I have a love-hate relationship with winged eyeliner. I love the fierce appearance of the dark, crisp line. But I hate that I’ve never fully mastered the precise technique. Like many, I’ve always struggled with the symmetry of my wings. There are rules to the wing and, based on your preference, many factors to consider. Some of those factors include length, width, color, and direction.
My cousin Cassandra, a San Fernando Valley makeup artist is a pro at winged eyeliner. We grew up around Mexican-American women in the 80s and 90s and she naturally adopted the wing. It has become part of her everyday look.
Regardless of expertise in drawing the decorative line that highlights the eyelid’s natural curve, I have wondered where this trend came from and when it became a staple in so many Latina’s everyday look. Here’s what I found:
The winged eyeliner (also known as the “cat-eye”) dates back to at least 5000 years back.
“Kohl was used around the eyes in a tapered fashion to line the eyes for health reasons,” Doreen Bloch, Executive Director of the Makeup Museum, told FIERCE. Bloch adds that “Kohl formulations of ancient times had immunological and antibacterial properties that supported eye health and minimized glare from the sun.` So Ancient Egyptians, especially in the ruling class, would utilize this cosmetic for health benefits and lined their eyes accordingly.”
The wing eventually made its way back to mainstream media in the 1920s.
“The discoveries of items from Ancient Egypt, like the bust of Queen Nefertiti, put styles and looks from a bygone era into the public consciousness,” Doreen said. “Then in the 1920s, movies like ‘Cleopatra’ starring Theda Bara showed the cat-eye look on a modern-day superstar. As cosmetics became more acceptable for use by mainstream women, eyeliner became more prevalent.”
Fast forward to the 1940s, when Pachucas entered the scene.
Gabriela Hernandez, founder, and CEO of Bésame Cosmetics traces the popularity of winged eyeliner back to Pachucas.
“The winged liner was popularized in the 1950s and 1960s with mod styles, but was adopted earlier during WWII by the Pachucas,” Hernández told FIERCE. “They were the female version of the Zoot suiters and a subculture group of Mexican girls fighting for equal rights and challenging the status quo with different fashion and use of makeup. The look involved thin brows, darker lipstick, and heavier eye makeup.”
In 1943, police officers targeted and harassed Pachucos and Pachucas in Los Angeles. This ambush led to the Zoot Suit Riots. Pachucos and Pachucas fought back, setting the stage for the next generation of tough Chicanos.
In the 1950s cholas in Los Angeles started leaving their mark.
During the 1950s and 60s, Cholos and Cholas emerged in Los Angeles. They’re a subculture of the Pachuco era, proudly displaying their cultural pride through their appearance and demeanor.
Unlike the flashy Pachuca uniform, Cholas typically wore baggy clothes and large hoops paired with distinct tattoos. But for many, their hard look also came with a side of femininity. This feminine side was displayed through their makeup.
Enter the iconic, modern winged eyeliner.
Cholas quickly created their go-to look; big hair, thin eyebrows, eyeshadow, dark lipstick, mascara, and of course, winged eyeliner.
Many of my tía’s remember seeing their tía’s, older cousins, and women at the market first rocking the wing in the 50s and 60s. As time went on, the wing was passed down from generation to generation. Some mastered the wing, while others only apply it when they need that extra confidence boost.
“As a young girl, I could not wait to do winged eyeliner,” Regina said to FIERCE. “I admired women in my life and on TV – on telenovelas specifically – for how a dramatic wing or cat-eye could make women look so fierce. When I was finally allowed to wear makeup at around 14-15 years old, eyeliner was my first stop, and I have spent decades at this point trying to perfect my technique.”
“For the Latinx community, it is unapologetically feminine and seductive, not to mention expressive, and shows a level of confidence that is addicting.”
New girls (and boys) on the block.
As new generations adopt the winged eyeliner, the look continues to evolve. A recent trending TikTok video had everyone attempting a reverse cat-eye.
“With such broad appeal, every decade and cultural group has put its own twist on it which makes it so fun,” Merson tells FIERCE.
Viral hacks and new “twists” continuously pop up on social media, but the message behind the wing remains the same. It signifies power and confidence.
Over 60 years later, winged eyeliner is still a staple in Latinx makeup. And it’s only getting bigger and better.
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