To the uninitiated, the Scouse Brow can be defined as a dark, full, immaculately-arched set of eyebrows. This stencil-like style of eyebrow grooming has risen in popularity since earning its moniker back in 2011, being christened the ‘Scouse Brow’ by Desperate Scousewives ‘star’ and beautician Jodie Lundstram. It’s unsurprising that Liverpool has its own eyebrow style considering the distinctive style of its girls, which is already so centred around beauty and grooming. The rollers, false tan and vast makeup collections that are essential to Scouse style have cemented Liverpool as a beauty capital of sorts. It is after all, home to the world’s only ‘Beauty Bazaar’ by Harvey Nichols; a whole store made up entirely of makeup counters, beauty bars, salons and, importantly, a champagne bar.
The darkening and shaping of eyebrows can be traced all the way back to the ancient Egyptian era, where according to Richard Corson’s Fashions in Makeup, ‘long and heavy eyebrows were painted on slightly above where the natural ones have been shaved off’ using a dark black kohl. Interestingly, kohl is an ingredient still commonly used as eyeliner in cosmetics today. The ancient Romans also took a similar approach to eyebrows, dark and artificial being the preferred fashion for women. As the archeologist Karl August Böettiger wrote in Sabina - Morning Scenes in the Powder Room of a rich Roman, ‘Black eyelashes and well-arched eyebrows which terminate at the root of the nose and nearly come together are considered necessary to the beauty of a woman.’
A significant amount of writing on eyebrows dating several centuries later, to the early Christian period, heavily criticises the use of make-up, with particular focus on the eyebrows. Many figures within the church were strongly opposed to altering natural appearance, generally arguing that if we were made in the divine image of our creator, this shouldn’t be tampered with. One such example comes from the writing of St Cyprian. ‘The very devils first taught the use of colouring the eyebrows ... to change the very natural colour of the hair and to adulterate the naked complexion of the whole head and face with those cursed impostures. Do they not know that the Natural is God’s but the Artificial is the Devil’s?’
Despite this, the thick and high arched brow has continued to fall in and out of fashion throughout history. More recently, in the early 1800s, the practice of shaving one’s eyebrows to replace them with false ones made from mouse skin became a trend. Towards the end of this century however, the use of cosmetics to create full brows developed to emphasise a more natural appearance. Margaret Cunliffe-Owen advised in Eve’s Glossary, 1897, that thin brows could be thickened by applying a mixture of white wine and mint leaves to them three times a day. The book also recommended the use of small brushes ‘for keeping the eyebrows in order and well-arched to give the face an air of serenity.’ Thick brows were then thought to be ‘an improvement to the eyes.’
This Victorian ideal of naturally thick brows draws a comparison to images of Brooke Shields or Madonna in the eighties. Shields, and her eyebrows, were in fact the face of 'The '80s Look’ on the cover of Time magazine in 1981. But how has any of this affected the Scouse Brow that’s so predominant in Liverpool today?
It’s interesting (and particularly comical as a Scouser who is partial to a little eyebrow grooming) to read early Christian criticisms of ‘false’ eyebrows. This extreme written reaction to eyebrow grooming is almost a parallel with publications such as the Daily Mail today, who tend to take a strong stance against the Scouse Brow and Scouse style generally. A quick Google search reveals headlines such as ‘Scouse Brow voted worst beauty crime.’
It is accurate, however, to say that the Scouse look is based around an idea of artifice. 18-year-old sales assistant and Scouse Brow advocate, Claire, sums it up, “if you're not naturally pretty you might as well make yourself as pretty as you can.’ Evie, a Law student from Liverpool elaborates, ‘Liverpool style is all about exaggeration - the general Scouse look leaves nothing to the imagination. Everything is done on such an amplified level, it's a lot to do with being ostentatious in style and the same goes for brows. It’s almost a status symbol here.’
Whilst the motivations behind donning a Scouse Brow are relatively straightforward, the method of achieving a pair is far from it. The go-to eyebrow treatment for Scouse girls is known as High Definition Brows. Now it’s available all over the country, but Central Liverpool alone is home to over 25 specially trained salons offering the service. The HD Brows web page explains the the treatment best, ‘this isn’t just a brow shape – this is an experience which usually takes between 30-45 minutes.’ A typical HD brow treatment begins with a consultation to discuss size, shape and the look you want - if there isn’t enough hair to create the ideal shape immediately, clients are put on a regrowth programme before the stylist can ‘use a combination of High Definition hair removal techniques to create it.’ Having experienced the treatment first hand I can reveal that this entails an excruciating combination of plucking, threading, tinting and waxing, followed by a touch up with make-up. It costs around £30 and results generally last about a month before growing out.
It is well documented that eyebrows play an integral role in facial expression. In a city where the people are known for being both friendly, proud and at times in-your-face, it is fitting that its women have become so dedicated to boldly defining their eyebrows. The thick, dark eyebrow style is by no means unique to Liverpool - but the dedication from what seems like the whole city towards its trends is rare to encounter on the same scale elsewhere. Despite negative press, the Scouse Brow won’t be leaving Liverpool anytime soon.
Bottiger, K. - Sabine; ou, Matinée d’une Dame Romaine à sa Toilette, 1813
Corson, R. - Fashions in Makeup, 1972
Cunliffe-Owen, M. - Eve’s Glossary, 1897
britishlibrary.co.uk - English and Drama Blog, Mouse Skin Eyebrows, November 2014 http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/english-and-drama/2014/11/mouse-skin-eyebrows.html The Cut, Brooke Shields on Eyebrows, October 2014 nymag.com/thecut/2014/10/brooke-shields-on-eyebrows-and-cara-delevingne.html