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7 Tips for 1940s Glamour

Updated on June 22, 2011

Looks Good on Everyone!

I have been in love with the hair and makeup from the 1940s for as long as I can remember. I was just a kid when I watched Vivien Leigh play Scarlett O'Hara and I thought that she had to be one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. Yes, she was a naturally beautiful woman, but women the 40's knew something that most of us today seem to be ignorant of--how to look beautiful and feminine no matter what. I have never seen a woman that a 40's hairstyle and makeup looked bad on. Even unattractive women look beautiful and memorable when they glam it up, 1940s style.

I was inspired to write this lens by the 1948 version of "The Three Musketeers." I became intrigued by June Allyson's hair, and set out to recreate it for myself. Before I knew it, I had the hair and the makeup. I was able to get some makeup tips online, but most of it seemed pretty general and didn't tell me everything I wanted to know. I finally managed to put the look together by a combination of reading and looking at pictures of women from the 40's. Now I can't wait to go out and get myself some better eye liner and some red, red lipstick! (And I'm going to hit myself with some Visine; I didn't realize how red my eyes were until I took pictures of myself.)

Clothes

Alas, many 1940s many clothes do not look very good on my figure. One thing that does look good, however, is a tailored suit. Tailored suits really came into fashion during the war years, as women who joined the Auxiliary began wearing very fitted uniforms. Of course, the men were in uniform as well, and, as is typical in wartime, women's fashion imitated military dress.

Dress necklines varied from high to moderately low. Showing cleavage in a dress was not very popular. Sweet-heart necklines were quite in style, but good luck finding a dress with that style now. V-necks and scoop (round) necks were also in, but you won't see much that's square. Like women's hair, clothing followed the idea of round and curving lines.

Sleeves varied in length, but were often fitted through the arm, or would be blousy through the arm and tight at the cuff. Sleeveless was not in style. Sleeve caps (the shoulders) were usually full and sometimes lightly gathered and a little poofy. Shoulder pads came into style, especially in suits.

Waistlines were at the natural waist and dresses often featured a thin belt at the waist. Shirts/blouses were always tucked into the skirt or trousers. Pants came up high on the waist, were often pleated (or at least darted) in the front, and were generously cut through the legs. Skirts were set on a narrow waistband and were not usually gathered or pleated. They fit smoothly over the hips and were either straight (pencil) or had some flare/fullness towards the bottom. Skirts may have been cut on the bias to help give the appearance of fullness without creating a lot of bulk at the hips or waist. Skirts and dresses were knee-length--either right above or right below. Short skirts and long dresses--with the exception of dresses for more formal occasions (like the one pictured)--were not in style. Dresses frequently featured loose, blousy or draping tops and asymmetrical gathering or shirring at the waist.

While the bust may not have been emphasized very much, legs were very in. When they could get them, women wore silk or nylon stockings with a seam up the back. When they couldn't get them (most of the War years), they were known to rub their legs with foundation a couple of shade darker than their skin and use an eyebrow pencil to draw a line up the back of their legs so they appeared to be wearing stockings (the one benefit to this was that your "stocking seam" never twisted on you, so it was always perfectly straight!). Heels were in, but they were thick and square, kind of like a boot heel. Stiletto heels were not in. Toes were in between round and square. Shoes often came up so that they had a strap around the ankle. Because of War rationing, many women would have only owned one or two pairs of shoes, and these were often black or brown, so they went with everything.

The overall shape, whether in a dress, slacks, skirt or suit was V. Shoulders were widened slightly through the use of shoulder pads and full sleeve caps, while the thin belt accented the narrow waist. Hips were wider and rounder than is fashionable today.

Lips

Lips were RED in the 40’s. It’s quite probably the hallmark of women’s makeup during the decade. Go for as true a red as your skin and clothing will allow. If you can’t go fire-engine red, then go down into the pink range, or orange. Avoid purple-shades of red and anything with a brown tint. Also, beware of going with too soft a pink. The lips are supposed to stand out and be very noticeable, so don’t put on lipstick that’s only one shade darker or redder than your lips. Ratchet it up!

Full lips, with a pouting bottom lip and/or noticeable cupid’s-bow top lip were standard. Because I have a slightly thin upper lip, I used lip liner to draw a line just to the outside of the natural edge of my lip, thus making it fuller. I also was careful to noticeably peak the top of my lips to get the cupid’s-bow. For a pouting bottom lip, apply lip liner just below the natural edge of your bottom lip at the center.

