When Anna Taylor got her U.S. patent for false eyelashes in 1911, it's doubtful she could see far enough into the future to know that trying to make lashes look longer and fuller would turn into a multimillion-dollar industry.
While some may find it odd that others apply mascara, glue strips of lashes to their eyelids or get individual lash extensions, the quest to have — or appear to have — long, luxurious lashes is serious business. As of April 2016, drugstore sales of false lashes and adhesives were more than $113 million, according to Gale Business Insights.
Bette Davis eyes
In the early 20th century, film director D.W. Griffith and Hollywood makeup artist Max Factor brought false lashes to the big screen. Movie stars such as Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Lauren Bacall and Carol Channing were regular lash wearers.
A 2007 Los Angeles Times obituary for Hollywood makeup artist Monty Westmore, who worked with the legendary Crawford, noted that she did her own face. But it was his job "to lay out her makeup supplies and curl six pairs of her false eyelashes each morning before filming began."
But getting them on your eye wasn't so easy.
"They were mystifying!" says Jenny Bailly, the executive beauty director for Allure magazine. Even though false lashes were the standard for movie stars, showgirls and models, for the laywoman they could be a bit of work.
"There was the glue, the strips — how do you get these things on and then how do you get them off," Bailly says.
In a 1998 interview with VH-1's Pop Up Video creators, Oprah snatched hers off for the audience — then couldn't get them back on.
But more recently, Bailly says, YouTube tutorials have helped people figure it out.
"All I had to do was type in 'how to apply,' and the first thing that came up was false lashes, and then there's like 130,000 different videos," she says.
That's helped more people bring the red carpet look to everyday life.
"I do think the Kardashian effect is part of it," Bailly says. "I think the show, you know these women who wear false lashes every day as just part of their everyday look, kind of normalized it."
And these days, there are a lot more options that are easier to use — and lash extensions.
One lash at a time
At DC Lash Bar in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., customers lie on a massage table as co-owner and lash technician Josie Felipe explains each step of the process. First, she cleanses the eyes, then she applies an undereye pad to keep bottom lashes out of the way.
"What I'm doing now is I'm just applying a little bit of a tape onto your eyelid, to kind of make that area taut, so I can get as close to the root as possible," she says in a soothing voice.
Felipe brushes the lashes to help separate them, then pulls out a pair of tweezers and metal separator to isolate individual lashes. A small square of cardboard holding assorted synthetic lashes is stuck to the back of her hand with Velcro.
She asks questions during the consultation — do you want them to look natural or are you going for a full glamour look? — that help her make decisions about the weight, curl and length of lash to apply.
The whole session can take up to two hours, but unlike lash strips, extensions can last up to three weeks if you remember not to rub your eyes and don't apply mascara. The extensions get longer as your lashes grow and then fall off as they shed.
Still, if false lashes of any kind are too much for you, Unyi Agba, a senior manager of marketing at Maybelline, says there's a growing demand for mascara that gives the false lash look.
"It's always about trying to find that mascara that's going to really transform them," she says. "So there's going to be an increased appetite for that. Consumers are going to want mascaras that can really deliver a false lash look. So even more lengthening, even more volume, and even more depth to the lashes — expect to see some of that."
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Tune into the Oscars this weekend, you'll see dresses, jewelry and lots of false eyelashes. False eyelashes first appeared on the big screen a century ago. And today, they're considered an essential on red carpets, in weddings and in proms. NPR's Tanya Ballard Brown has this report.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BETTE DAVIS EYES")
KIM CARNES: (Singing) She's got Bette Davis eyes.
TANYA BALLARD BROWN, BYLINE: If you want Bette Davis eyes, then you need to put on false eyelashes. She did. So did Joan Crawford, Lauren Bacall and Carol Channing. It gave them that old Hollywood glamour look. And the lashes made it into films, too.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DINNER AT EIGHT")
JEAN HARLOW: (As Kitty Packard) I've told you a million times not to talk to me while I'm doing my lashes.
BROWN: That's Jean Harlow in the 1933 film "Dinner At Eight." And just listen to Sandy Dennis' despair in this scene from "The Out Of Towners."
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE OUT OF TOWNERS")
SANDY DENNIS: (As Gwen Kellerman) Oh, my God.
JACK LEMMON: (As Jack Lemmon) What's wrong?
DENNIS: (As Gwen Kellerman) I lost my left eyelash.
BROWN: So where do false eyelashes come from? There are competing stories. A Canadian woman named Anna Taylor got a U.S. patent in 1911. But others have claimed they were really invented by both film director D.W. Griffith and Hollywood makeup artist Max Factor. Movie stars have loved them ever since, and so have models.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Twiggy, the bean pole model girl who's turned into a fashion tycoon.
BROWN: In the '60s, Twiggy made them so popular as many as 20 million pairs were reportedly sold in a year. But getting them on your eye wasn't so easy.
JENNY BAILLY: They were mystifying.
BROWN: Jenny Bailly is the executive beauty editor for Allure magazine. She says that even though movie stars and showgirls have always worn false lashes, for the laywoman they were a lot of work.
BAILLY: There was the glue, the strips. How do you get these things on? And then, how do you get them off?
BROWN: In a 1998 interview with VH1's "Pop Up Video" creators, Oprah snatched hers off for the audience. Then she couldn't get them back on.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW")
OPRAH WINFREY: I have nothing to hide. I said years ago, in case you all have forgotten, not only do I have fake eyelashes...
TAD LOW: Yeah. Yeah.
WINFREY: ...I've tried all kinds. And I still think Walgreens are the best.
WINFREY: Here's what I look like without them. See?
WINFREY: Now it's going to be hard to get them back on.
BROWN: Bailly says more recently, YouTube tutorials have helped people figure this out.
BAILLY: All I had to do was type in how to apply, and the first thing that comes up is false eyelashes. And then there's like a 130,000 different videos.
BROWN: That's helped more women bring the red carpet look to everyday life.
BAILLY: I do think the Kardashian effect is part of it. I think the show, you know, these women who wear false eyelashes every day, it's part of their everyday look, kind of normalized it. So I think the Kardashian moment was part of it.
BROWN: Plus, Bailly says, there are a lot more options now that are easier to use. So I decided to explore one for myself - lash extensions.
JOSIE FELIPE: Try to relax your eyes. So just keep it closed throughout the whole entire process.
I'm on a massage table at DC Lash Bar in Washington. Co-owner and lash technician Josie Felipe is taping my eyes taut, separating the individual lashes and attaching a synthetic lash to each one.
Yeah. It really doesn't feel like anything.
FELIPE: No. And that's why most people feel like it's - someone's playing with their hair, essentially. And that's when they fall asleep, so.
BROWN: I did not fall asleep, but I did chicken out on the full Kim, Khloe or Kylie look. Instead, I walked out with what I call 50 percent Hollywood glamour, and with my eyes open. Tanya Ballard Brown, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BETTE DAVIS EYES")
KIM CARNES: (Singing) Stand-off sighs. She's got Bette Davis eyes. She'll let you take her home. It whets her appetite. She'll lay you on her throne. She got Bette Davis eyes. She'll take a tumble on you, roll you like you were dice.
SIMON: Kim Carnes. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.