Did women wear nail polish during wartime?


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“There’s a ruddy war on”

“If you had been wearing nail polish the night before you only took it off your thumb”

The Wartime Memories of a wee WAAF 

I had never considered this particular question of regular women wearing nail polish during wartime before, only that movie icons, and brand adverts depict a range of colours that would match any professional lacquer today. So I decided to do a bit of reading! (Of course!)

In 1937, Revlon started selling nail polish in department stores. By 1940, Revlon offered an entire manicure line, and added lipstick to the collection, being the first brand to introduce matching nail polish and lipstick colours to consumers. During World War II, Revlon created makeup and related products for the US Army, which was honored in 1944 with an award for excellence. During wartime, some cosmetic companies manufactured for the war effort e.g. Revlon factories made first-aid kits and dye markers for the US Navy.

Generally, nails would be painted to match lips in various shades of red and pink although clear varnish, often used as a top coat could also be found. Other colours such as gold became more available after the war when the pressure of rationing started to ease.

So did women wear nail polish during wartime?

From the reading I have done, it seemed to depend on your ‘situation’ before the war. Girls who worked behind the make up counter in department stores continued to ‘find’ nail polish to wear, but it would be saved for special occasions. Women who were billeted to work in munitions and on the land – well it just wouldn’t have been appropriate or worth while. Nail polish did become increasingly hard to come by, as less and less polish was manufactured as glycerin was a main component used in vital munitions, and generally, items that were imported became increasingly hard to obtain where supply ships were bombed and lost at sea . A lot of reading points to how nails were manicured, rounded tips and half moon manicures. Again I think this depended on your ‘situation’. I very much doubt that women had the time or the inclination to worry about obtaining a half moon manicure, which is actually quite difficult and time consuming to achieve successfully! I think a lot of the notion of what nails looked like came from the movie industry of the day, and without a doubt I would imagine the likes of Jane Russell, Ann Sheridan and Rita Hayworth to be sporting a blood red rounded tip (half moon) manicure!

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 This question of wartime, women and cosmetics is an enduring one. There are endless blog posts about it (including mine) as well as specialist 1940s Beauty teams for 1940s events and vintage fairs. This may be because Churchill engendered a notion of fighting the enemy by keeping our morale up and looking our best. Magazines and newspapers had an endless flow of hints and tips for scrimping and making your powders and lipsticks last longer. Glamour was propagated as a way of lifting the wearer from the awful reality of war, not just for herself, but for her soldier too.

How much we take for granted the availability of our cosmetics and other sundry feminine items.

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'still time for charm'

Boots Number 7

Keep your pecker up! xx

Doing your bit for the war effort

ARP women

‘I would caution you all to remember that it is your duty to your country to give our brave soldiers what comfort you can.A cup of tea, a gentle touch, a listening ear – all of these things are important.’ *

This may be a fictional quote, but the work of the WRVS (formerly WVS) founded in 1938 by Stella Isaacs, Marchioness of Reading as a British women’s organization to aid civilians, and the women ARP wardens also founded in 1924, was a significant contribution to the Homefront war effort.

Are you doing your bit
 for the war effort?

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Women ARP (Air Raid Protection) Wardens

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WRVS

WVS Mobile Canteen

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When the men came home in their hurried droves from the beaches of Dunkirk in June 1940, it was the WVS who went to out to comfort them in what little way they could. These were brave young women amongst others,  who had never faced a man in such physical as well as mental distress. Churchill described the men of  The Battle of Dunkirk as “the whole root and core and brain of the British Army”. In his We shall fight on the beaches speech on the 4th June 1940, he hailed their rescue as a “miracle of deliverance”.

The WVS provided essential evacuation services for civilians from urban areas. They also played a significant role in the collection of clothes for the needy (the bombed out families), as well as providing food and drink around the clock. The mobile canteens were a salvation to those needing a warm drink and friendly face, but the WVS also helped thousands of people who were injured or who had lost their homes in the bombings not only in the London Blitz, but also in other cities. As a consequence of this the WVS also set up Information points known as IIPs (incident inquiry points) so that civilians could find out about lost loved ones.

It wasn’t just these women volunteers doing their bit for the war effort though. Every woman who wrote to her man, every woman who made a meal from rations, every woman who waved goodbye to her child as part of the evacuation initiative, every woman who continued to go to work, or work the land as a land girl, or work in ammunitions factories, or work across the country in jobs left vacant by fighting men, were doing their bit to defeat Hitler.

And then there were the women who joined the fighting services…

Keep your pecker up! xx

*Goodnight Sweetheart, Annie Groves

Things have got pretty bad now…1944

This horrid war has been going
 on and on, and I wonder if it
 will ever end. 

