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1940s Makeup: Iconic Trends and Techniques of the Era

The 1940s was a transformative era for makeup, as it blended wartime practicality with glamour and elegance. Women of this time adapted their beauty routines to accommodate war rationing and working conditions while still expressing their individuality and style.

The history of makeup reveals that 1940s makeup was defined by strong eyebrows, pastel eye shadows, and those classic red lips that captured the era’s essence.

A Vintage Vanity Table With A Mirror, Lipstick, Powder Compact, And Mascara. A Classic Red Lipstick And A Compact Of Powder Sit Open On The Table

During this period, women had to be resourceful in their approach to cosmetics, making do with limited products and finding creative solutions to maintain their polished appearance.

Authentic 1940s makeup was characterized by natural beauty heightened with touches of glamour, and remains a timeless look to this day. The influence of 1940s beauty extended beyond just cosmetics, as hairstyles and fashion also played significant roles in the overall aesthetic of the era.

Key Takeaways

  • 1940s makeup was a blend of wartime practicality and elegant glamour
  • The era’s iconic makeup look featured strong eyebrows, pastel eye shadows, and classic red lips
  • Women adapted to limited resources and rationing by using creative solutions to maintain their polished appearance

Historical Context of 1940s Makeup

World War II Influence

The 1940s was a decade marked by World War II, which greatly influenced the makeup trends of the era. Women were encouraged to maintain a polished, confident appearance to boost morale, both on the home front and for those fighting overseas. The iconic look of the 1940s woman included up-do hairstyles, red lipsticks, and prominent arched eyebrows.

While certain products were scarce due to the war, women embraced resourcefulness and creativity in their makeup routines. For example, they used beet juice as a natural alternative to lipstick to maintain their appearance amidst the scarcity.

The Role of Rationing

Rationing during the 1940s affected the availability of makeup products. European women were faced with cosmetics shortages as resources were redirected towards the war effort. However, this led to an emphasis on achieving a natural look that enhanced a woman’s beauty with minimal tools.

Women in the 1940s prioritized certain makeup products, such as lipstick, to maintain a sense of normalcy and patriotism. Red lipstick, in particular, was considered a must-have, while the rest of their makeup looked quite modest.

Eyebrows were another important aspect of the 1940s makeup look. Women groomed and shaped their brows to create a natural arch or round appearance, using brow pencils to define them.

The 1940s makeup style promoted a sense of resilience and ingenuity in the face of rationing and adversity. Women found ways to maintain a polished and elegant appearance, exemplifying their strength and determination during a challenging time in history.

Foundations of 1940s Makeup

During the 1940s, makeup was focused on enhancing natural beauty, with the use of limited tools and materials. Two key items used to create the base of the makeup were face powders and liquid foundations. These items played a vital role in achieving a matte finish and matching the wearer’s skin tone.

Face Powder

In the 1940s, powders played a pivotal role in counteracting the glossy finish of the era’s heavier foundations. The aim was to achieve a matte complexion that appeared as close to one’s natural skin tone as possible. Lighter powder shades were favored to maintain a look of vitality and youthfulness. 1940s powders often came in the form of loose powder, which was applied using a powder puff.

  • Matte finish: Powders of this era focused on achieving a smooth, non-reflective finish.
  • Skin tone match: Powders were selected to match the wearer’s natural skin color as closely as possible.
  • Application technique: A powder puff allowed for even distribution of the product on the face.

Liquid Foundation

In contrast to the matte finish of face powders, some 1940s foundation products were advertised as “having a sheen”. However, the most popular 1940s foundation product was Max Factor’s Pan-Cake, developed initially for the film industry. It provided a matte finish and was available in various shades to match different skin tones. Liquid foundations aimed to give a slightly sun-kissed or tanned look, which was popular during this era.

  • Cream base: Many 1940s liquid foundations had a cream base, providing a heavier coverage than face powders.
  • Matte finish vs. sheen: While most foundations aimed to achieve a matte finish, some offered a slight sheen as an alternative.
  • Skin tone variety: A range of shades was available for women to find a foundation that closely matched their natural skin tone.

In summary, both face powders and liquid foundations played a crucial role in creating a polished and natural look in 1940s makeup. The makeup selections were based on achieving a matte finish and matching skin tones, enhancing the wearer’s inherent beauty while maintaining a youthful appearance.

