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Looking Good in Wartime, Part Two

Apr 19,2012
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'Looking beautiful is largely a duty,' Vogue sternly informed young women during the war. Apparently, girls were meant to look as pretty as possible to cheer up their soldier boyfriends. Of course, girls might have wanted to look nice for themselves. Maybe they didn't have enough coupons for a new dress, but some bright lipstick and a new hairstyle might help them forget the gloomy old war for a while.

The problem was that cosmetics were in short supply, just like everything else. Cosmetics companies such as Yardley's and Cyclax had stopped making lipstick and perfume, so that they could concentrate on manufacturing sun protection creams and sea-water purifiers for the army. So, with no cosmetics in the shops, girls had to be creative. No mascara? Use shoe polish or burnt cork mixed with castor oil. No hand cream? Try rubbing lard or margarine or lemon juice into your hands. Perfume? Well, you might have to make do with lavender water. Unable to buy new stockings? Paint your legs with gravy powder mixed with water, then draw a 'seam' down the back of each leg with a pen.

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Girls got creative with accessories, too. Everyone was meant to carry a gas mask at all times, in case the Germans dropped bombs filled with poison gas. Elizabeth Arden produced a special range of velvet-covered cases for gas masks, which included a silk pocket for cosmetics. When the poison gas attacks didn't happen, people started ignoring the rules and left their gas masks at home – although some girls carried the empty case as a handbag.

Even hairstyles were affected by the war. Women in the services or working in factories needed to keep their hair up, out of the way. One popular style was the Victory Roll, an arrangement of curls held in place on top of the head with bobby pins. It got its name from either the V-shape of the hairstyle or in honour of the 'victory rolls' that fighter pilots would perform after an air battle. If you have long hair and would like to see how you look with a Victory Roll, here's a handy how-to video from a modern-day girl who loves vintage fashions. Yes, I did attempt it myself. No, it wasn't very successful, but then, I didn't actually have any hairspray and I ran out of bobby pins. Anyone else have any success with it?


Next: Eating Well in Wartime

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Apr 20,2012
anonymous's picture

I love looking at the photos of my Grandmom and her friends from the war years.  They didn't have much money to start with and things were rationed here in the US, but they still look dramatic and classy.  My Grandmom also has pictures sent from her brothers during the war.  My favorites are of my one Great Uncle in the South Pacific.  He was a sailor and still has his tattoos he got in the war.  

Andrea Zu

Apr 19,2012

Araminta, the stocking thing was weird, wasn't it? I couldn't help wondering what all those girls with gravy powder on their legs did when it started raining (which is does quite a lot in England).

Jordl, Rosie the Riveter is awesome! I remember reading an interview with the real-life model for the illustration a while ago - unfortunately I forgot to bookmark it.

Emily, thank you very much! I'm glad you're enjoying the posts, and it's always nice to hear a historian say the books are convincing. (I don't have any history qualifications whatsoever - my degree was in applied science.)


Apr 19,2012
anonymous's picture

I'm loving your posts so very much! I'm in the US but was lucky enough to get an eARC of Fitzosbornes at War right when it was released in Australia (and I have my dear friend mailing me an Australian copy so I'll be getting that soon too).  The trilogy is officially my favourite historical YA ever. 

But getting these little insights into your thought process when writing and why you went in one direction or another is just absolutely fabulous!  As someone with a history degree, I'm absolutely in love with how much attention you've paid to all the details.  It makes me so happy!

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts this month & for creating the FitzOsbornes in the first place.


Apr 19,2012

I lack the hair to even consider attempting a Victory Roll! But I do love to wear a head scarf Rosie-style, especially when I'm doing domestic chores.

Apr 19,2012
anonymous's picture

I think its so interesting to see what women did to look good (for themselves!) during the war; I knew about drawing a seam on the back of their legs, but I didn't know about the replacement "cosmetics".  It also makes me wonder--everyone knew that no one was wearing stockings, so why bother with drawing the seam?  It's not like they were fooling anyone; no one had stockings, but yet, everyone persisted in keeping up the'd be an interesting thing to study a bit more in-depth.

Also, the victory rolls?  not that attractive, although I applaud the whole idea of getting *every* aspect of life involved in winning the war.  Even hair is unaffected! :)


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