What Was 1940s and 1950s Makeup Like

1940s Makeup

Escapism was also the byword of the 1940s. Despite the wartime challenges such as shortages of alcohol for perfume, fats for lipsticks, and plastic for packaging, women’s fondness for makeup grew.

With the conscription in the war years of single females aged between 18 and 25, imagination and initiative were key to survival; although rations could curb a woman’s spending, they served only to increase her vanity. When stockings proved impossible to come by, leg make-up provided the perfect answer – seams penciled in with eyeliner became so common that they were almost fashionable, and body make-up caught on.

The sale of men’s products soared, too – the great morale boost of luxury products meant that scents for men and soap in ‘man-sized bars’ became number one gifts for servicemen. Even those who would balk at the mention of ‘face powder’ were happy to cover themselves in talc.

The American influence hit Europe big time -the presence of American Gis (with their gifts of nylon stockings) added a thrill of excitement to an otherwise tense and worrying time. Hollywood was still the biggest influence on beauty, with Bette Davis, Lauren Bacall and Rita Hayworth as memorable icons.

1940s and 1950s Makeup
1940s and 1950s Makeup

1950s Makeup

Glamour, glamour, glamour was the mantra of the 1950s, as the end of the war signaled the beginning of a whole new era. Dior’s New Look revolutionized the world of fashion, with models on the Paris runways boasting pinched-in waists and sculpted busts.

This overtly feminine look was accompanied by unashamedly made-up faces and the resumed supply of cosmetics meant that women would make the most of it; eye make-up became a special focus, with false lashes, plenty of shadow and liner, and lashings of lengthening mascara. Now that the grey war years were over, blue, green and violet shadow signaled the embrace of a whole new world of technicolor luxury.

Short haircuts were a form of liberation for women, everyone reeked of violets, and Coty, Rimmel and Charles of the Ritz became big names in the world of make-up. Revlon put cosmetics truly on the fashion map – thanks to Charles Revson, a new shade of lipstick and nail varnish would now be launched at six-month intervals instead of once a year. This gave women more choice than ever before, a phenomenon reflected by the differing icons of the era: while Grace Kelly, Vivien Leigh, Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe offered womanly beauty on the one hand, Audrey Hepburn introduced gamine chic on the other.


The 1940s and 1950s were characterized by a surge in the popularity of cosmetics despite wartime challenges. Escapism drove women’s attachment to makeup, with innovations like leg makeup and seam-penciled stockings. The era saw a rise in men’s grooming products as well. Influenced by Hollywood, the 1950s embraced glamour and femininity, with eye makeup taking center stage. Revlon’s introduction of new shades at frequent intervals expanded choices for women, reflecting the era’s diverse icons such as Grace Kelly and Vivien Leigh.

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