The 1940s were a tumultuous time for the United States. Our troops were sent overseas to fight in World War II, rationing (although much more lenient than other countries at the time) made access to beauty basics tougher, and women were working factory jobs in order to keep the American economy going. Despite these hardships, the 1940s was a time of glamour, and according to the United States National Labour Statistics Bureau, lipstick sales actually increased during that time. In advertisements, women were encouraged to send the troops “lipstick kisses” on their envelopes, and makeup usage was encouraged to keep up the morale of women who found themselves working in “unfeminine” conditions like factories, mines, or other labor-intensive jobs. History has shown that periods of national distress actually increase the sales of luxury products such as cosmetics: one could assume that some women found makeup to represent peace in a time of war. Here’s a look into some of the most pervasive and popular trends in 1940s United States.
Foundation was introduced as a necessity for the first time in the 1940s, whereas previous American cosmetics had focused mostly on cheek rouge, lipstick, and maybe mascara. Foundation was typically worn a shade darker than the natural skin color, and pressed or loose powder was used copiously for an ultra-matte finish. Because so many women were working during the 1940s, powder compacts became very popular, with beautiful designs and retractable powder pans. The 1940s marked the beginning of both liquid and powder foundations, and especially compact foundations.
Mascara wasn’t really seen as the makeup necessity it is today. Because of its relative newness in the 1940s cosmetic world, it was considered more of an extra luxury, and was used from “mascara cakes”: small bricks of brown or black pressed powder, which a wet mascara wand could be scraped against and used on the eyelashes. As some of the first formulas, these mascaras were slightly messy and inconvenient. The dominant “look” for mascara-wearing was a very natural, tapered look that increased in length along the outside of the eyelid.
Instead of the all-over blush that dominated the 1920s, the 1940s kept their blush on the apples of the cheeks for a more understated, mature glow. While the copious blush use of the 1920s made round or heart-shaped faces look young and fresh, it typically doesn’t flatter, squarer jawlines or straighter faces. The blush of the 1940s started on the apples of the cheeks and blended out back towards the hairline, and was usually sold in bright shades of red, pink, or coral.
Unlike the understated lips of the 1930s, 1940s lip products were all about the brightest red possible. As any working girl knows, even today, the easiest way to fake a full night’s rest and put-together look is by wearing a bright red lip. Overdrawn, matte lips in the brightest shades of red dominated the lipstick stage in the 1940s.