It is time to indulge in our favourite past-time and hark on back to the Forties when bright red lipstick and pencilled-on-tights ruled the roost. It is no secret that we are still in the midst of an ugly recession. Our modern-day beauty regime is constantly attacking our bank balance, and as new products and treatments are introduced – from eyebrow threading to spray tans – there has to be a point in which our hungry eyes allow our glossy lips to finally say ‘NO’.

Though we can normally always find an excuse anyway, there really has never been a better time to go vintage. And no, we don’t mean heading to our local thrift store to have a good old rummage. We’re talking vintage beauty. Amy Duncan has all the Forties beauty secrets you’ll ever need to know.

Women of the Forties did not have the luxury of choosing between a Dior mascara or a Lancôme one. They did not get to choose from the eclectic mix of Mac eye-shadow colours. They were the strong, iconic women of World War Two and they got by on the bare minimum that rationing allowed them to. Yes ladies, they had to make do and mend!

Despite living off rationed goods, women took beauty seriously. For women, being beautiful was not only looking good but it also showed they were supporting their country. Patriarchal messages encouraged women to ‘Put Their Best Face Forward’ to boost morale of soldiers and to allow the opportunity for fun time-fillers like beauty pageants. Being beautiful kept women occupied at a time of low spirits. Possessing beauty came hand-in-hand with feeling great and more importantly, feeling feminine.

So, as we have finally realised that our usual extravagant beauty purchases and lavish make-up ‘essentials’ are only being supported by our virtual purse strings, the time to take some advice from our fellow vixens is well overdue.

This advice comes in as budget-brilliant, keeping your bank balance nice and healthy. What’s more, with Forties female icons such as Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner, Marlene Dietrich and Bette Davis, you can have every confidence that looking good in such dire times can’t be that hard, can it? So, after much rummaging around and serious investigation, we at QueensOfVintage have devised the ultimate list of vintage Forties beauty tips for you to recreate at home!


During the war era, big female hair styles were all the rage. Now, we are by no means suggesting that you should start ironing your hair to get the sleek, long locks you desire, or by dosing your hair in peroxide to be a blonde bombshell, but women in the Forties were not naïve to the secrets and styles of glam-looking hair. Whereas we prefer to opt for the trusty straighteners today, there are many beauty tips we can take from the vintage lady to diversify our ‘dos.

All women long for well-conditioned hair. The Forties woman was no different. One way they cleansed their hair was by mixing a tablespoon of baking powder with a small cup of water. This acted as a cheap and accessible cleanser and is easy to recreate today. Instead of indulging in expensive bottles of conditioner, why not follow their conditioning treatments of rubbing raw eggs into your hair to act as a deep conditioner or even rinsing your hair in beer.

Extremely popular in the Forties, this latter method also gives your hair high shine. Another way they achieved salon-quality shine was to saturate hair in oil and then wrap in a towel until ready to wash. They would often use lemon juice on their hair with the last rinse which ensured all residues from the cleansers were removed.

Curls are always in fashion and Forties women went to great lengths to get them. The female icon of ‘Rosie the Riveter’ also set the trend for curls – and bandanas. However, there are many easier ways of achieving the vintage curl rather than putting 40 steel rollers in your hair before bed, as many women did. One of the most popular methods was to curl hair by ragging.

This can be done by finding some old material and making a handful of rags from it. Take a small section of your hair, twist around the rag until the twigene-tierney-1940s-2st reaches the top of your head, and then tie the ends of the rag together. These should be slept in to achieve the full curl effect. Why not fasten a fresh flower into an up-do’ or behind your ear if you are wearing your hair loose to capture the Forties style too?

If they did not have access to water for bathing, women would often create glam up-do’s to cover their greasy roots. Up-dos were popular with women anyway as they had to wear it up in the workplace. If you want to cover up your greasy roots in a Forties style-steal, try curling your hair by using the method above and tying a bandana around the nape of your neck to the top of your head – this achieves the ‘Rosie the Riveter’ look with perfection.


Heavy brows were the theme of the Forties for women. Whereas shops today are adorned with countless numbers of beauty counters offering every eye product imaginable, the most daring item in the WW2 woman’s make-up bag for eyes was charcoal. Eyebrows were often completely shaved off with charcoal then being drawn on to create a full-brow affect.

Olive oil or petroleum jelly was applied on top to make the brows shine. During the daytime, women would use the petroleum jelly on their eyelids to act as an eye-shadow too. This brightens up your eyes and is great if you’re in a rush or just want to go au-natural.

Mascara was not widely used but it wasn’t unheard of. Women would make it from petroleum jelly and coal dust pressed together to then be applied to the lashes with a fine brush. We don’t suggest you make your own mascara, especially as there are so many low-priced mascaras on the shelves that would give the same affect, but we admire the great lengths women went to in order to ‘Put Their Best Face Forward’.

