Since the outbreak of World War Two in 1939, women had worked for the war effort, both on home soil and overseas. Initially, only single women aged 20-30 were called up, but by mid-1943, almost 90 per cent of single women and 80 per cent of married women were employed in essential work for the war effort, leaving men free to serve in the armed forces.



The influence movie stars had on the public didn’t escape the notice of officials in the United States of America. Long hair was hazardous where machinery was operated, like in factories and on farms, and too many accidents were happening. In the hope of encouraging women to cut their hair short, thus reducing the risk of being injured or worse at work, they asked Veronica Lake to cut her trademark “peekaboo” long locks. Ms Lake obliged.


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Television was a rarity in the home, so going to the cinema was incredibly popular, just part of life for everyone.

The bill included the news, cartoons, a B-feature and finally the A-feature, it was a full evening’s entertainment.

War influenced how working women wore their hair. Being in fields, factories and the armed services, women needed styles that would not get caught in machinery and get in the way in general. Those in the armed services had rules to follow (hair had to be off the collar while on duty) and a hat was part of the uniform, so hair was dressed accordingly.

In the UK, everyday hair products like shampoo were difficult to obtain and water was rationed, so washing hair was a luxury. Scarves were used to help keep hair protected from dirt and to hide a “bad hair day”


After the war:

After the war ended, there was a shift away from utility clothing and the sometimes practical hairstyling of the war.New, more luxurious fabrics, hair products and makeup slowly became available.

People wanted to leave the drabness of war behind them, and new products and fashions were heartily taken up.

Christian Dior‘s revolutionary “New Look” in 1947 embraced the new fabrics and ignored rationing in favour of a desire to move away from wartime skimping. His fabric-hungry designs influenced fashion and designers for years to come.


Hairstyles in General:

Throughout the decade, hair was generally between just below shoulder length or shorter.

Hair was cut with a rounded U-shape at the back, curving up towards the ears, and most  haircuts had lots of layers – these were needed to create the styles.

If there was a parting, hair was generally parted to one side.

Whatever the hairstyle a woman chose, hair was worn feminine and soft, and always dressed off the face.

For factory and farm work, longer hair would often be set and left in pin curls under a headscarf/turban or, for less dangerous work, the back could be secured in a snood with the front waved or pinned off the face. This kept the hair protected and away from machinery. It was then easily let down, spruced up and dressed for a night out.

Pictures in magazines showed very groomed and sleek film stars. Everyday working-class women would not have the time, money or personal hairstylist to spend on looking immaculate, especially during the war years, but their hair still followed the overall look and fashion of the decade.

Older woman could still be seen wearing the short waved styles of the ’30s, especially in the early ’40s.Elephant and Castle, London (1949)


1940s Hairstyle Elements:

Waves and Curls

Waves were soft, not like the crested waves of the 1920s/30s, and hair was always set with a wave – bone straight hair was simply not fashionable.

Curls were used to dress an area of the hair, like the opposite side to a roll, or piled up on the crown area for an updo.

For those with straighter hair (and spare cash), waves and curls were permed or pin curl set into the hair at the hairdressers, but many women simply set their hair at home using pin curls or twisted up in rags.

Women could leave their hair in pin curls overnight or under a scarf or snood while at work.

Once curled, the hair could easily be styled into rolls and waves, as well as brushed smoother to give soft movement.

 1940s Rita Hayworth updo



Rolls are quintessential 1940s and an essential part of defining the decade’s look.

Rolls were a totally flexible element of a hairstyle – women could shape and position rolls as they wanted. The hair could be brushed smooth or it could have waves.

Rolls could be situated on the top of the head, at the sides, coming back from the forehead or along the back.

Side rolls could be positioned wherever. They could be symmetrical on each side of the face, or not symmetrical at all, or there could be just one roll!

If needed, the shape and stability of a roll could be helped with backcombing and by using rats, and everything would be held in places with hair pins.

A smooth roll going all round the sides and back of the hair that was curled under was a pageboy. This style suited medium or longer hair to be able to achieve the roll.  Veronica Lake had a long pageboy.Rolls in hair (early 1940s)


Bangs and Fringes:

1940s hair was kept off the face, so if a woman had a fringe (bangs), it was dressed into the hairstyle or pinned to one side. Hair was never just flopped onto the face, it had shape and purpose!

Fringes could be shaped into a roll, or used to create a wave which was then dressed to one side, or it could be part of a mass of curls that sat high and slightly forward onto the face (just like Betty Grable).


Pompadours stand high up from the forehead, the hair going back off the face, and could be either smooth or waved.1940s everyday styles

Hair Accessories:


Braids were popular throughout the decade and could be either someone’s own long hair or added hair pieces.

Pieces in contrasting colours were sometimes used. Also, material or a scarf was plaited with the hair to create a colourful alternative.

The plaited hair was dressed in and used in various ways including round the crown or round the back of the head.

Grips, Combs and Slides:

Hair grips:

or bobby pins, were quite rare during the war, so women looked after them. They were shiny and could be worn visibly. For extra decoration, a bow made from ribbon could be added.

Combs and slides :

were made from Bakelite to look like tortoiseshell. If granny had some old ones knocking about, they may have been real tortoiseshell.

Grips and combs were used to keep rolls in place.

Slides were used to keep the side hair pinned out of the way or to hold a wave in place, while adding a bit of decoration.


Like a snood, hairnets were also used to keep the back of the hair neat. Because they were less visible than a snood, they were considered more sophisticated.


Hats were a fun part of a woman’s attire, dressing up their otherwise plain clothes. There was no single style or shape – everything was worn, from the smaller pillboxes and berets to the wide-brimmed. Hairstyles could be easily adopted to fit the hat, or the hat to fit the hairstyle!

Pins and slides (1940s)


Ribbons were a bright and cheerful way to dress up hair and they were used in several ways:

  • Tied around the head and finished with a bow on the top of the head or to the side.
  • A piece of ribbon could be tied in a bow and attached via a grip to decorate the hair.
  • Mothers would often tie a ribbon bow to a simple hair grip to add a bit of colour when pinning their daughter’s hair back.

Ribbons could be made from actual purpose-made ribbon or strips of fabric.

Ribbons in hair (early 1940s)



Snoods were a crocheted bag, often homemade, used to keep the back of the hair neat (especially for longer hair).

The hair in the snood could be styled in a roll, left in soft curls or even pin curled, ready to be dressed out later.

A snood was generally positioned between the crown and the top of the head. The front of the hair was then either swept under the snood, or it was left out and styled, rolled or waved, it all depended on where the snood was being worn (e.g. at home or for manual work where long hair was best kept out of the way of machinery).

Sometimes snoods were made from the same material as a dress to create a matching item.A knitted snood and ribbons (1943)


A turban was a length of material made from things like soft wool or rayon crepe. It was tied on top of the head and the long ends were then either simply tucked under, or rolled up first then tucked under to create a more defined U-shape. The turban could be left as it was or decorated with things like pompoms or flowers.How to tie a turban