Eye Makeup Techniques


In the 1940s, well-groomed and defined eyebrows were essential to achieving the desired makeup look. Women used an eyebrow pencil to create a high arch, trimming their natural brows into a fine line that pointed toward the lower tip of the ear. To make the drawn-on arch appear more natural, they blended the pencil marks with their fingertips or a brow brush.

Mascara and Eyeliner

Mascara played a significant role in 1940s eye makeup. Available in liquid, paste, or cake formulations, women typically chose dark brown or black shades to coat their lashes. Some even used Vaseline on their lashes for a more subtle look. Eyeliner was applied sparingly, with a thin line drawn as close to the upper lash line as possible. For everyday looks, women used pencil eyeliner for a more natural effect.

Eyeshadow Application

Eyeshadow in the 1940s emphasized subtle elegance, often using neutral champagne and matte taupe or mauve shades. Max Factor was a popular brand at the time, offering a range of pastel shadows that women applied using the following technique:

  1. Apply a base shade – Cover the entire eyelid with a neutral champagne color, up to the brow bone.
  2. Define the crease – Use a matte taupe or mauve shade to add depth and definition to the eye socket, blending the color seamlessly.
  3. Highlight the brow bone – Apply a lighter shade under the arched eyebrows to lift and emphasize the brow area.

Though eye makeup was minimal compared to the bold lips of the era, skillful application of these shades allowed women in the 1940s to achieve a timeless and glamorous look.

Lip Beauty Trends

Lipstick Colors

In the 1940s, lipstick colors played a significant role in defining the makeup look of the era. A variety of shades were popular, ranging from light reds to deep, bold hues. Some of the most common colors included brick red, crimson, cherry red, and the iconic red lipstick. Tangee lipstick was a popular brand at that time, known for its color-changing properties to create a personalized shade. Women often chose matching lipstick shades that complemented their outfit, harmonizing their overall look.

Lip Makeup Application

The application of lip makeup in the 1940s focused on enhancing the natural beauty of a woman’s lips. Women used to draw an outline slightly outside their natural lip line to create the illusion of fuller, more luscious lips. Below are the key steps that were followed:

  1. Outline the lips using a lip pencil, slightly extending beyond the natural lip line.
  2. Fill in the lips with the desired shade of lipstick.
  3. Use a lip brush to blend the lipstick evenly.
  4. Apply a light layer of Vaseline for added luster and gloss.

Rouge was another lip makeup product used during this time, often in the form of a cream or powder. The rouge was blended into the apples of the cheeks to create a natural flush, harmonizing with the lip color. This helped to enhance the overall makeup look and create a classic 1940s appearance. Lip makeup application during this era focused on accentuating the lips and adding a touch of glamour to every woman’s face, representing a symbol of morale and resilience during the war years.

Blush and Cheekbone Definition

Application of Rouge

In the 1940s, blush was referred to as rouge and played a crucial role in the overall makeup look. Rouge offered a subtle and natural enhancement, as opposed to the bold contouring we are familiar with today. The subtlety of rouge was essential to achieving the iconic 1940s makeup appearance.

Rouge application techniques emphasized enhancing one’s natural beauty. One of the most popular methods was the triangle effect, where the rouge was applied in a triangle shape on the cheeks to lift and accentuate the cheekbones. The rouge was blended lightly into the skin to create a softened, natural finish.

During this era, a variety of rouge formulations were available. Moist rouge was one popular choice – it came in small pots, and was applied by blending onto the skin with a sponge or a fingertip. Another option was compressed powder formulations, which were lightly brushed on the cheekbones and blended to create a natural rosy cheeked look.

Choosing the right rouge color was important for achieving the desired look. Women in the 1940s often opted for shades with pink undertones, which gave the cheeks a youthful, healthy glow. The key was to select a shade that complemented one’s natural skin tone, avoiding anything too dark or too vibrant, which would have looked out of place with the era’s overall aesthetic.

In short, 1940s makeup was centered around enhancing and celebrating natural beauty, and the application of subtle rouge was an essential component of this approach. By adding just a touch of color and definition to the cheeks, women of the 1940s were able to achieve a timeless, sophisticated appearance that remains iconic to this day.

