Hairstyles From the Mid 40s

Updated April 17, 2017

As World War II came to its conclusion in 1945, hairstyles for years after reflected the constraints of wartime--hair was kept short, curly and manageable. Hollywood flaunted a different look. The silver screen highlighted long and wavy tresses, and sirens such as Veronica Lake epitomised beauty. But on the streets, women cut their flowing hair when they war began, and styles such as the pageboy and middy were more prevalent.


The 1940s pageboy hairstyle was different from its sleeker versions in the 1950s and 60s, because it had a lot more volume. Women set their curls by wetting and pin-curling the hair, sometimes overnight. They later vigorously brushed the styles, curling the hair under, to get the desired look---mimicking an English page or servant.

A 1940s pageboy style needs a traditional bob, but with a side part, instead of the centre part prevalent in the 1920s. Incidentally, the side part was a signature of the 1940s, as it was the foundation for most styles.


Middy is a nickname for a navy midshipman, and it was translated into naval-inspired style and haircuts. The haircut was a layered cut, dictated by a very strict, almost military-like measuring system. The traditional middy is only 4 inches at the longest point. The "baby middy" was 3 inches, the "middy plus" was 4 1/2 inches, and the "middy long" was 6 inches at its longest length. Women used pin-curls or regular curler to style the middy cut, and brushed it to give a full and fluffy look.

Contoured Up-sweep

Contrary to older up-dos, the 1940s upsweep was the product of a short haircut, called the contour cut. The stylist sectioned the hair into five parts, and cut the hair to 2 to 3 inches, depending on the region of the head. This helped give the illusion of a wavy up-do, without all the bulk that would naturally weigh the hair down. The stylist "moulded" the cut hair through finger-waving and pin-curling to get the desired sculpted look. The woman then wore a scarf when sleeping or in leisure activities to help keep hair in place. Bette Davis wore a contoured upsweep.

Cascading Waves

Finger-waves were tight and to the head in the 1920s and '30s, but the 1940s ushered in a more free flowing water-waving style. A hairstyle made famous by Veronica Lake, the soft cascading wave style stems from the classic long bob with a deep side part. The technique is called water waving, because the hair had to be wet to set the waves. Long two-pronged metal clips embed a deep wave into the hair. As a final touch the hair is curled at the end to add bounce to the hairstyle.

Victory Rolls

The "victory roll" was an aeroplane manoeuvre, but by the end of WWII, women embraced it as a hairstyle. The stylist sectioned the hair into thirds, starting with a part from ear to ear, and then another part down the middle of the head, dividing the front into two sides. After parting, the stylist hair wet and pin-curled the hair, curling upward from the ear to the middle of the head. When the set dried, the hair was brushed out and curled to form two big rolls, one on either side of the head, before being bobby pinned down to create a loose roll. Victory rolls are common in many pin-up pictures and 1940s imagery, as it became one of the quintessential styles associated with the post-war era.

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About the Author

B. Maté has been reporting on creative industries since 2007—covering everything from Fashion Week to the latest artist to wow the Parisian art scene. Her experience stems from a marketing background, with more than 12 years of experience consulting fashion-forward entrepreneurs.