Whorey Angel: A Betty Davis Makeup Tutorial

Funk heroine Betty Davis has long been one of my hair heroes, but I hadn't had the courage to try her bold makeup look... until now! Here are the six products that transformed me.

When I first went natural, I looked online for hair mentors--women whose hair I loved and eventually wanted to have--tracking their hair growth through Google Images and finding links to their haircare routines.

Betty Davis stood out to me immediately. Her hair was the perfect balance of wild and well-kept. It had a distinct shape, but the kinks proclaimed that they weren’t going anywhere and wouldn’t lie down.

The more I read about her, the more I saw past the superficial label of “hair idol” and embraced her as my spirit animal.

Her life story is impressive: She was born and raised on her grandparents' farm in North Carolina, moved to New York for school, became a jet-setting model and musician, married and divorced a legend (Miles Davis), started making funk records with the top artists of the ‘70s, and released music light years ahead of her time. Following the deaths of two close friends (Jimi Hendrix and Devon Wilson), she fell completely off the radar until 2007, to promote two reissued albums. And you know what? Ol’ Betty still had it!

So, yeah, you probably realized at this point that this is not a Bette Davis tutorial. I’ll ask one of the white contributors to do that.

One of the things I admire most about her is her duality: a soft purr paired with a lioness growl. "Whorey Angel" is the name of one of her songs! She offsets forward come-ons with fetal-like vulnerability. Look at these “Anti-Love Song” lyrics!

That’s why I don’t wanna love you

‘Cause I know how you are

Sure you say you’re right on and you’re righteous

But with me I’d know you’d be right off

Cause you know I could possess your body too, don’t cha?

You know I could make you crawl

And just as hard as I’d fall for you, boy

Well, you know you’d fall for me harder

Damn, right?

That duality even comes through in her stage outfits and makeup. She would pair silk and lace camisoles with matching bottoms and patent leather heels, or a cut-off jeans and a halter-top with thigh-high boots.

The makeup was always pure funk and over-the-top: metallics and pastel eyeshadows and a bright red, glossy lip.

This look is pretty bold, but it works nicely for a night out. I usually avoid wearing bright shadows and lips, especially together--it’s totally out of my comfort zone and more makeup than I’m used to wearing. But I felt--and loved--the instant glamour of this funk persona.


First, I applied Maybelline Dream Fresh BB Cream to even out my skin and give the makeup a canvas to stand out on really well. Also, I SWEAR Marci didn’t tell me to use this because they’re a sponsor--I genuinely like this stuff!

Next, I used Smashbox Photo Finish Foundation Primer on just my eyelids. I have really oily eyelids and eyeshadow tends to slide off in, like, an hour. This helps it stay in place.

I used the Wet n Wild Color Icon Eyeshadow Trio in On Cloud Nine. I know the shimmery, lightest blue shade is intended for the brow bone, but in true Betty Davis fashion, I put it all over my lid.

After that, I used Essence Eyeshadow in Black Goddess (how apropos!) instead of liner. I created a smoky line along my lash line, and then I swept it up in a smoky wing to help contour the shimmery blue. I also applied some about three-quarters into my lower lash line.

I curled my lashes and applied Rimmel London Volume Flash ScandalEyes Mascara. A lot of it. Like, 20 strokes. I also applied it to the bottom lashes, for more drama.

I used New York Color Ultra Moist Lipwear in Retro Red (again, apropos!) to complete the look.

I would definitely try this look again, but with different lip color (I’d love to see how it would look with a purple lipstick).

Do you have any underappreciated artists and legends that you look up to? Who’s your spirit animal?