In the ‘40s, women were encouraged to use their hair to ‘fix’ any flaws in their face. If she had perfect, shiny hair with a good color, she should use it to frame her face. If she had a full face, she should use a 1940s hairstyle that piled hair on top of her head to distract from it. If a thin face was her problem, her hairstyle should be down and over her ears to make it look wider. All of these suggestions contributed to a variety to hairstyles in 1940s.
We also have an article on 1940s men’s hairstyles.
1940s Hair Care
It was important to keep hair clean and shiny, washing it whenever necessary. A woman would also massage her scalp and brush her hair twice a day. When shampoos became scarce and of poor quality, women had to steam their hair over a pot of hot water and then rub the dirt and oil off with a towel. Hair care was a time consuming task. Most women turned to beauty parlors to get their hair washed, cut, and styled weekly — or as often as she could afford.
With so many women going to work in factories and taking time off to get their hair done, factory managers put in their own beauty salons. This reduced the time women were away from work and improved the morale of employees. Beauty was an important duty for women to maintain during the war years especially.
For time in between beauty appointments, women either wash and styled their hair at home or covered up dirty hair with a scarf, turban, or large hat. There were many creative ways to hide unsightly hair, and 1940s women used them all.
Hair was usually worn shoulder-length or a little bit longer, cut straight with no bangs. A bit of layering on the ends gave flat hair more volume and helped achieve the curly look needed for most 1940s hairstyles. There were several popular hairstyles during the ’40s, but they all had a few things in common. First, hairdos were perfectly styled – no messy look. Second, they were never, ever straight and sleek. Curls and volume were in style, especially above the forehead and on the ends (rolled under). Hairdos almost always started with wet setting pin-curls at night and were styled from there the next morning.
African-American and Caribbean-American women turned to hair lotion and hot combs to turn curly hair into the smooth straight hair. Hair was then styled into the same cuts and shapes as white women’s hair. Victory rolls, hot roller curls, and updos were especially popular and easy to style, as well as the smooth pageboy. Wigs were sold to women who didn’t want the hassle of frequent hot combing.
Black beauty parlors and in-home stylists catered to women seeking a bi-monthly treatment and the latest hairstyles. In winter, women may have gone into the shops more often because the smallest bit of rain would ruin the straightened hair. Keeping hair covered with large hats and hoods was critical.
In the first half of the 1940s, hairstyles were rather short with tight ring-curls and some waves forming around the face. Hair from the back of the scalp was pushed to the edges to bring even more volume to the tops and sides. The use of a lot of waves in intricate designs had gone out of favor by the 1942. The look was overall short, practical, and curly, with maybe a wave or two to shape the front. These styles favored small hats and military uniform hats. They looked well on mature women and were easily hidden under turbans when hair became too dirty.
Mature women’s hairstyles favored long hair (a tradition since their childhood) that was gathered in the back in a low bun. The rest of the hair was waved or curled on top the head. The hairstyle looked short since all hair was gathered up away from the face. It was thought that this style kept attention on her face and not on her silver hair.
By 1943, the shoulder length cut was preferred by most women. Hair was set in pin curls, then brushed out in the morning. Half the hair was gathered up top and with the ends rolled under to give volume above the forehead (teasing and hair padding helped too). The lower half was sleek and smooth, with ends curled in towards the neck.
Many Pachucas, female Zoot Suiters, adopted this look, adding even more height to their hair. This, in turn, was called a bouffant style, although ‘bouffant’ also just meant hair gathered on top.
The voluminous hair on top was at its peak in 1944. Rita Hayworth sported this new style in Covergirl, with her curly hair creating natural height. The style was also called a pompadour hairstyle, especially when hair lacked natural curl and volume was created by making big rolls instead.
Another technique to gather hair up high was to roll the sides around two fingers and pin them in place, roll and all. This was a technique coined Victory rolls and is probably the most iconic of all 1940s hairstyles today. They were not easy to achieve, at least in a style that lasted all day. Looking at vintage photos of “real women,” the Victory roll was hardly ever used.
Victory rolls could be single but usually double with one on each side of the head. They could also be rolled to the very top of the head. If left on the side, the top of the hair was styled with equal fullness. The bottom was left down and rolled inward towards the neck, or gathered in a low bun or chigon if the hair was long.
By 1945, hair came back down off the top of the head. In fact, the opposite was now popular. Completely smooth hair on top with rolled medium long-hair from just above the ears down. The top hair could be pulled completely back or with a side part. Many women continued to have some Victory rolls or other top and side volume, but it was not as grand as the earlier years. Simple was in. Easy was in. These styles accomplished both.
The rest of the decade embraced easy hairstyles. Tops were smooth, waved, or flat. Sides and the bottom were full. Hair was often parted deep to one side or down the middle, and longer hair could either be rolled or left in a naturally curvy/wavy state. By 1948, hair shortened up again to shoulder or chin length. Curl was less significant and volume minimal. More and more women started to wear there hair in an updo during the way. This polished look would became an iconic hairstyle of the 1950s.
1940s Long Hairstyles
Younger women or those who favored longer hairstyles chose a basic combed curl set, or opted for a deep part to one side/center with hair pinned back past the temples. This was easy and youthful. It could be easily achieved at home without the aid of a beauty parlor.
Silver screen stars also favored long hair, which probably inspired young women to keep their hair long. Veronica Lake, Hedy Lamar, Gene Tierney, Lauren Bacall, and Rita Hayworth were just a few stars who had amazing long locks. Most were full of curl or natural wave, but others, like Ms. Lake, made sleek hair sexy during the era that favored volume.
1940s Evening Hair Styles
In the evening, hair was gathered up and off the face and neck. In the early years, hair was piled high on the crown, just like daytime looks. It could also be rolled in one or several buns or braids for a sleek look. And if a woman had beautiful long hair, by all means, she could wear it down as well.
Styling Your 1940s Hair
There are many good tutorials, guides, and tips to 1940s hairstyles online. I am not going to attempt to add my own thoughts (I’m really not very good with hair) but I do want to point you in the direction to what I believe are the best tutorials.
Begin with this article on easy vintage hairstyles. We all need to start with the basics that look good and still work with a modern haircut.
Begin with creating Pin Curls:
- Lisa Freemont Street’s Guide to Pin Curls Part One (Video)
- Lisa Freemont Street’s Guide to Pin Curls Part Two – (Video – this details the importance of the brushing out process)
Make a simple side part- fast and easy for most hair lengths
- Easy 1940s Hair Roll (Video)
Add Victory Rolls ( a must for the 1940s! )
- Victory Roll Hair Tutorial – Cherry Dollface
A back roll does not require pin curls and is easy to do with medium length hair.
- How to do a Vintage Back Roll Using a Scarf – By Gum, By Golly
- 1940s Bumper Bangs – If you have short hair try this one
- Pin up with faux Bangs for Kinky Hair (Video)- ThePinupNoire
The poodle, is a great style for naturally curly medium to long hair. I have done it when I had long hair and it was easy and beautiful.
- Betty Grable Pin Up Poodle – Miss Rockabilly Ruby (Video)
When you don’t want to style your hair or need a Rosie the Riveter look try a head scarf or turban
- So Apparently I like Turbans, tutorial – Lauren Rennells
- How to Tie a Turban – British Pathe (1942 Video)
- Vintage Head Scarf Tutorial – Chatterblossom
Add hair accessories like flower clips, combs, headbands, and pins. Learn more here.