Hairstyle and Hair Care

Popular Hairstyles

In the 1940s, hairstyles played a significant role in creating the overall vintage look for women. Some of the most iconic hairstyles of the time included up-do hairstyles, rolls, and short, curly bobs.

Up-do hairstyles involved confidently sweeping the hair up onto the head, creating a chic and elegant appearance. Employing pin curls and victory rolls helped achieve this aesthetic. Victory rolls were a particularly trendy style in which rolls of hair were placed at the top, sides, or back of the head, creating a quintessential 1940s look. Women could manipulate the shape, size, and position of the rolls to match their preferences or outfit. The hair could be either smoothly brushed or styled with waves for added flair Hair and Makeup Artist.

Similarly, short, curly bobs were a common yet practical hairstyle during the era. Featuring an overall short length with curls and maybe a wave or two at the front, this style became popular among both young and mature women. It was as suitable for wearing small hats and military uniform hats as it was easy to conceal under turbans when hair needed washing or became dirty Vintage Dancer.

Hair color and hair care were essential aspects of achieving the classic 1940s look. Back then, women predominantly straightened their hair, especially in the African American community, where it was a societal norm to attain employment Hair & Makeup Artist Handbook. This hairstyle trend would later change in the 1960s with the embracing of natural afro hair.

Mastering the 1940s hairstyle and hair care techniques allowed women to create a vintage look that reflected the fashion and trends of the time. Though some hairstyles might have been easy to achieve, others, like victory rolls, required patience and determination in order to perfect the technique. Regardless, the hairstyles of the 1940s continue to be admired and replicated today for their timeless elegance and charm.

Legacy of 1940s Makeup

1940s Makeup in Modern Fashion

The glamour and elegance of 1940s makeup have left a lasting impact on current beauty and fashion trends. The matte finish of the foundation, bold red lipsticks, and well-groomed eyebrows that characterized the era have become iconic. Modern makeup artists and enthusiasts often draw inspiration from these classic 1940s makeup looks, reflecting their timeless glamour in contemporary styles.

Notable beauty pioneers like Elizabeth Arden played a significant role in shaping the makeup industry in the 1940s. The limited availability of cosmetics during wartime led to the development of versatile and innovative products, many of which remain popular today. For example, creamy foundation sticks were first introduced during this period and continue to be a staple in modern makeup routines.

A critical element of the 1940s makeup look was the emphasis on natural beauty. Rather than reshaping eyebrows or heavily contouring the face, makeup artists focused on enhancing their clients’ existing features. This approach has heavily influenced modern makeup trends, with many people now opting for minimalist and natural-looking styles.

Vintage Makeup Guides and Resources

For those interested in replicating the vintage look of the 1940s, numerous resources and guides are available online. Websites such as Glamour Daze and Vintage Dancer provide detailed information on the history, techniques, and products used during that time.

  • Key features of 1940s makeup:
    1. Matte complexion
    2. Prominent arched or rounded eyebrows
    3. Subtle eye makeup, often featuring a single shade
    4. Bold red lipsticks, in various shades

These resources also offer step-by-step instructions for achieving an authentic 1940s look, including tips on selecting the right colors, textures, and products. Additionally, they provide examples of different styles and variations within the era to help readers find inspiration for their own vintage makeup looks.

1940s Beauty Icons and Influencers

The 1940s was a decade marked by wartime austerity and post-war optimism. Women’s makeup during this era celebrated both resilience and glamour, resulting in a timeless, refined look. There was a strong emphasis on natural beauty, unlike the 1930s and 1950s, which often preferred reshaping eyebrows and contouring the face1. Many Hollywood actresses of the time, such as Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner, served as inspiration for these iconic beauty trends.

Influential Makeup Brands

Two major cosmetic brands stood out during the 1940s as influential in shaping the beauty culture of the era: Max Factor and Elizabeth Arden. Both companies played a vital role in the industry, offering products that enhanced women’s natural beauty and allowed them to emulate their favorite screen goddesses.

Max Factor was already a well-established brand by the 1940s, having been founded by Polish-American makeup artist Maksymilian Faktorowicz in 19092. The company gained widespread recognition for its innovative makeup products, including the first commercially available foundation, Pan-Cake3. Max Factor’s influence was further solidified by its close connection to the Hollywood film industry, with many actresses and makeup artists using and endorsing its products.

