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  • Writer's pictureLonda

WW2 Affects Hair & Make-Up & Hollywood: Series Part 4

WW2 shaped today’s world in many ways.  Read on to see how it affected hair and make-up, and even Hollywood.

Italics denote words from Meghann Mason’s thesis, which can be found in its entirety  HERE.

Hair & Make-Up

To encourage sales and keep morale high, cosmetic companies created names for products such as “Victory Red”. Other names included “Auxiliary Red” and “Jeep Red” lipstick by Tussy and a red nail polish by Cutex named “Alert.” As mentioned in the “Movieland” release, makeup for the legs became popular as silk stockings and nylon stockings were not available. 

Rationing also affected the hair and makeup industry in both the U.S. and the U.K.

For makeup, important ingredients such as glycerin, castor oil, alcohol and talcum powder were set aside for the war effort.

Beauty magazines took the lead in writing articles on how to maintain your looks in trying times by printing advice such as:

-To maintain the shine in your hair, use a natural bristled brush and brush your hair, moving the natural oils throughout your hair, instead of using Brillantine (a popular hair oil used for shine.)  Now I know where the adage to brush your hair 100 strokes per evening came from! 

– Keep natural nails buffed to a shine if you do not have lacquer, and to use lacquer sparingly as it was in short supply. Perhaps use only for special occasions.  Lacquer = fingernail polish, gals.  I wonder what the women of WW2 would think of our nail salons and manicures and ‘gel nails’ today?

-Face creams became quite popular, especially with women who worked at the factories, because they helped to protect the skin from the toxins in the work environment.

As for hair, it became increasingly important to recycle hair pins, combs, or any other products made of metal. Max Factor, who besides having a successful makeup line, also had a wig making department. He was notoriously thrifty in his career before the war, and it helped his business during the war to continue to be that way. He would have his staff recycle all pins found on the ground during the styling and wig-making process. Clients would bring in their own container of pins if they wished to have their hair styled into an updo.


Veronica Lake made the deep side part and shoulder length hair extremely popular during the period. (see fig. 13) It was a style that was easily achieved by the everyday woman and starlets alike. It used little product and hair could be rolled in pin curls or with fabric.

The overwhelming desired result during this period was, despite rationing, to appear beautiful and strong, which in turn proved patriotism and support.

Hair in Hollywood was a big deal; it needed to look lustrous, vibrant, and healthy to show that on the home-front, be it in the U.S. or Britain, people were strong and healthy which in turns meant they will win the war.

The practicality of hair care did change however. Women had to conserve their beauty products due to limited production of certain items, such as glycerin and shampoo, and because of the limited production of packaging. Women would use soap flakes or plain tap water to clean their hair. This is one of the reasons head scarves, turbans, and hats became so popular during WWII. It was a glamorous way of hiding not so glamorous hair. The second reason was for safety. With women now working in factories with welding and moving machinery, their hair could easily get caught or get burned and so scarves and turbans became essential.

Beauty tips in magazines included:

-Use vegetable dye for hair color to touch up your roots.

-If you have run out of lipstick, use beet juice to stain your lips.

-Use lipstick on your cheeks as well as your lips for added color.

-Need a tan? Use brown gravy as a self-tanner.

-Recycle your hair pins.

If you need an up-do, bring your own pins to the salon

-Roll your own hair if you need to- use scrap rag pieces instead of rollers.


Re-cycle even lipstick tubes!

Note the lines at the bottom of this make-up sales poster:

“Save money and metal by saving your lipstick container.  Refill for medium and large sizes 1/6 and 4/3.”

re_cycle lipstick tubes


To say that Hollywood impacted fashion during WWII in spite of restrictions is a huge understatement. Not only did it affect the image of the war on the U.S. home-front, its reach extended overseas to the U.K. and other Allied countries. Distribution even reached Germany for some films.

Looking at how rationing and restricted access to materials affected production in Hollywood is really a look at how the entire war machine used and exempted the studios, actors and actresses to further the war effort.

If there were any new clothing that was purchased for a particular film, it would have fallen under the mandates; clothes were either recycled or reused from previous productions or they were made out of fabric that already existed in the studio’s costume shops and were therefore un-rationed.

