In the summer of 1995, I lived in a cruddy walk-up in the East Village and wore Revlon’s “Rum Raisin” lipstick every single day to work at a financial magazine. I felt stuck in my career and was just coming off one of those breakups that makes you question every life decision. When TLC’s ‘Waterfalls” came out that July, I made it my anthem. I needed change. And on the night I decided to copy Kate Moss and pluck my full eyebrows down to two slinky tennis bracelets, I belted out, “I know that you’re gonna have it your way or nothing at all, but I think you’re moving too fast.” Nothing could have been more true. In less than five minutes, my brunette brows were half-gone.
Cut to three decades later: Moss is middle aged, like me, and that damn skinny brow is desperately trying to wage a comeback, like brown lip liner and space buns. (Credit the late makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin for plucking away the brows of supermodels like Moss, Naomi Campbell, and Christy Turlington in the ’90s.) This time around, Bella Hadid, Fenty face Jazzelle Zanaughtti, and Euphoria actress Alexa Demie are leading the charge; on TikTok, #thinbrows has more than 60 million views (compared with 24.8 million for #thickbrows), there’s a filter that will reduce your brows to Sharpie scrawls, and Googling “skinny brows” brings up more than 400 million results. Doja Cat recently shaved off all of her hair and eyebrows and is now penciling them in razor-thin, along with hand-painted emojis. All of it is giving me serious PTSD. The trendy lean arch is going by the “Y2K brow,” but don’t be fooled. Hide your tweezers. FYI: I don’t even own tweezers anymore.
Some brow experts refuse to service clients looking to go ultra-slim. “We’ll define a brow, but we won’t compromise the natural lusciousness,” says Calvin Saldana at L.A. salon Striiike. Pilar DeMann, a makeup artist and brow specialist in Connecticut’s Litchfield County, adds, “I have one client who always wants her brows skinnier, and I’m like, ‘You need to go somewhere else.’ I really want to break up with her.” If you’re still determined to thin out your brows, know that there are alternatives to plucking like it’s 1999 — or 1920. The skinny brow actually dates back to the flappers, who rebelled by wearing dramatic makeup just to be brash. But it was silent movie sirens like Josephine Baker, Gretat Garbo, and Anna May Wong who popularized the trend. Onscreen, they couldn’t talk, much less scream, so they opted for overly delineated scrawled arches to better express their emotions. In the 1930s, the blindingly platinum-blonde actress Jean Harlow shaved off her own eyebrows and drew them back on as black McDonald’s arches.
These days, the most merciful version of the starved arch is called the “precision brow,” and it doesn’t involve tweezing. The more refined silhouette follows the natural lift of your brow bone. I would liken it to wearing a sleek pencil skirt in place of a maxi dress. Instead of magnifying the entire arch with powder or pencil, you accentuate the center of the brow to heighten the arch. Rather than brush the hairs upward for volume, you flatten them out and sculpt. “It’s about styling. You can comb the hairs into place or pinch them smaller instead of fluffing them out,” says Saldana. DeMann likes to softly outline the lower line of the brow with brushed on powder and then streamline the hairs with setting spray.
With all the body positivity and the death of skinny jeans, why the lean brow now? It’s an aesthetic pushback against the overgrown brow and microbladed look we have seen for the past decade, just as the skinny arches of the ’90s were a rebellion against the bushy Brooke Shields brows of the ’80s. What I love about the modern version is its accessibility. As someone with arches that get more and more flinty as I age, I can tell you that it’s impossible to cheat Cara Delvinigne’s caterpillars without a freaking brow transplant.
Luckily, even a subtle shift pays off: “I’m always astonished by how much you can affect your look just by altering your brows,” says makeup artist Rachel Goodwin, whose clients include Emma Stone, Cindy Crawford and Selma Blair. “And thankfully, you can do it without damaging your brows completely.” Here are five products that let you try out the “Y2K brow” without giving a pluck.
Minimize that width by concealing top and bottom hairs along the natural arch with a flesh-toned pencil. Goodwin loves this matte version with a precision tip that comes in various skin shades because “you can easily draw on your hairs to disguise them and create that streamlined brow.” She flicks a light layer of the matte pigment onto smaller hairs that outline the brow. A stick concealer works too, but avoid a creamy formula that will clot the hairs.
Define a svelte brow by tracing the center with a brow powder that’s slightly darker than your hair color, using an angled brush. “Using it wet will give you more punch,” says DeMann, who also created a setting spray to maintain shape. Be sure to tame the hairs with a brush or your fingers first and guide them towards your temple. “Make it soft and circular, like a comma,” adds Goodwin because a severe thin arch will just make you look angry.
“A little highlighter under the arch creates a brightness that makes the brow look more defined,” says Saldana, who also dabs beneath the brow bone to widen eyes. DeMann also blends a bit of highlighter from beneath the orbital bone to the tail of the brow to spotlight the entire silhouette.
If you over-tweezed in the ’90s and need to fill in sparse areas, this tinted mousse-like gel, which Saldana uses on his clients, wears for hours and distributes color evenly. If that’s not an issue, you can pinch hairs of fuller brows closer together after you moisten them with this binding product. Also, instead of brushing the brow hairs vertically, pull the spoolie across them horizontally to seal an arched line.
At the recent Marc Jacobs fall 2022 runway show, every model, including the Hadid sisters, wore bleached-out brows. That’s one way to shock your look–and your loved ones. But canceling out the color also allows you to draw on a svelte brow with a pencil. Goodwin, who bleaches brows on set for a futuristic editorial vibe, uses Just For Men comb-in color to restore color.
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