Let me start with the obvious fact: Black eyeliner is nothing new. In fact, it dates all the way back to ancient Egypt. But I’m willing to bet money on the fact that you more strongly associate it with a different time period: High school.
If you were a teen at any point during the years 2003 to 2012, chances are one of your first encounters with makeup was a thick ring of black eyeliner encircling both your upper and lower lash lines.
While black eyeliner is never really not trending, it tends to spike in each decade, usually tied to an iconic look or movement. In the ‘70s it was punk all the way, while the ’80s was all about the New Romantics and Boy George. The ’90s brought grunge and heroine chic, but as the 2000s approached, the lines got a little blurrier—and I mean that both literally and figuratively.
Smudgy black eyeliner was the defining look of pop punk and emo music (hello, Avril Lavigne), but also a staple for party girls like Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton and fictitious bad girls like Skins‘ Effy Stonem and Gossip Girl‘s Jenny Humphrey. And yet, the “good girls” of Laguna Beach and the Hills were obsessed with it too (how could we forget LC’s iconic black tear?).
It was a sign of it-girl coolness and rebellion, but also just extremely of the time. As a high schooler in 2010, black eyeliner was the only thing I had in common with the popular girls in school. Basically, if you weren’t wearing pounds of black liner, some side bangs, and a denim Abercrombie mini in the aughts, what were you doing?
While most of us eventually traded a ring of liner for a subtle flick or no eye makeup at all, it’s clear our collective nostalgia for simpler, kohl-rimmed times is starting to reach a fever pitch. Ugg boots were arguably the it-gift for the holidays this year, and Y2K staples like low-rise jeans and Juicy Couture sweats have a cult-like following on TikTok. Both Kim Kardashian and Dua Lipa, among others, have recently posted photos with their exposed thongs peeking out of their waistbands. In beauty, the nostalgia is running high as well. After a full year of aughts-inspired hair like tendrils and claw clips, black eyeliner is back with a vengeance.
Bold, smudgy rims of eyeliner were all over the latest runways, from Chanel and Dior, to Victoria Beckham and Sandy Liang, the latter of which is my personal favorite take on the trend.
It’s happening IRL too, and it’s getting harder to scroll though Instagram without seeing the coolest girls I follow wearing a healthy dose of eyeliner—smudged, smoked, or winged—and not much else. Meghan Markle even wore a liner-heavy look in the trailer for her upcoming interview with Oprah.
If you think about it, it makes perfect sense that the look is having yet another moment. Thanks to face masks, all the attention is on our eyes, and eye makeup sales are actually spiking despite the rest of the category struggling amid the pandemic.
There’s also the fact that we’ve returned to a teenage-like state of uncertainty (and some of us to our actual teenage bedrooms). Dark eye makeup is the perfect outlet to express that angst.
So go ahead and pack on the liner, whether you go for a graphic shape, smudged wing, or full 2003 rim. To make the look feel fresh, just make sure to keep the rest of your makeup 2021 appropriate—skip the Matte Mousse foundation and go for minimal makeup elsewhere. (Or don’t, it’s your face.) I find the easiest way to not overwhelm my small eyes is by tight-lining my upper and lower waterlines, and then aggressively blinking a few times to give it that lived-in feel.
Shop some of our favorite eyeliners, below, and hit play on Sk8r Boi.
Bella Cacciatore is the beauty associate at Glamour. Follow her on Instagram @bellacacciatore_.