“If you had been wearing nail polish the night before you only took it off your thumb”
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!
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.
'still time for charm'
Boots Number 7