During World War II (1939–45) so many chemicals and other resources were used for the war effort that cosmetics had become scarce and expensive. After the war the market was once again flooded with products, and women were encouraged to shop and buy in order to keep the economy healthy. In addition, many women who had filled jobs left open when men had gone to war had adopted a more practical and masculine way of dressing. Government leaders wanted these women to give their jobs back to men returning from the military, and so leaders stressed a return to feminine roles, such as wife and mother. Fashion designers too, emphasized a return to femininity, such as the New Look created by French designer Christian Dior (1905–1957), which featured lavish designs with full skirts and tight waists that showed womanly curves.

The look for women of the late 1940s and early 1950s was very showy and decorative, and it required makeup. Lipstick, liquid or cream makeup base, powder, rouge, eye shadow, eyeliner, mascara, and fingernail polish became a part of most women's daily routine, and many women said they felt naked until they had "put their face on." By 1950 11 percent of all advertising in the United States was for cosmetics, according to Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler's Vanity Rules. New companies formed to make and sell beauty products. Esteé Lauder manufactured very expensive cosmetics, and women bought them, assuming that the high price tag promised especially good quality. Hazel Bishop made affordable cosmetics for working women who could not spend a lot on makeup and sold them at discount stores, where working-class women shopped. Johnson Products, founded by George Johnson in 1954, sold beauty products designed specifically for African American women's skin and hair. From this point on cosmetics were a major industry in the West.

Actress Grace Kelly wearing 1950s-style makeup. The new beauty products of the 1950s ushered in an era in which the well-dressed woman was expected to wear makeup. Reproduced by permission of © .


Hoobler, Dorothy, and Thomas Hoobler. Vanity Rules: A History of American Fashion and Beauty. Brookfield, CT: Twenty-First Century Books, 2000.

Peiss, Kathy Lee. Hope in a Jar: The Making of America's Beauty Culture. New York: Metropolitan Books, 1998.

[ See also Volume 4, 1900–18: Lipstick ; Volume 4, 1919–29: Makeup ]

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