Skin & Cheeks

"Porcelain" skin was in during the 40's, so go with a foundation no darker than your natural skin color, or a shade lighter. Use a pink-toned face powder over the cheeks and nose and forehead. You may want to use a pearlized powder to look a little more glowing.

Use blush in the pink range for the cheeks. Hit your cheek bones and brush slightly up as you go back.

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Eyes

Eyeshadow was gray or brown in the 40’s, so it worked with any eye color and complimented all clothing. Brown eyes look good with anything, but blue and gray eyes look best with gray shadow. Green eyes—try both and see which goes best with your particular shade of green.

Eye makeup wasn’t necessarily heavy in the 40’s, although it could be worn heavy in the evenings. You can generally go either way, but be very careful that you don’t go towards the “raccoon” eyes that are popular today (God only knows why). Do not apply any eyeshadow below the outer corner of the eye. Eyeliner can be used on the upper lid, but be very sparing of it below, or forgo it all together. Don’t extend it past the corner of the eye, top or bottom. Keep the line thin.

Mascara may be used to darken light eyelashes, but it should not be heavy. No clumps and no fake eyelashes.

A trick I learned from Sophia Loren is that if you wear eyeglasses, makeup your eyes heavier than you would otherwise do. In other words, go for an “evening” look on the eyes, even if you are going out in the day. This is because everyone will see your makeup through the lens of your glasses, which will greatly reduce the effectiveness of a lot of it. When I’m wearing makeup under my glasses, I use black and extremely dark brown eyeshadow on my lids and a medium shade of gray or brown to the eyebrow. When I put on my glasses, the effect is immediately toned down several notches. If I went too light, it would never be noticeable when I put my glasses on.

Eyebrows

Eyebrows were usually medium-thick, although some women, like Mae West, sported a pencil-thin brow. They were definitely arched, but not excessively so. The eyebrow was often lengthened past it’s normal line as well, so that it comes out slightly past the corner of the eye. They were fairly close to being a uniform width from beginning to end, unlike today’s more common fashion of thicker towards the nose and thinner out to the edge.

I had fairly thick brows to begin with, although they were a little thick towards the front. In order to even out my brows and get a little more arch, I used tweezers to pluck my eyebrows from the bottom, starting towards the front. Tweeze your brows so that the line is smooth, with no stray hairs going outside it, and just keep plucking until the front part of your eyebrow is the same thickness as the end.

In order to lengthen the eyebrow, and also to make it more noticeable, use an eye pencil in a color that is just one shade darker than your eyebrows (unless your eyebrows are already noticeably darker than your hair; in that case, match the pencil to your eyebrows perfectly). Use the pencil to draw an edge around your eyebrows to make them look neater, and then, following the natural line of your eyebrow, extend the line a short distance past the corner of your eye. If imagine a line going straight up from the corner of your eye, tilt it about 45 degrees and draw the end of your eyebrow out to that point. Use the pencil to color your brow and darken the hairs to make it more noticeable.

If you don’t have an eye pencil, you can also darken your brows with a brush and some eyeshadow. Depending on your type of makeup, you may be able to use a fine, wet makeup brush in the eyeshadow to define the edges of your brow and extend it. If you get your eyebrow too dark (remember, you’re only aiming for about one shade darker than your hair), you can brush light-colored eyeshadow over the hairs to lighten it up a bit, so you don’t have to try to wide it off and start again.

Hair

Hair was very rounded in the 40’s, which is a lot of the reason why it looks so feminine. Round, soft edges are just associated with women (and that’s not only in the West; ask a Feng Shui practitioner what shapes are associated with Yang, or the female, and you will hear the same thing). Hair which is left down should be deeply curled under, at the very least.

Hair had a lot of volume in the 40’s, but unlike the 60’s and 80’s, this wasn’t caused by teasing and cases of Aqua Net. In fact, smooth hair was in, and while plenty of women curled their hair, perms were not common. Curls were added or dropped at will thanks to hair curlers and curling irons. If you have wavy hair, you may want to straighten it with a flat iron before doing some of the hairstyles (some of the hairstyles, though, it won’t matter either way). If you have naturally curly hair, you will probably want to wet it down and then spritz it with hair spray to get it to stay in well-defined curls and not frizz.

The bobby pin ruled the 1940’s, and it, more than anything, allowed women to pin their hair up in curls and waves to achieve height. Never wear the hair pulled sharply back from the face or flat to the head. Instead, section the hair into at least two sections, with a small section at the top-front of the head arranged so that it gives height (suggestions following). If you have bangs, they should be curled under, making sure to give them a little lift at the root with the curling iron and hair spray first. They should not lay flat on the forehead, but stand up and out from it.

