During the 40’s, war was the epidemic that shook majority of Europe, specifically Britain. With rationing, drafting, survival and safety as the main priorities on many people’s minds, some may think beautification would be the last. Well, it was quite the opposite. Being well groomed, keeping up appearances where some of the very aspects of morning rituals for many household’s post air raids the night before. Now, many people may not have had a front door, or even food to eat the next day, but rest assured their hair, clothes and hats were pressed neatly and the women stepped out of their homes with lipstick perfectly on. With doing so, these were prime examples of “Keep Calm and Carry On”, as well as proceeding with everyday life, “business as usual”.
-‘Women Drawing on her stockings with an eye pencil’
With a shortage in import on goods, on food, materials and even makeup didn’t stop women from making their own make-shift cosmetics. As seen in various films, like London Can Take It, many can see the enormous brave face put on by the British people. Women left home with hats on their heads, and heels walking through the rubble. Men dressed accordingly, whether it was to the office or the fire auxiliary. There was even a cameo of the Queen in her Sunday best, down in the grit of the ruins sent down by the Germans, talking to her people, dissolving class lines promoting unity.
– ‘Women showing her stockings, drawn on’
With war and starving families, men and sons that also never came home. There was a need to boost morale. And that all started with feeling good on the inside. This also brought on the need for cosmetics and dressing their absolute best. Much like everything else conducive to looking and feeling good, hosiery was one of the things that were lagged through import. Nylon stockings were a must at the time, modesty and looking proper were still things women strived for even though they not have had enough powdered eggs to last them for the week to eat.
-Liquid Silk Stocking advertising
As they did with turning matte lipstick into gloss with petroleum jelly, they again made their own make-shift stockings. They often used “eyeliner or marker” when they had some to spare to draw lines down the backs of their legs, (Spivack). To help with the hosiery situation, liquid hosiery became a new fad. Something not too different from what girls to nowadays with contour, it gives the illusion of lines or track marks on the leg as it does with cheekbones that may not be there. They even had ‘leg make- up bars’, much like Benefit Cosmetics’ now, ‘Brow Bar’. Both places women can go to for extra help on aligning their lines. To think, there were actual jobs and kiosk stands that specialized in perfecting the illusion that women were wearing stockings. A procedure that would have needed to be done daily, with the shortage of funds due to a crashing economy and lack of food. Only to keep up with the appearance that, despite war efforts, women still looked beautiful.
-Women getting their legs done at a local ‘leg make-up bar’
Spivack, Emily. “Paint-on Hosiery During the War Years”. Smithson.com. Sept, 2012.
London Can Take It. Directed by Humphrey Jennings, Harry Watt. Warner Bros. 1940.
I had no idea women were drawing on their stockings during World War II. But if you think about it, it does make a lot of sense. Women not only wanted to keep up their physical appearance in the face of wartime shortages, but they also likely wanted to spread this idea of Britain carrying on as normal. What message would it send to the world if the woman’s makeup and overall appearance in Britain completely shifted due to the breakout of war? It might have suggested that supplies were scarce, not exactly a positive representation Britain would have wanted.
Anyway, very interesting and insightful post!
Very interesting topic for this post and I love the inclusion of a makeup bar for legs. Do you know if these were only found in cities? What type of woman was making use of these? Also, did you come across the number of years in which women had to draw on their stockings?