Short Hairstyles of Women in the 1940's

Updated April 17, 2017

Women everywhere found their roles and expectations changing throughout WWII and the 1940s, and they adapted in remarkable, brave and creative ways. This didn't mean that personality and individuality need be extinguished, however, and the changes in women's hair fashions reflected the necessity of keeping hold of personal expression and identity despite the grim times.

Changing Roles

During World War II, when women took over the jobs vacated by men enlisting for service, practicality became the important criterion when choosing hairstyles. Long hair could get caught in machinery, as well as being difficult to keep clean despite a protective headscarf. However, having short hair didn't mean you couldn't make it glamorous, and even if rations and restrictions meant clothing had to be plain, hair could be as pretty as you wished.

Hair Fashion for Black Women

In the United States, black women across the country challenged racial stereotyping that excluded them from the definitions of what beauty meant. During the decade, women moved away from the oily pomades, pressed hair and stiff curls of the 1920s and 30s, wanting gentler hair with relaxing treatments and styles. Hair straightening was not about wanting to be white, but a social and cultural rite of passage for girls moving into womanhood.

Hairstyling at Home

For both black and white women, curls were big business. Pin curls, kiss curls, big curls, little curls -- the accent was on the feminine in harsh times that demanded that you stood up to be counted and did your bit. Hair clips, hair rollers, hairspray and setting lotion transformed shorter hair, at a time when women tended not to have access to personal hair dryers. Hair rats, made from stockings or fabric rolled into a sausage-shape, formed the base of sculpted rolls of hair around the head.

Hair Styles

Hair partings were on the left or the right, your style creating a frame for your face. Victory rolls involved rolling sections of hair from the tips to the roots, letting them cool and set, then removing the curler without moving the curl. Pin curls were small sections of hair wound round your fingers, pinned against your scalp with hair clips, and left to dry. The chignon, a knot of hair pinned into the nape of the neck, was popular with all women, and gave quick elegance.

A Revival of 1940s Hairstyles

Hairstyles from the 1940s are making a big comeback. Seventy years on, women are rediscovering the elegance of the 40s look, and are styling their hair using the same methods and accessories. Modern-day curling tongs with temperature control have replaced the tongs that burnt and frizzed. Retro clothing fashions and make-up complete the look, and there is big business in sourcing original fashions from that era, or recreating them from dressmaking patterns.

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About the Author

Veronica James has been writing since 1985. Her first career was as a specialty-trained theater sister responsible for running routine and emergency operating theaters, as well as teaching medical/nursing students. James's creative and commercial writing has appeared online, in print and on BBC radio. She graduated with an honors Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of North London.