An Ode To The Hotness That Was The 1970s Columbo Villainess

How to look like a glamorous, retro stone-cold murderess. Cigarette optional.
Publish date:
August 27, 2013
blushes, eyeshadows, mac, retro, hair, makeup, foundations, nails, concealers, muses, bobbi brown, TV, bronzers, broadway nails, 70s

I love television so much. You can keep your “going outside” and your “having fun” or whatever you’re all calling it now. Me, I plan to be 100 years old, porcelain-skinned and brittle-boned from a lifetime of sitting indoors, regaling my friends at the old folks’ home with my stories of the time I shot a pimp in the chest and took over his business, before going “Oh, wait.....I think that was... Justified? Never mind, fetch me my pills.”

To my TV-loving mind, there is no better genre than the detective story, and no better era than the ‘70s; which means that, basically, there has never been anything better than Columbo, and, if you need convincing, here is a list of reasons why:

  • Columbo himself, obviously. He’s a genius, he’s funny, he’s moral and kind, he never loses it with people. He’s pretty much anything you would ever want to be and my personal hero. I’m serious. “What would Lieutenant Columbo do?” is an excellent way to navigate your life.
  • The show. It’s so good: clever, innovative, progressive, full of amazing actors. Also, I think it’s helped me work out how to get away with murder (hit me up in the comments!).
  • The women. Did you know the average age of the female protagonists in the original seven seasons is 47? I know! Gorgeous and interesting women in their forties on TV was once a thing that happened. And their characters are amazing: they don’t murder for boring reasons like love; they do it to get the majority share in the company or save their beloved museum or some such awesomeness.

I could talk forever about the greatness of this show, but I’ll get to the beauty part instead.

My personal favourite murderess, and the primary inspiration for this article, is Lee Grant. She’s just so stunning and evil and cold. This look is an homage to her.


You will never find a Golden-age Columbo villainess without huge hair. There was Susan Clark for about half an episode, but murder gave her the confidence to blossom, and big hair was the result.

Anyway, my hair is heavy and style-resistant, and everything I do to it immediately falls flat. This is what worked for me:

  • I washed my hair and sprayed it with a heat-protective spray (I know everyone says that it’s easier to style big hair when it’s been left a day or so, but I just don’t feel right starting such an amped-up look with dirty hair).
  • I dried it about 80% using a round brush to boost up the hair around the crown a bit.
  • I finished off with a Babyliss Big Hair Styler, pulling everything but the first inch or so of hair backwards, and curling the ends under. I can’t absolutely promise that this last step makes a huge difference, given what’s coming, but it does make your hair look nice.
  • Aaaaand now it gets a bit ugly. I worked Got2b Powder’ful into the roots around the crown and back of my head.
  • Once my hair was good and sticky (ugh), I started working from about two inches back from the side-parting, making inch-deep sections from ear-to-ear.
  • I sprayed the back and front of each section and then teased both sides heavily with a comb and sprayed it again.
  • I let each section flop forwards as I worked on the next one, down to the middle of the back of my head.
  • From there on out, it’s easy street: I just flipped the whole lot back and gently brushed over the whole nest to smooth it over. Spray, spray, spray.
  • And as a final step, I rubbed a tiny bit of Moroccanoil through the ends to confuse my poor brutalized hair into thinking I care about it, and also to tweak the shorter bit in the front outwards in a little flick.

Note: Lee Grant has amazing bangs. Unfortunately, stylists on two continents have refused to give me bangs, as this would lead to catastrophic facial roundness, apparently. I did actually try clip-in bangs especially for this tutorial, but, uh, it turns out they were right.


This isn’t the day for fresh and dewy, I don’t think. You have, after all, extinguished a human life. No sense pretending to be some blushing virgin now.

As for colour, I opted for orangey corals, because that’s how 1970s Technicolor makes everything look, and I’m absolutely in love with it.

You want a fairly matte, medium-coverage foundation here. I dotted MAC Studio Sculpt Foundation all over, patting it over with my fingers most of the way, and then buffing it in with a brush. Then I used a makeup sponge to pat some Bobbi Brown concealer under my eyes and on the annoying red bits on the side of my nose.


Lee’s brows are partially obscured by her bangs, but since mine are on show, I wanted them to be big and villainous.

I used a stiff, fine, angled brush and a dark brown eyeshadow to fill in and slightly extend my brows, using tiny upward strokes that pushed the hairs up at the same time for a nice, bold arch.


I never normally bother with a primer, but it really pays off when you’re going heavy like this. No big tricks--I just patted an eyelid-coloured MAC Paint Pot all over my eyelids with my finger and got on with the eyeshadow thusly: using a medium (0.5”) shadow brush, I covered my lids in a palem creamy shadow up to the eyebrows.

Next, grabbing a smaller, pointed brush, I worked a pale grey semi-circle into the crease of my eye, extending slightly outwards, and along the lash-line.

There’s not much I can tell you at this point about winged eyeliner, as there are so many amazing tutorials out there. Basically, I use the same type of angled brush I use for my eyebrows, and a gel eyeliner, and I start from the outside, working inwards. It just seems to work better, plus you’ve got the anxiety-making flicky part out of the way early. For this look, I think you want a fairly heavy line, but not too curly or extending too far with the ‘wings’.

I experimented by swooshing the eyeliner brush back and forth across my bottom lashes, depositing the remaining liner there instead of mascara, and really liked the way it looked, so it stayed. Two fat coats of mascara on the top lashes, though. Done!


Lee Grant has the most astonishing cheekbones of all time. I could not hope to imitate, only offer this humble tribute.

I used the narrow side of a flattish, fan-shaped brush and a light bronzer (Bourjois, which looks like a bar of chocolate and smells amazing) and brushed it under my cheekbones. The crescent-y, under-the-apples thing didn’t look right (remember, we’re doing bad bitch, not baby pixie faun) so I did a straight line, blending just a little downwards and up onto the cheekbone itself. Oh, and down the sides of the nose, too, because making everything look pointy feels right with this look.

Then a soft, coral blush on the cheeks themselves with a round brush, and a few pats of a cream highlighter dabbed in along the very tops of the cheekbones and along the bridge of the nose.

Vera Miles’s character is caught out in part by the eyeliner pencil she uses to scribble incriminating notes and apply a beauty mark to her cheek. Obviously, I couldn’t resist.

A little pressed powder on the nose, a sweep of matte coral lipstick, and we’re basically there!

Just one more thing (had to get that in somewhere): a set of coral-painted press-on talons for maximum eye-gouging. A word of caution, though. I bought these because the name Fast French Deceptions made me laugh out loud in Boots for a whole minute, but holy smokes, are my nails wrecked from the glue. Three long soakings in nail-polish remover and my natural nails still looked like I dunked them in yellow cement. They do look killer, though, no?

You’re now a stone-cold murderess with ice water in your veins. You have about 90 minutes to enjoy it before your inevitable capture. See you in the slammer!