A Brief History of 1940s Vintage Makeup


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The 1940’s woman has a look all to her own. Confident up-do hairstyles, redder than red lipsticks and nails and prominent arched eyebrows.

LIPSTICKS in the 1940s were red all the way and while there were now countless shades to choose from, the final objective of any young 1940s woman was prominent red lips. Replacing the thin understated lip contours of the The 1930s was a deep luscious full mouth. Beauty guides encouraged women to use a pencil to outline ‘outside’ their natural lip line to enlarge their mouth. As most lipsticks were matte, Vaseline was used to add a little lustre and gloss. The 1940s lip was the most iconic and most loved makeup item amongst women of the time. If nothing else was applied, a bright red lip would be on a 1940s woman’s face. During the early to mid-40s, red was the favoured shade, everything from classic bright reds, blue-toned reds, pink, red, orange-red and cherry red. Lipsticks were nearly always matte, however, a little petroleum jelly would be applied for a glossy lip. Women were encouraged to keep buying lipstick and to send letters to the front covered in ‘lipstick kisses’ to boost the morale of the soldiers.”

Brows had taken a very different turn in the 1940s, gone were the days of plucking your brows to oblivion and drawing them back on pencil thin. The 1940’s brow was a lot softer than the 20s or 30s brow and women often had their natural hairs. Instead, they would be neatly groomed, and only stray hairs were tweezed. However, a fuller, arched, or rounded brow was the favoured shape and would be achieved with the aid of a brow or eyeliner pencil which would be one shade darker than the hair. Some women preferred to define the brows with just petroleum jelly, so you also could say that the 1940s saw the very first brow gel. In the 1940s, a flawless base was heavily sought after, however, unlike in the 1930s, a full-coverage matte face wasn’t the only option. Foundations were now being formulated to have a “sheen” to them in order to achieve a natural look. Pan Cake Foundation was incredibly popular throughout the 1940s due to its compact packaging and the ease of re-applying throughout the day. Powder compacts in the decade had now replaced the loose powders of the 1920s and 1930s due to their messiness and inconvenience. Now that women were working masculine jobs, makeup had to be on the go. A powdered base was still very popular and often came in pressed form in a compact. Women would often powder a shade or two lighter to help contour the face as well as bring some normality back to the skin, as foundation shades were often too dark.

Rouge was still very popular throughout the 1940s, however, it was applied very sparingly on the apples of the cheeks and blended up towards the cheekbones to further enhance a natural face, as well as define the bone structure, slightly different to the dramatic 30s rouge which covered most of the cheek. If a woman couldn’t find a blush, she’d use her lipstick as rouge as well as her contour. Lipstick was a very good option as it had far more staying power than an actual blush. However, if a woman could get a blusher, it was common to apply a moist rouge (cream blush) and set it with a powdered rouge.

Unlike the 1920s and 1930s, not much emphasis was placed on the eyes again, due to War Time shortages, eyeshadows were incredibly difficult to come by. However, a little eye definition was still desired and on a day-to-day basis all that would be used as mascara. Some preferred just a light coating of Vaseline on the lashes but by the 1940s, new mascara formulations had been produced. The classic mascara cake was still very much in use, but liquids and pastes were now available. Women would often mix these with either a drop of water or spit to create lots of lash definition. Eyeshadows were reserved for night-time and the colours would often be very neutral. Colours would match the eye colour so a blue-eyed girl would wear blue-grey shades and brown shades would be used on hazel, brown and black-eyed girls. If access to eyeshadow wasn’t possible, women would create their own out of ingredients such as burning a candle under a saucer which would create a soot-like mixture. This was mixed with petroleum jelly and would be used to create a soft Smokey eye, only for the night-time.

Despite war rationing, women began using makeup from their teens onward. Just twenty years before – this would have been unthinkable.