Mae West

Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before.
– Mae West

Guys, I think I’m going to do one of those elegant, glamorous, “this was an excuse to wear fake fur and jewels” costumes this Halloween. I’m gonna be a walking cliche, also known as A 23-Year-Old Gal Wearing A Pseudo-Old Hollywood Costume.

Halloween season is upon us and for me, that means two wonderful things: (1) My birthday is coming up on October 29th, which means I have an excuse for making all sorts of silly celebratory treats in the weeks ahead and (2) I can finally start thinking about Halloween costumes without seeming like a total crazy person. Oh, and (3) all the candy is suddenly “fun size” which really just means I have to unwrap way more of it to eat the same amount. Jerks.

When it comes to costumes, I realize many people like to go for sexier looks on the 31st. I totally understand this urge; it works if you’re the type who loves more risque styles, as it goes with your personality, and it works if you’re the type who typically shies away from these things, as it allows you to experiment with new makeup and wardrobe elements.

I realize this tutorial isn’t 100% authentic-looking for Mae West or any particular starlet, but that was sort of the point here — I wanted to do something dramatic, sexy and pretty that could work with a variety of costume ideas. So, whether you’re doing Mae, a vintage vamp, or an ultra-sultry pinup girl, this tutorial can cover you.

Step 1: Use a velvety primer like Amala Purifying Mattifier all over the face to eliminate shine and create a smooth starting surface. Apply a full coverage concealer (I’ve been loving Tarte Maracuja Creaseless Concealer lately) under your eyes, on lids and to even out any problem areas. Dust a loose finishing powder like Shiseido Translucent Loose Powder overtop.

Mae West costume -- foundation, concealer, primer

Step 2: Apply a light, matte grey eyeshadow all over lids and up to the brow; I picked Smashbox Ash for this. Then, use a rich, medium steel color, like Napoleon Perdis Color Disc in Cinders, on lid and along the lower lashline. Finally, apply a matte black shadow (like Smashbox Blackout) along the upper and lower lashline, then smudge with a sponge or your finger (I personally prefer the latter because it allows me to have more control over the final result).

Mae West costume -- Eyeshadows: Smashbox Ash, Napoleon Perdis Cinders, Smashbox Blackout

Step 3: Using a black thickening mascara, like CoverGirl Flamed Out, apply 2 coats of mascara on the top lashes and 1 on the bottom, concentrating in particular on the outer lashes. I skipped curling my lashes because I wanted to have a more downturned eye for this look.

Mae West -- lashes via CoverGirl Flamed Out Mascara

Step 4: Use a matte dark brown eyeshadow or brow powder along the top curve of your brow to enhance its look. This is the easiest way to make a prominent, dramatically different brow without using spirit wax and eyebrow wax (which, while wonderful, are a little too complicated for most people’s Halloween routine and add an extra couple of costs to the costume).

Mae West -- Brows using Smashbox Sumatra eyeshadow

Note: After this step, I redid a little bit of the concealer underneath my eye to make sure it was as smooth and even as possible.

Step 5: Swirl on a little bit of pale pink blush, like NYX Illuminating Bronzer in Chaotic. Then take a matte bronzer, such as Too Faced Endless Summer 16 Hour Bronzer, and apply it with an angled brush underneath cheekbones to make them more pronounced. I also used a bit of Napoleon Perdis Illuminating Primer atop my cheekbones and along my brow bones.

Mae West -- Blush by NYX Illuminating Bronzer, bronzer by Too Faced Endless Summer 16 Hour Bronzer, highlighter by Napoleon Perdis Illuminating Primer

Step 6: I made my lips nude using a bit of the concealer from earlier.

Mae West -- lips concealed

Then, I applied a gorgeous blue red that my roommate lent me and I am now thoroughly obsessed with: Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick in Fiery.

Mae West -- lipstick is Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick in Fiery

Step 7: Though there are about a million different ways you can do your hair to go along with this look, curls would be best. Unfortunately, I did not have access to a very thin curling rod when I did this tutorial (as would be best for Mae West’s look), so I opted for something a little more 1950s instead of ’40s.

I worked a bit of Agave Oil Treatment through my hair for a healthy shine, then parted it to one side. I rolled sections of hair on each side and pinned them behind my ears. I then spritzed a little White Sands UnderCover Hair Styling Spray on the bottom section of my hair and curled it around a large barrel curling iron to get big waves.

Mae West hair

Mae West hair

Step 8: Find a sexy vintage (or vintage-looking, at least) black lace or chiffon gown. I got mine in a local antique store back when I lived in Orange, California.

1950s makeup tutorial final

I finished this style off with a perfume I found fitting: Paco Rabanne, Lady Million. It’s warm, sexy and luxurious. And apparently the world’s most awkward pose and facial expression and I’m sorry.

Now, what are some variations we can do on this look? There are quite a few…

Variations for this costume:

Clara Bow 1926

clara bow makeup

For Clara Bow, straighten your hair, flip a couple pieces inward along your cheekbones using hair wax, then tie a pretty scarf around your head. Keep the brows a straight, flat shape rather than rounded or arched.

Anjelica Huston

For Anjelica Huston‘s look, either straighten your hair or wear a black wig with bangs, then add a pretty jeweled clip on one side. Do not shape brows so heavily.


To get a more Dorothy Lamour style, wear long false lashes, part hair down the center and create fingerwaves tight to the head.


For Joan Crawford‘s look, either don’t add anything to brows or just apply a little bit of a pale brown or blonde pencil to accentuate your arches. Curl hair, add a slouchy felt hat and do a cool two-toned manicure to finish the costume.

vintage vampire costume

For a “sexy vintage vampire” look, just add vampire teeth. Seriously. So easy.

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