Beauty as Duty

In England during World War II, clothing and fabric was rationed, woman had to register for wartime jobs, and money was scarce. Everyone was expected to do their part. But Winston Churchill was concerned with what such privations would do to morale, and companies still wanted to sell beauty aids. To encourage women to keep their appearances up, the Beauty as Duty campaign was born. It was supposed to make women feel okay about indulging in beauty regimens made that them feel normal, but it was dressed up as part of the war effort so they wouldn’t feel guilty about such self-indulgence.   

The Beauty as Duty concept first appeared in popular advertising. In December of 1939, an advertisement for Evan Williams Shampoo was accompanied by the caption “Hair Beauty — is a duty, too!” It was already a woman’s job to serve her country and her family; cosmetics ads began to promote maintaining one’s personal appearance as another responsibility women had to fulfill. It was an idea that made a lot of marketing sense. Manufacturers wanted to continue selling their products during a time of international crisis, and like everyone else, they shared the desire for the Allies to win the war. It was natural to connect their products to patriotism, and mainstream media’s encouragement of consumption helped validate an activity that may have otherwise been considered frivolous or unnecessary.

Lipsticks, soaps, and other cosmetics came with slogans such as “Beauty Is Your Duty” or emphasized the message that it was a woman’s “duty to stay beautiful.” These ideas were so strongly discursively linked that beauty and resisting the enemy seemed two sides of the same coin. British cosmetics company Yardley ran advertisements in 1942 with the heading “No Surrender,” which claimed that ideal women honored “the subtle bonds between good looks and good morale.”

Churchill latched onto the idea and made it official government propaganda. An article from WORN Fashion Journal looks at the campaign from both the 1940s point of view and how it would be received today, which you can read at Buzzfeed.   

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