Beauty Routines: Women, Cosmetics, and Beauty Products in World War II (5/10)


Grete Haentjens, “Her.Duty, Feminine Ideals in Magazine Advertising During World War II,” (Lehigh University, diss.)

Primary sources linked throughout.

In the wake and aftermath of World War II, the beauty industry expanded as the modern woman engaged in a consumer culture. New products were marketed specifically to women who felt the obligation of the “duty-to-beauty” culture (see post #2). Beauty products became increasingly commercialized in print advertising and television. Hygiene also was increasingly emphasized, as many of the ads in post #4 demonstrate. Part of womanhood was keeping up with new beauty products and using them to make oneself physically appealing. The following ads show some of new products or new marketing that attracted a wide array of mid-century women and helped beauty and hygiene products to become mainstream and part of basic cultural expectations for women.

Haentjens argues that much was at stake in the definition of gender roles, especially during the crises of the Depression and WWII. “Wartime advertisers, cooperating with government and industry, developed campaigns to draw women into the workplace during the war and to send them back to the home when the war ended.” To accomplish this, advertisers stressed that traditional values remained stable, even if women’s roles had become more fluid during the war. Advertisements showed women in new work roles, perhaps easing the transition into traditionally male spheres of labor, but “these same print ads put forward traditional ideals of American femininity.” “Wartime advertisers made no attempt to hide their motives for women. Most advertising clearly portrayed a feminine ideal that was incongruous with postwar careers for women.”

During the war, women were encouraged to reconcile their femininity with the cultural expectation of giving support to the war effort. Women were encouraged to be more frugal and conservative, but also to be extremely feminine. Even women who worked outside of the home in a war industry or other employment during the war were expected to maintain their physical appearance, otherwise people might worry that they lost their femininity. Even WAACS over-emphasized their non-frumpiness by dressing fashionably and learning about personal hygiene (see Women’s Army Corps: “The WAC is a Soldier, Too” 1954 US Army The Big Picture; view here; it also shows women being weighed and rejected for service around 3:20). A woman’s personal fitness and body again came to represent civic virtue and patriotism, as it demonstrated that a woman did not consume too much, was hard working, and able to perform work. The Navy also instituted personal hygiene instruction for women which went into great detail about both health and beauty ideals (view here).  The popularity of the red lipstick was partly due to Elizabeth Arden, who created a makeup kit for the American Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. “The aim was to boost their morale.” Society overemphasized standards of physical beauty to often calm anxieties about women becoming defeminized by working outside the home.


One thought on “Beauty Routines: Women, Cosmetics, and Beauty Products in World War II (5/10)

  1. Maintaining femininity adds an additional layer to everything that women have had to do since this time, it seems. Even in college it seems to be so critical to wear the right clothes, put on the right lipstick, etc. as to peacock in a more effective fashion. The intellect can’t be enough, the sacrifice in efforts to assist in the war can’t seem to be enough. Only when beauty is added is it sufficient. Interesting.


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