The other thing that was popular in the 40’s was the heart-shaped face. Even if you don’t have a heart-shaped face naturally, how you style your hair can create the illusion. Hair was also often—although not always—arranged asymmetrically. This seems to have been especially common when a woman wished to wear a hat; hair would be simply styled on the side the hat was going to be put on, but elaborately styled on the off side.

How to Recreate 1940's Hairstyles

Styling Tips

The girls in these videos have some wonderfully sleek hair, which makes styling much easier and gives you the proper, sleek 1940s look. My hair is not frizzy, per say, but it also isn't sleek like theirs. I bought some Special Effects Straight & Shiny Anti-Frizz Hair Serum and it made my hair instantly sleek. It was $5.99 for a bottle at Walgreens, so it's not exactly cheap (at least in my book it's not; I'm pretty cheap when it comes to vanities), but a LITTLE dab will do you. VO5 has always been too heavy for my hair; this serum accomplishes the same thing without looking like I've doused my hair with half a bottle of olive oil. But if you have thicker/coarser hair, good old VO5 maybe all you need.

If you have trouble with flyaway or unruly hair, you may also try spritzing your hair with water, or running a wet comb through it to dampen it. Damp hair is usually easy to work with. Dirty hair is also easier to manage. Freshly-shampooed hair is usually slippery and prone to fly-aways. If you wash your hair the day BEFORE you want to wear it up, it will usually stay up longer and you'll have fewer fly-aways.

One thing that's very important to note in these videos is that the girls open their bobby pins up really wide before they insert them. It took me a little bit to figure that out, but once I did, my hair started staying in place. If you don't open it up really wide, you're not going to catch all the hair you need to catch.

If you have really long hair, like I do (mine is below my waist), do not comb up as big a section as these girls are using, because you'll wind up with too much hair in your roll/curl. Also don't comb up as big a section if you have very thick hair. When it comes to making the top curl, comb forward a section as wide across your forehead, but not as deep, that way you will have the same look across the front.

These girls have nimble, experienced fingers, and they make rolling your hair up look super easy. My hair is not as easy to roll up (or I'm just not experienced enough), and I found that using an alligator clip really helps. Just roll your end back on your hair, then clip it. Then you can use the clip to help you roll the rest of it up. It also helps if you keep some tension on the strand.

Me
Me

How I Got June Allyson's Hair

I have waist-length hair, although this style can be modified for hair that's just past the shoulders.

First, I pulled up two small sections of my hair on either side of a center part and used clear rubber bands to hold each section. This gives the classic heart-shaped face that was popular (this can form the basis of other hair styles too). June had bows in her hair (Vivian Leigh's hair was also styled with little bows like this for several scenes in "Gone With The Wind"), but you can make it invisible, like I did, or you can go with jeweled butterfly clips.

Next I brushed my hair out and put a rubber band into it slightly below my shoulders. It's important that you get it in so that your hair hangs evenly and is centered in your back. This can be a little tricky to do by yourself, so if you can, enlist help (I did mine by myself, so you don't HAVE to have a helper).

This left about half the length of my hair loose below the rubber band. I pulled my ponytail over my shoulder and divided it into two sections. I braided each section from the rubber band and went down as far as I could. I finished both with clear rubber bands.

When I had my two braided "tails," I held onto them and pulled them up to my neck, flipping the hair above the rubber band in under. I then pulled the braids up to the top of my head, crossed them, then used bobby pins to secure them. I hid the ends under the braids, so I didn't have an fuzzy hair showing.

Where you put the rubber band for your ponytail has a lot to do with how much hair you have hanging down in the back. The lower you put the rubber band, the longer your hair will hang when it's looped under.

Theoretically, someone with shorter hair could do the same thing, putting the rubber band in close to the end of her hair, then flip it under. I'm not exactly sure how you would hold it in place without the braids, but it may be possible that you could use a barrette to clamp it to the hair at the nape of your neck.

Note: This is a picture of me before I put on makeup. You can see how much more bland I look without it. You can also see how much less distinctive my eyebrows are, because I haven't darkened them or extended them.

Suggested Reading Materials

Share tips, tricks or helpful links for all things 40's here.

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    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Thanks for posting this. I have been trying with not much success to roll my bob with rollers for a 1940s daytime look.

      To be honest I have no idea how my mom did it so perfectly every night in the 1970s.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      What a great lens, Blessed by a Squid Angel

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 6 years ago from Central Florida

      Very useful information for anyone trying to achieve a 1940s look in make up and hairstyle.

      Blessed by a Squidoo angel.