On the other hand, Elizabeth Arden was an American businesswoman who founded the eponymous company in 19104. Like Max Factor, her brand contributed to the development of modern makeup products and techniques. During the 1940s, Elizabeth Arden focused on offering cosmetics that perfectly matched each individual woman’s skin tone, resulting in a natural beauty aesthetic5. Arden’s iconic Red Door salons also helped to promote her products and strengthen her position as a leading beauty influencer of the time.

Besides these two major players, other smaller cosmetic companies also made their mark on the 1940s beauty scene. However, the overall approach throughout the decade remained fairly consistent: a focus on enhancing one’s natural features, ensuring a flawless complexion, and using makeup to create a polished, understated look.

Here’s a brief summary of the typical 1940s makeup look:

FoundationEven, natural coverage6
EyebrowsGroomed, natural shape7
EyesSubtle, neutral shades8
LipsSoft red, Berry or Pink shades9
BlushNatural, lightly flushed10

Makeup Tips and Tricks of the Era

In the 1940s, makeup styles focused on enhancing natural beauty, with a few key trends and techniques defining the era. With the impact of war rationing, women had to be resourceful and creative with the limited makeup products available.

Key trends of the 1940s included a clean and matte complexion, strong arched eyebrows, neutral eyeshadow, winged eyeliner, and bold red lipstick. To create these looks, women used a variety of makeup items such as pancake makeup, eyebrow pencil, Vaseline, and black mascara.

Adapting 1940s Techniques Today

The 1940s makeup style can still be relevant and fashionable in the modern context, with a few adaptations to suit today’s trends and products. Here are some tips to recreate an authentic 1940s look:

  1. Foundation: Use a lighter foundation to ensure a matte complexion, similar to the pancake makeup used in the 1940s. Set with a translucent powder to achieve a smooth and long-lasting finish.

  2. Eyebrows: Strong, arched eyebrows were a defining characteristic of the era. Use an eyebrow pencil to fill in and define your brows’ shape according to your natural arch.

  3. Eyeshadow: Apply a neutral champagne color to your eyelids, and use a matte taupe or mauve shade in the crease for depth and definition. You can also work a small amount of Vaseline or petroleum jelly on your brow bone for a subtle highlight.

  4. Eyeliner: Line your upper lash line with a black eyeliner pencil, tightlining for a natural effect. To achieve the iconic winged liner of the time, extend the liner slightly outward and upward from the outer corner of your eyes.

  5. Mascara: Use black mascara to darken and define your lashes. Typical 1940s mascara didn’t provide much volume, so focus on lengthening and separating your lashes for a more accurate effect.

  6. Lips: Bold red lipstick was a staple of the 1940s makeup look. Choose a classic red shade, and apply with precision using a lip brush for a sharp and defined outline. Some women also used their fingers to blend red lipstick with a bit of Vaseline on their cheekbones for a subtle blush.

  7. Finishing touches: Pay attention to the nails and cuticles for a well-groomed appearance. Keep nails short and rounded, and polished in colors such as red, green, or yellow – popular choices during the era.

By following these tips and adapting the techniques used in the 1940s, you can recreate a classic makeup look that is both elegant and timeless.

Influence of Color and Fashion

Makeup Palettes and Choices

The 1940s was an era of elegance and simplicity in the world of makeup and fashion. Despite wartime austerity, women’s makeup during this time focused on enhancing natural beauty, drawing attention to key facial features such as the eyes and lips.

As the decade progressed, makeup colors shifted to more vibrant hues. Lipsticks in particular became popular in bold shades like Victory Red which was seen as a symbol of resilience and patriotism. Eye makeup, on the other hand, was kept relatively subdued. Women often applied a single color on the eyelid, with popular choices including green, yellow, or pastel shadows.

Fashion greatly influenced makeup choices during the 1940s, with many women opting to coordinate their wardrobe and makeup ensembles. A classic silhouette of the era was the tailored suit, elaborate hairstyles, and the iconic 1940s red lip. This makeup style, focusing on a bold lip and a simple eye, became a symbol of the polished and refined glamour of the age.

In summary, the 1940s saw makeup and fashion come together to create a timeless look of elegance and sophistication. Women turned to bold lipsticks and subdued eye makeup in a variety of shades to embrace their resilience and glamour despite the challenging times.