I keep smiling through because we can’t let that dreadful Hitler get the better of us, but there are days when I feel such despair I can’t remember what life was like before this austerity, devastation all around us, and worry.

ration poster

Today my daughter has a day off from her nursing training, and she is so exhausted from her long hours, that her smiling face is a real treat to me. She should be in bed, asleep, but she has gotten up to help get the boys ready for school and help me with the chores. She’s such a good girl. I’m making her a new dress to treat her with from one of my old beauties from before the war. She’s really proud of me, I’ve been sending off my diaries to the Mass Observation people pretty much since the war started. At first I felt a bit silly, but with the childrens’ Dad away with the Army, it helped for me to write it all down. It stopped me from writing to him every day which would have driven him insane too! I wonder how many other people are doing the same thing.

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Today I’m going to try to make a special cake to give out on the mobile canteen. The WVS are such a great bunch, it really keeps me chipper. We’re having a drive on knitting socks and gloves for our servicemen. If we’re feeling fed up, imagine how terrible they must all be feeling.

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The cake is made! We don’t have any fresh eggs, haven’t seen one for years, but its alright because we can’t really remember how cakes made with real eggs tasted now. I still have hope that one day things will get back to normal. I know we should really keep everything we need for ourselves, but we’ve such good community spirit, that I do so love feeling of some help. Everyone has to do their bit for the war effort.

Listening to the radio now, and I have to say my 2 favourite songs this year are GI Jive by Louis Jordan and I’ll Be Seeing You by Bing Crosby. They do lift the spirits.


Hoping for a letter tomorrow…

Keep your pecker up! xx

In the face of adversity…1940s glamour

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1940s domestic telephone

In the midst of so much hardship, and threat to life, how did the girls of the ’40s manage to ‘keep their pecker up’? A little bit of motivation from Churchill, to show Hitler that we could still carry on, work hard, look beautiful, fall in love, and show strong moral fibre!

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Goldwyn Girls in the UK, 1946

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1940s fashion

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Drawing on 'stockings'

Sometimes, I think women of that generation are formidable, stoic creatures. They endured. Life was more immediate, and it was also at times towards the end of the war, a lot about making do and getting on with it. We have the beauty of hindsight, but they didn’t know in 1939 how long they would have to persevere. When I’m feeling a little blue, I reach for the red lipstick or some glitter nail polish. What did women of the ’40s used to reach for?

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Colour logo_for web

Keep your pecker up! xx

A 1940s Wartime Wedding?

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Wartime Iced Cardboard
 Cake Cover

I’ve often thought that if I get married (again), that I would like to have a “1940s Wedding”. Of course my very practical and totally ‘un-vintage’ Soldier said no! So I decided to investigate what weddings were really like during Wartime.

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Wartime Wedding

They may seem romantic to us, and possibly they were, but Wartime Weddings had a few hitches that many of us wouldn’t want for a “Wartime Wedding” or “1940s Wedding” today!

Here are a few of them:

Short notice

Done on a 48hour leave pass

Borrowed dress or parachute silk wedding dress or just your best dress!

Paper hole punch confetti

Lack of Wedding photo or one taken months later

Prayer book bouquet substitute for flowers

Iced cardboard wedding cake cover

The groom leaving for duty days later…

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Wartime Wedding (confetti)

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A vintage themed invitation

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A 1940s Themed Wedding

Looking at all of this, I think a Wartime Wedding would be a very frugal affair, but possibly a more intimate, homemade celebration. I have seen lots of blog posts on ‘wartime weddings’ and ‘1940s weddings’ but they all seem to be very ‘pin-up’ orientated or a 21st century version of something that used to happen. Has anyone actually had a “Wartime Wedding” recently?

Keep your pecker up! xx

Bombshells…part 3

Showcasing the enchanting Marilyn Monroe…

Marilyn in Korea 1954 entertaining the troops

Marilyn Monroe, 1926 – 1962: this American born Actress became, by the quick snapshot taken whilst at work in a factory in 1945, one of the most inspirational, celebrated and iconic Hollywood showstoppers.

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Charismatic and captivating, Marilyn Monroe could entertain the troops on her USO tours with just a wink! It was only during her honeymoon in Japan (Joe DiMaggio), that she was asked to visit Korea as part of the USO. She performed ten shows in four days for over 100,000 servicemen. The Korean war between North Korea and U.S.-backed South Korea, lasted from 1950 to 1953 and was the first Cold War military action.

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The enchanting Marilyn Monroe.

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Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes 1953 (adaptation of 1949 stage musical)

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes wink

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The bewitching Marilyn Monroe, When Love Goes Wrong

Keep your pecker up! xx

Sweethearts…part 2

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Showcasing Ann Sheridan, Actress, Hollywood Icon, Forces Sweetheart and Blonde Bombshell!

Ann Sheridan (February 21, 1915 – January 21, 1967) was an American actress. She worked regularly from 1934 to her death in 1967, first in film and later in television. Extremely popular and in demand throughout her career, Sheridan also spent a lot of time entertaining the troops in USO shows throughout wartime including India 1944 (above).

