World War One: Beauty Beyond the Battlefield

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With 2014 marking the 100th anniversary of World War One and Remembrance Day only a few days away, we have been inspired to take a look into how the war affected the world of beauty. The biggest and most harrowing battle to date, World War One saw millions of young men sacrifice their lives for their countries. It must be remembered, however, that the war was not only felt on the battlefield and, as established gender roles became uncertain, it also demanded a lot of women. Beauty, as it had been, would never be the same.

The trauma of World War One rapidly tore apart gender stereotypes, emasculating men and forcing women to adopt masculine behaviour and qualities. Most typically, women were required to work long hours in munitions factories, turning their pristine skin, hair and clothes a displeasing shade of yellow. Previously, beauty products had been considered a luxury primarily for the upper classes, but, with this, they quickly became a necessity.

Becoming something of a requirement rather than a privilege, campaigns and advertisements for cosmetics were changed drastically. While, before, they targeted feminine, delicate housewives, they were now directed towards patriotic, strong, hard-working women. In accordance with this, the whole concept of beauty products was transformed, as brands such as Vinolia, Pomeroy and Pears began to claim medicinal and protective purposes - powders were said to prevent harmful toxins penetrating the pores, while lotions and creams would soothe sore, tired skin.

Above all, cosmetic campaigns during World War One consistently reinforced that, despite the troubled circumstances, it was essential for women to keep up their appearances. While the war effort demanded that the established role of women was transformed, advertisements suggested that women should not be forced to sacrifice their beauty. Stating ‘your patriotism demands that you keep your face bright and attractive so that you radiate optimism’, cosmetics pioneer Helena Rubinstein proposed that caring for their appearance was an integral part of women’s national duty. Eager to serve their countries, women everywhere listened, and the sales of fragrance, hair treatment and creams rocketed. The wartime beauty market, then, revolutionised the beauty industry, and it has continued to flourish ever since.