The holidays are fast approaching, so maybe you’ve been on the lookout for the perfect red lipstick. It has to be classy, bold and just the right shade. You’ll make a statement when you enter the room and be the talk of the party. But have you ever wondered where our glamourous connotation of a bright red lip comes from?


Morphe x Nikita Dragun Red Matte Lipstick Collaboration

Beauty in the 1940s was heavily affected by World War II. The rationing of supplies and damaged cosmetic factories meant makeup products were hard to come by; being forced into harsh work environments also meant women needed a more utilitarian look for their new jobs. Despite all of this, women managed to maintain their glamour in innovative and creative ways.


Ava Gardner, actress, wearing a typical 1940s makeup look

An ad by Tangee, a popular cosmetics company at the time, proudly proclaimed: “No lipstick — ours or anyone else’s — will win the war. But it symbolizes one of the reasons we are fighting…” (Komar, 2018) It was thought that wearing makeup during this time period keep a woman’s attitude positive and hopeful (even today, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the phrase, “Look good, feel good”. This morale boost extended to the soldiers overseas; the beauty of a woman could inspire them to fight that much harder for their country. (Inner Allure, 2018)

Imagine Kylie Jenner dropped a collection advertising “new formulas” that included mascaras made from burnt cork and beetroot juice lipstick (H&MUA, 2013). This probably wouldn’t happen today, but this was the reality in the 1940s. Women had to get creative and work with the materials that were available to them. Even in the direst times, they refused to sacrifice their glamour.

Kylie Cosmetics

Film stars in Hollywood were idolized, and actresses such as Rita Hayworth, Lauren Bacall and Grace Kelly contributed to the overall makeup look during this time period (Valenti, 2014).


Lauren Bacall, 1940s

We’ve all tried for an effortless look that accentuates our features without being too dramatic – this was the idea in the 40s. Foundation was used on the skin to create a natural, sun-kissed glow and finished off with pressed powder. Rogue was used on the cheeks to add warmth to the face; the shades were usually coral pink and peachy. The eyes were emphasized with a swipe of mascara and sometimes a little bit of shadow. Since eyeshadow was very hard to obtain, women would use soot from a burning candle mixed with petroleum jelly as a substitute (arguably, the true smoky eye look). Deviating from the previous trends in the 1920s and 1930s, eyebrows became more natural and fuller; they were well groomed and lightly penciled in (H&MUA, 2013).

And to finish it all off? Bold, red lipstick! The popular lip shape at the time was called Hunter’s Bow which was very feminine, full and rounded. The lipsticks varied in shades from a classic red, to ones with blue, brown or orange undertones. Typically, the lipsticks were matte, and if women wanted to add gloss, they applied a dab of petroleum jelly (H&MUA, 2013).


Besame Cosmetics ad, 1941

Society is tumultuous and constantly changing, but beauty stands the test of time. Makeup trends continue to evolve today, but one cannot forget the natural glam look of the 1940s.

Now, to pick that perfect shade…


Written by Lindsay Kalliokoski

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