Sheridan, Ann_02

Starring in the 1943 wartime propaganda film Edge of Darkness, Sheridan only increased her popularity. Despite these successes, her career began to decline. Her role in I Was a Male War Bride (1949), directed by Howard Hawks and costarring Cary Grant, gave her another success, but by the 1950s, she was struggling to find work and her film roles were sporadic.

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I was a Male War Bride 1949

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the story of French Army officer Henri Rochard (Grant) who must pass as a war bride in order to go back to the United States with Women’s Army Corps officer Catherine Gates (Sheridan).

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The beautiful and enigmatic Ann Sheridan.

Keep your pecker up! xx

Sweethearts & Bombshells

Showcasing Wartime Bombshell and Forces Sweetheart…

Frances Langford

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Purple Heart Diary 1951

Used as a propaganda film by the USO, it shows a trio of singers (Langford, Lessy, and Romano playing themselves) entertaining the troops in the Pacific theater during World War II.

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Tirelessly entertaining the troops, Frances Langford and Bob Hope in 1944.

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Born April 4, 1913 – July 11, 2005, Frances Langford was an American singer and entertainer who was popular during the Golden Age of Radio and also made film appearances over two decades. In several of these films, such as Broadway Melody 1936, she appeared as herself, as she did in 1953 in The Glenn Miller Story where she sang “Chattanooga Choo Choo” with the Modernaires and the movie orchestra. Her signature tune was “I’m in the mood for love” written by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields first published in 1935. Here she is singing for a Command performance in 1944…

 

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During the war, Langford wrote the weekly “Purple Heart Diary” column for Hearst Newspapers, in which she described her visits to military hospitals to entertain wounded G.I.’s. She used the weekly column as a means of allowing the recovering troops to voice their complaints, and to ask for public support for making sure that the wounded troops received all the supplies and comforts they needed.

The wonderful, beautiful, and stoic Frances Langford…

Keep your pecker up! xx

The Greatcoat ~ Helen Dunmore

the Greatcoat...a book review

Described as an elegant flesh creeper, this delicately woven chilling romance is a wonderful piece of narrative from Helen Dunmore. Set in the 1950s when England is still recovering from severe wartime austerity, but also a return to the ‘womens place in the home’ ethic, the story is a testament to  the political paradox of inequality of the era following wartime. Its underbelly is a backdrop of womens rights, sense of community; positivity in the ‘spirit of the blitz’ versus intrusion and lack of privacy, the economy and exploitation of lack of housing, and the fact that the 1950s is a transition decade where rebuilding is a slow drive, and areas are left to naturally decay.

Isabel is in fact very lonely. Is it her needs that summons her visitor, or is it the needs of someone else?

In the winter of 1952, Isabel Carey moves to the East Riding of Yorkshire with her husband Philip, a GP. With Philip spending long hours on call, Isabel finds herself isolated and lonely as she strives to adjust to the realities of married life. Woken by intense cold one night, she discovers an old RAF greatcoat hidden in the back of a cupboard. Sleeping under it for warmth, she starts to dream. And not long afterwards, while her husband is out, she is startled by a knock at her window. Outside is a young RAF pilot, waiting to come in. His name is Alec, and his powerful presence both disturbs and excites her. Her initial alarm soon fades, and they begin an intense affair. But nothing has prepared her for the truth about Alec’s life, nor the impact it will have on hers…

Synopsis from Waterstones

This story will not disappoint you. You will be entranced. At once you are drawn in by this enchanting ghost story and you will not want to put this down until you are through. I recommend making a pot of tea and getting a slice of cake…

Keep your pecker up!

Wartime Tea Cosies and Aprons

The history of the tea cosy begins when tea was introduced to Britain in the 1660s; the first documented use of a tea cosy in Britain was in 1867. It was probably the Duchess of Bedford who, by establishing the activity of afternoon tea in 1840, would have brought the popularity of the tea cosy. Afternoon tea was the time for practicing social etiquette, decorum, gossip and society news. And bearing in mind all of this, the teapot would get cold, which would have at times cut short some tea parties. And so, the tea cosy came about.

Tea cosies then flourished during the late 19th century, where they appeared in many households across Britain, motivated by the obsession of decorating and covering objects characteristic of the Victorian era.

The tea party would be served at a table, often in the garden in clement weather, and the matriarchal figure would pour everyone’s tea. In her absence another lady would perform this role, which is where the expression “shall I be mother?” originated. With all the ladies absorbed in chattering and exchanging tit-bits of news at tea time the forgotten tea pot would often go cold. To prevent this eventuality from curtailing the tea party, the tea cosy became a usual sight on the tea table.

Aprons are probably a more obvious item. Practical, functional, and often very pretty accessories, the wartime apron that began as a frugal wrap, became frilly and floral as rationing on material was lifted.

And yes, women really did go to the trouble to look glamorous in their aprons!

So remember your blitz spirit ladies, and serve your tea proudly in an apron and with a tea cosy.

Keep your pecker up! xx

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