Hair & Makeup for Women in the 1940s

Written by donna tinus
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Hair & Makeup for Women in the 1940s
This woman is wearing dramatic victory rolls. (Christopher Polk/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images)

The 1940s saw women letting their hair down a little bit. Women wore their hair in soft curls that framed their faces, or in classic updos. World War II caused food and clothing rationing, which meant women couldn't obtain new outfits very often. They turned their attention to their hair instead. Make-up was minimal, and the emphasis was on the lips and eyebrows.

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Pin Curls

Actresses and pin-up girls like Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth set the trends toward longer hairstyles. The updo and tight curls of the 1930s gave way to a softer, more touchable style. Loose curls were all the rage, and usually fell to around shoulder length. Women achieved this look with pin curls. They would wrap strands of wet hair around a finger, sliding it off and holding it against their head. They would then anchor this curl with hair pins, and continue around their whole head in this manner. In the morning, they would take out all the pins and brush the curls out into soft waves.

Victory Rolls

In the second half of the 1940s, women might put their up in what were called victory rolls, or victory curls. The victory roll hairstyle celebrated the United States' victory in World War II and was named after a fighter plane manoeuvre. To form a victory roll, a woman would roll a large group of hair up from the ends and pin it in place to create a hollow tube of hair. Some were more dramatic than others. She might place two large rolls on the top of her head, toward the front, and let the rest fall to her shoulders in curls, or she might bring all her hair up and make several rolls.


Women still wore the classic updo hairstyle in the 1940s, but it changed slightly from the 1930s, becoming softer. A woman might follow the actress Lucille Ball's style and form a soft crown of curls on top of her head, while pinning the back hair up off her neck. She might also form several variations of the classic bun or French twist. The whole look was softer and more feminine than previous decades.


Make-up in the 1940s consisted of a matt, powdered look, with perhaps a little bit of rouge on the cheeks. Lipstick was generally a dark red and matched the nail polish, if she wore any. Mascara was light, and eyeshadow was usually nonexistent. Women usually plucked their eyebrows very thin, then filled in to a stylised look with an eyebrow pencil. Eyebrows were slightly thicker than in previous decades, when they were almost as thin as a pencil line. A woman in the 1940s usually carried her compact of pressed powder with her everywhere and would make frequent trips to the ladies' room to "powder her nose."

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