locals—"Mata Hari," which meant "eye of the day" or "sun."

Her son died after being poisoned by an angry servant (so the MacLeods believed).

Margaretha divorced her husband, lost custody of her daughter and moved to Paris to start a new life for herself in 1903. Calling upon the dance skills she had learned in Java, the newly restyled Mata Hari became a performer, starting with the circus and eventually working her way up to exotic dancer. 

To make herself seem more mysterious and interesting, Mata Hari told people her mother was a Javanese princess who taught her everything she knew about the sacred religious dances she performed. The dances were almost entirely in the nude.

Thanks to her mostly-nude dancing and tantalizing background story, she was a hot commodity all over Europe. During WWI, this caught the attention of British Intelligence, who brought her in and demanded to know why she was constantly traipsing across the continent. Under interrogation, she apparently told them she was a spy for France—that she used her job as an exotic dancer to coerce German officers to give her information, which she then supplied back to French spymaster Georges Ladoux. No one could verify these claims and Mata Hari was released.

Not too long afterward, French intelligence intercepted messages that mentioned H-21, a spy who was performing remarkably well. Something in the messages reminded the French officers of Mata Hari's tale and they arrested her at her hotel in Paris on February 13, 1917, under suspicion of being a double agent.

Mata Hari repeatedly denied all involvement in any spying for either side. Her captors didn't believe her story, and perhaps wanting to make an example of her, sentenced her to death by firing squad. She was shot to death 100 years ago today, on October 15, 1917.

In 1985, one of her biographers convinced the French government to open their files on Mata Hari. He says the files contained not one shred of evidence that she was spying for anyone, let alone the enemy. Whether the story she originally told British intelligence was made up by them or by her to further her sophisticated and exotic background is anyone's guess. 

Or maybe she really was the ultimate spy and simply left no evidence in her wake.

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