s 1940s Fashion - 'Keep young and beautiful' - Hull Museums Collections

1940s Fashion - 'Keep young and beautiful'

costume detail

Britain may have been at War, suffering blitz, blackouts and shortages - but that was no excuse for Women to start neglecting their appearance! Even with their men away at war and their days spent working in factories or civil defence forces, magazines and advertising campaigns emphasised the importance for women to look their best.

Cheerfulness and resolution were expected, and with clothes rationed or restricted for safety in the work place, hairstyles and makeup were seen as a way to brighten up the drabness of wartime clothes and express some individuality. The Hollywood Glamour of forties beauties such as Veronica Lake, Ingrid Bergman and Rita Hayworth set a high standard for women to follow, but despite shortages and extreme circumstances, a woman's duty to be beautiful was considered part of the war effort.


Hairstyles of the forties required a lot of hairpins, setting lotion and patience! Hair was meticulously curled into small pin curls and set with lotion, to create waves, rolls and curls of complicated proportions! Those working in the armed forces were required to have a hairstyle that didn't touch their collar, and many women adopted 'Military' or 'Victory' styles which were quite short. For those working in factories long hairstyles were a safety hazard and girls wishing to copy Veronica Lake's seductive flowing locks soon found their way to the emergency department! The use of scarves, hairnets and turbans prevented these kinds of accidents.

The 'Pageboy', (shoulder length hair curled under sometimes with a waved fringe) and the 'Pompadour' (a style with a high standing front section, usually achieved by backcombing or the use of padding) were both popular forties styles.

Make up

Despite the extreme circumstances of war, women were urged to put their 'best face forward' and use beauty and cheerfulness to help boost Wartime morale. Although cosmetics were becoming scarce, magazines offered handy helpful hints on looking beautiful. Red lipstick and nails were the height of fashion, as were high arched plucked eyebrows. But like everything else, fresh supplies of make up were in short reserve, requiring economical and inventive use of make up already owned to make it last.