In the majority of films made during WWII, Hollywood created a reflection of the every-day world that men and women were living in with a touch of glamour. In Warner Brother’s famous 1942 film, Casablanca, producer Hal Wallis was concerned about the use of overly dressed up clothing for the characters, particularly Ingrid Bergman. He sent an inter-office memo to director Michael Curtiz on June 3, 1942 stating: “There are a couple of new costume changes for INGRID BERGMAN, evening outfits, and I wish you would look at them and then talk to me. The outfits, in my opinion, are okay. I prefer the number 11 with just a clip instead of all the necklaces. But my point in writing you is that we should think seriously about 27 whether this girl should ever appear in an evening outfit. After all, these two people are trying to escape from the country. The Gestapo is after them; they are refugees, making their way from country to country, and they are not going to Rick’s café for social purposes. It seems a little incongruous to me for her to dress up in evening clothes as though she carried a wardrobe with her. I think it would be better for Henreid to wear a plain sport outfit, or a palm beach suit, and if she wore just a plain little street suit. Somehow or other these evening costumes seem to rub me the wrong way…”’


In the Warner Brothers Archives there is a report from “Movieland” about the photographer Henry Waxman, who talks about shooting pin-up girls during the war for the boys in the military. “For the most part, the boys don’t seem to want the girls glamorized too much…They prefer them to look natural- like the pretty girl down the block they dated before they went to war” (JH). That sentiment is an idea that Hollywood studio executives embraced as well due to pressures from the War Department and the pressure to make a profit.

When the U.S. entered the war in 1941, the War Department expanded its bounds into the movie industry. It created an office through the War Production Board (WPB) aptly named the Motion Picture and Photographic Section of the Consumer Durable Goods Division. (Can you imagine that today?) The purpose of this office was to review all films and photographs made in Hollywood to make sure they did not undermine the image the WPB wanted to project to the public and to make sure that where rationing was required, it was being adhered to across the board in all departments (i.e. Props, Scenery, Film Stock, Wardrobe, etc.). 

Hollywood Supported Government

The executives of the large studios took great strides to conserve materials for the war effort and to show the public films that reflected the stance the U.S. and U.K were taking against the Axis Powers and the War.

There is still a hold-over supply of the heavy cloth materials used to make the so-called “oomph” costumes, but creative designers are turning more and more to lighter, frillier materials and are getting even more “oomph” in their dresses” (MPAA report on the Effect of War on Hollywood ).

For sports and casual wear, cotton had been popular. The change that appeared with WWII was its cross-over into evening wear and suits. “It is patriotic to wear cotton, and besides, the designers say, there are untold possibilities for glamour in this material. Bring in enough contrast with cotton, they point out, and you’ve got something refreshingly modern. Use patterned materials and pick it up with bright, startling costume jewelry and you are going to have something which will excite the imagination of every theatre-goer” (MPAA report on the Effect of War on Hollywood ).

In the area of makeup, Max Factor and the House of Westmore, were working overtime to continue to create the defining looks of the decade.

The image here is an example of the dual advertising that was commonplace during the war. (see fig. 15) Magazines and propaganda posters emphasized to women that they could lift morale by making sure they were in makeup and their hair was styled to the best of their ability. “With a political incorrectness unimaginable today, government, business, and charity all acknowledged that American GIs were virile, mostly working-class males. If a GI needed encouragement in tough times, he wanted it to come from a woman like [Betty] Grable, who famously said, ‘I’m strictly an enlisted man’s girl’”

Women, constantly encouraged to maintain their beauty even though they were working in jobs where they would be filthy by the time they ended their day, were influenced by Hollywood. Hollywood encouraged this by having the starlets of the day advertise products used on set and in their daily lives. This was the beginning of such advertisements in any large capacity. Companies such as Max Factor had an amazing clientele of celebrities that participated in ads for them.

Max Factor had been in Hollywood since 1908 and created the first flexible grease paint for film that wouldn’t crack or melt on camera under the hot lights.


He opened his line of cosmetics to the public in 1920 and coined the system of “Color Harmony” in which different shades of cosmetics complimented ladies of differing hair color and skin tone. He was considered the most successful makeup artist in Hollywood at the time and when the public saw his advertisements, they paid attention. The line of thought hoped for was that if the stars were using his cosmetics on the silver screen, then they must be good enough to use in a factory so the ladies could look like a million bucks all day long.

Coming tomorrow, a look at more clothes fashion of the war years.

Do you have photos of your family member during the 1940’s?  Any stories? Please comment to share, or email to me at


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