Read on for more beauty tips!

1 2

17 Responses

  1. wilma

    Greaaat ! some of these where used by mom ^^ as the sugar -lemon skin exfoliator ^^
    I loved the tea bag tip!

  2. isabelle

    Queens of vintage est génial.Je suis tombée par hasard sur ton blog vintage.J’adore surtout les années 60 (makeup et accessoires),je viendrais faire un tour de temps en temps.Bye

  3. veronica

    petroleum jelly is just vaseline and is widely available at any drugstore and most grocery stores even.

  4. Rebecka

    Gals, petroleoum jelly = vaseline, so readily available today.
    Great article! Though nail polish was not available in the later parts of the war (liquid nail varnish was appearantly banned in 1944, and difficult to get hold of before then, though you could buy powder nail polish!) so unless you had a good stash beforehand, it seems a lof of women got by with polishing and buffing their nails to look neat.

  5. Lindy Hopper

    Interesting article. Would they really have used raw eggs on their hair though? I believe rationing allowed something like 1 egg per person per fortnight! I definately would have used mine to bake a cake!

  6. Marie McNeil

    My dear Grandmama told me all of these – and more! She used to tell me most of all about using ‘gravy browning’ on her legs, and then using a pencil to draw the line. However, you couldn’t bop too hard, as it started to run! I think she used to call the rag rollers ‘hod-me-dods’ – this is by far the best way I have found for defining my curls (I have curls already naturally, but to get them to behave I ‘set’ them with the rag rollers).

    She did get the odd pair of real silk stockings from an admirer tho’…….naught nanny!!! ;)))

  7. Grace

    Jennifer is correct.
    Baking powder as we know it today wasn’t around in the 40s.
    It’s baking SODA (bicarbinate of soda) that was used.

  8. Tennille

    Omg I do most of these things!!! Here I was thinking I was creative! I use brown sugar & olive oil as a body & face scrub, much softer!!!

  9. Jessica Cangiano

    Thoroughly terrific piece! I use many of these same methods and products myself, but hadn’t heard about lemon juice as a means of getting veggie stains off of hands. Love it! No more yellowy-orange hands after peeling carrots.

  10. British Compact Collectors Society

    Almost every 40’s woman owned a powder compact, so that she could carry her face powder around with her, to get rid of the shiny nose that 40’s women hated. Often the compacts had other spaces for lip gloss, rouge and cigarettes. Take a look at some gorgeous examples on our Facebook page

  11. M.Ault

    A great and timely article.
    For the person who did not know where to get petroleum jelly, look in either the baby section or first aid. Any 99c store carries it and it lasts forever.
    I’m going to try the bit using PJ (petroleum jelly) under my eyes – it looks like I’ve got suitcases there lately.
    Baby powder also was and is still used as a “dry” shampoo and gives hair body for those updo’s.
    Another trick to tighten up skin and pores was to break an egg in half (saving the yolk for whatever) and beating up the white with a spoonful of oatmeal to use as a face mask. Let it dry, (it gets tight) but is a minifacelift from nature. You can also use beaten egg white with a brush to apply under eyes to wear under foundation to beat back those lines. I use it on my face as a base for a full makeup and when going out.
    If you are allergic to eggs, of course, do not attempt this.
    Gycerine dilitued with a dab of water is also a great moisterizer and vegan safe as it is vegetable based – a great hydrator for the face. You can ask at the pharmacy they sometimes keep it behind the counter.
    Sugar water was also used to set hair and still is today. 3 tablespoons white sugar to 1 cup water. My father taught me that trick.
    Women had hair lacquer which later gave way to hair spray.
    And remember to use your lipstick brush to get the very last scraps of color out!
    Here’s to beauty, brains, and inventiveness~

  12. Lindsay

    It’s amazing to me that the women of the 40’s and 50’s had much less than us in terms of makeup, plastic surgery ect, yet they were still a million times more beautiful and glamourous than modern day women could even think about being! Even the women who try desperately to be “modern day pinups” like Dita Von Teese are not even compareable to women like Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner, Jane Russell, Yvonne DeCarlo, Lana Turner, Betty Grable, Veronica Lake, Marilyn Monroe, Jane Mansfield, Bettie Page, Brigitte Bardot, Elizabeth Taylor or Sophia Loren. We might have more beauty products to choose from today, but we certainly don’t look as good. Women today are not as glamourous, don’t have the NATURAL curves or hourglass figures, and are just generally less sexy and beautiful. It doesn’t matter what women today do-they can’t compete with the women of yesteryear.