The Harley Medical Group

Beauty through the ages - 1940s

The end of the 1930s brought World War Two. While the men went off into battle, the women were left to pick up the jobs traditionally held by men.

A combination of war rations and unfeminine working conditions led women of the 1940s to develop a more understated, less maintenance look. This didn’t stop them from using makeup as a form of escapism from the mundane everyday life though – they simply had to be more creative about how they used it. Let’s take a closer look at how the war impacted on women’s beauty regimes in the 1940s and how you can recreate the look for yourself.


Makeup During The War

Working in aircraft factories and munitions was no glamorous life for women of the 1940s. Nevertheless, they turned to easy on-the-go makeup to retain a sense of femininity. Makeup needed to be convenient and simple to fit in with busy working lives, yet bright and feminine to boost morale. It wasn’t just working women who wore makeup either – it became prevalent among teenage girls too, something which would have been frowned on during previous decades. In the UK, makeup was not rationed but it was not as readily available as in the United States, leading many British women to use what products they had to emulate the popular beauty style in the US (lipstick was often used as a blusher too, creating more defined facial contours).


It Was All About The Lips

Lipstick was a major product of the 1940s, with women being encouraged to send their men letters stained with lipstick kisses to remind their loved ones of home. Despite there being a ban on launching new cosmetics, popular makeup entrepreneur Elizabeth Arden was commissioned to create a makeup palette for the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. As red lipstick was the most popular cosmetic of the decade, she designed a range of varying shades of red to match the women’s uniforms and aptly named them ‘Victory Red’ and ‘Montezuma Red’.


The 1940s Look

  • Foundation

Gone was the paler than pale look of the ‘20s and ‘30s, replaced by foundation one shade darker than a woman’s complexion.

  • Powder

The messy, loose powder of the previous decades was replaced by powder compacts, offering a more convenient solution for working women.

  • Blusher

Rose pink hues were applied in a triangle shape to help contour the face. Recreate it yourself starting from the top of your cheekbone and working outwards and upwards towards your temples.

  • Eyes

Eye shadow was understated and worn in natural and muted earthy tones. If you’re trying to recreate the look for evening, top your eye shadow with a dab of Vaseline to add a glamorous sheen. Line your upper lids with black liquid eyeliner, flicking it out slightly beyond the outer edge of your eye.

  • Lashes

False lashes became available for the first time during the 1940s – women applied lashings of mascara to their upper lashes for wide eyed feminine appeal.

  • Eyebrows

Although the prominent arch shape was still popular, eyebrows were much thicker than in the 1930s, with women simply keeping them well groomed.

  • Lips

Red lips were a prerequisite for every woman, to revive tired looking skin and to boost morale as part of the war effort.

If you’re hoping to recreate this look for yourself, find out which shades perfectly complement your hair and eye colour in this useful 1940s eye shadow and lipstick guide. Use the advice in conjunction with these makeup application tips for every face shape – so whether your face is square, round or oval, you can nail the 1940s beauty look.

Learn how makeup products and styles changed over time with our Beauty Through The Ages infographic – see how many of the looks you can recreate for yourself!


Hollywood Beauties Of The 1940s

So now you know how to capture the iconic look of the 1940s, here’s a quick look at the beauty regimes of the stunning leading ladies who reigned during the decade:

  • Katharine Hepburn

Katharine’s flawless complexion was achieved by regular exfoliation. She reportedly mixed together sugar, warm water and lemon juice before massaging gently into her skin. She’d then splash icy cold water over her face to close her pores.

  • Ginger Rogers

Ginger Rogers was no fan of matte compact powders. Instead, she created a dewy skinned look by using a tiny amount of pure almond oil over the top of her foundation.

  • Judy Garland

Best known for playing the role of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Judy Garland grew into her looks at an early age, favouring a natural base to let her beauty shine through. A true icon of the decade, she was known to sport a bright red lip and long, dramatic false eye lashes.



If you’re interested in finding out more about beauty during the 1940s and how the war influenced women’s makeup styles, you may find the following websites useful:!image-number=7

Posted July 18, 2020
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