Screen Star Makeup: beauty, stardom, masquerade

London, 14. March 2020.

Saturday 14 March 2020  Queen Mary University of London.


Makeup is a vital technical material in the construction of the on-screen image. In both film and photography makeup is used to correct skin-tones for different film stocks and make features visible under bright lights. Beyond this, makeup is also a medium of transformation and beautification and because of this it can be regarded with suspicion. Makeup’s connections with masquerade and theatricality evoke frivolity, artifice and deception; leading to the implication that makeup is worn to conceal inadequacies. James Naremore notes that although film studios have ‘always maintained huge makeup departments’ many actors disingenuously express a preference for appearing ‘natural’ on screen. This embarrassment about the wearing of makeup means that other than in the form of special effects, makeup has ‘become the most truly invisible of movie crafts’ (1988: 95-6).

This repudiation of makeup by actors belies the fact that makeup is often a visible and important component of the star image. In the early 20th century moral consternation about the provocative implications of wearing makeup was overridden by the mass popularity of screen stars and their strikingly made-up faces. These star makeup looks created a demand for products that led to the creation of still-familiar brands such as Max Factor. Stars were then recruited to endorse makeup lines and appear in advertisements, a convention that continues in the 21st century.

Organised by Lucy Bolton and Cathy Lomax

Symposium is free to attend; however please register here –

Queries to:

Supported by BAFTSS, QMUL, LAHP, Living British Cinema & the Makeup Museum