Ah, the simple glamour of the 1940s. From the working woman of the war to the femme fatale of film noir, the 1940s were about minimal makeup and a natural look. During this time, women were expected to look put together, but never overdone. During WWII, they took on new roles in America, working in factories or taking part in war efforts. The new roles brought forth a new look, and the theme was practical yet polished.
In the early 1940s, the cosmetics available to women were limited due to war time rationing. Ingredients necessary for products like mascara and eyeliner were needed for war materials, so those products were off the market. Resourceful women used boot black as mascara, shoe polish to color eyebrows, and rose petals soaked in alcohol as liquid blush. Castor oil, a main ingredient in lipstick, was needed for war materials, but somehow lipsticks were still available. In fact, lipsticks became the number one most popular product of that decade–it’s estimated that 90% of women at that time wore lipstick daily. Women in the military were expected to wear lipstick, and Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden even created specific reds to match or compliment uniforms.
As far as face makeup was concerned, the idea was to make it undetectable. Foundations were applied lightly, and minimal rouge (if any) was used. Powder, one of the makeup products not affected by war time rationing, was still widely used. The 1940s skin was matte, and that stayed constant throughout the decade.
When eyeshadows were used, they were natural and well blended. Eyeliner was used on the the top lashline only, and the line was very thin. When mascara became available again, it was used sparingly, in staying with the minimal makeup look. Gone were the shaved off and re-drawn eyebrows of the 1930s. 1940s brows were usually naturally shaped and only stray hairs were tweezed.
If a woman had a thin top lip, it was often overdrawn to be equal in size to the bottom lip. Reds were popular for the early and middle part of the decade, but pinks started to become popular in the late 1940s. The lipstick was the only real noticeable makeup on the face.
1940s hair was often in soft curls and parted to the side. Victory rolls–think Rosie the Riveter–were popular during the war, especially with working women. Many women wore their hair longer in the 1940s, as a show of femininity during a time when many of the products and clothing they were used to were not accessible.
The film noir femme fatale came about after the war. Her makeup was still pretty natural, no huge departure for the war time look. It is my opinion that the lighting, styling, acting and general cinematography of film noir is what gave these women their seductive looks. It wasn’t about a smokey eye or shimmery bronzed skin. The 1940s femme fatale look had less to do with makeup and more to do with those other factors.
I think 1940s makeup was beautiful, and I love the refined styles of the time. The makeup is classic, and for those of you who want to try it, it is certainly day-time appropriate. The thought of wearing a matte, red lip scares a lot of people, but I think it is classy and instantly brightens you up. And the eye makeup and brows are simple and natural, two things I have found that a lot of people like. Give it a try–I think you’ll like it :)