Beauty As Duty during WW2
July 31, 2014 11:19 AM   Subscribe

Putting on a brave face. It isn’t easy to do without, but to do without while giving the impression that little has changed offers necessary courage to one living in an otherwise terrifying situation. Women had no power over the volatile state of the world, and after conscription was introduced, they also lost control over which jobs they held and where these jobs took them; if they could succeed in appearing strong and unruffled on the outside, perhaps on the inside they might also feel capable of succeeding in the midst of the uncertainty that had become their lives
posted by ellieBOA (12 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
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posted by epersonae at 11:38 AM on July 31, 2014

If they could succeed in appearing strong and unruffled on the outside, perhaps on the inside they might also feel capable of succeeding in the midst of the uncertainty that had become their lives.

I don't know about the rest of you ladies, but this is precisely why I wear makeup today. I think of it as armor.
posted by chatongriffes at 11:57 AM on July 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


posted by yoink at 11:59 AM on July 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Interesting article! I was recently watching the BBC series Wartime Farm (some kind soul has uploaded all 8 episodes to YouTube) and there are a few segments on related topics, like making a dress from a red gingham flour sack.
posted by bcwinters at 12:21 PM on July 31, 2014

It is an interesting article. It sent me off down a Google hole looking for examples of actual government-origin "Beauty is Duty" campaign materials, because I was a little puzzled that the only examples shows were ads from private companies. I found a few other references to their having been some such "campaign" but the only actual print examples ever offered are those shown with the FPP article--and one or two similar others. I begin to suspect that there was never really a government "Beauty is Duty" campaign (not like the "Loose Lips Sink Ships" campaigns, for example). I think it was more a case of Churchill endorsing the general idea. But if someone has some further evidence to add, I'd be interested.

(P.S. Brandon Blatcher--I don't know if I'm missing the point of your comment, but the small "and" and "a" in my comment above mirrors the small "and" in the original "Keep Calm" poster.)
posted by yoink at 12:55 PM on July 31, 2014

The linked article does a good job of balancing appreciation for the genuine morale boost the campaign gave many women with the obvious patriarchal aspect:
The directive, at its core, was aimed at making it all right for women to feel good about themselves, and at encouraging small indulgences and comforts in lives that were otherwise full of sacrifice, in the hopes that boosting their collective self-esteem would help the nation win the war. Kirkham argues that “makeup, corsets and attractive clothes, hairstyles and accessories meant different things to different women; they also had multiple meanings for individual women. Among other things, they brought the comfort of familiarity and continuities, memories of times past, signified femininity and played a part in constructing confident ‘fronts’ that helped boost individual and collective morale.”

Kirkham’s words encapsulate many people’s ambivalence about this historical moment — why one can find it difficult to be opposed to Beauty as Duty despite the fact that certain aspects of it allude to patriarchal subordination. Yet the campaign is also an acknowledgement of women’s changing roles and responsibilities, and an attempt to ease this transition. The power of fashion is often underestimated or misunderstood, and a love of clothing is too frequently written off as shallow or superficial. Beauty as Duty recognized the potential for fashion to function as a way to genuinely lift spirits and build confidence.
Thanks for the post!
posted by languagehat at 2:02 PM on July 31, 2014

Ladies Home Journal: "We Are Still The Weaker Sex!" 1944
posted by The Whelk at 2:50 PM on July 31, 2014


posted by amtho at 2:56 PM on July 31, 2014

Meanwhile in Japan, by 1941 they had been at war in China for 10 years, the economy showed the results of the protracted war, and women were urged to forgo makeup and to change from kimonos to some ugly farm pants called monpe.

Quoting Eri Hotta in Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy:
Life was becoming monochromatic—or “grave yard–ish,” in the words of a contemporary observer. Fashionable men and women, who until recently dressed in colorful kimonos or the latest Western-style clothes and spent their time in cinemas and dance halls, now tried to look as inconspicuous as possible. The novelist Nagai Kafu (known as Kafu), an aging bohemian chronicler of urban life who felt as much at home in the opium dens of New York’s Chinatown and the cafés of Montmartre as he did in the raffish parts of old Tokyo, deplored those changes. A tall, scrawny man, Kafu did not strike one as a fussy dresser. He actually knew and cared a lot about fashion—a remnant of his high-bourgeois upbringing—though he made sure not to look too perfect in his well-tailored European suits. But he felt the recent Japanese inattention to keeping up appearances had gone too far, even for his unorthodox taste. In the autumn of 1940, the sixty-year-old complained in his diary:
The townscape [of central Tokyo] belies its prosperity of only half a year ago. There are no activities and it is all quiet. Around 6:00 p.m., it fills with crowds of commuters just as before. But the clothes that those men and women are wearing! To say that they have become subdued is an understatement. They have become old-mannish and dowdy. Women do not seem to care what they look like anymore, not bothering to put on any makeup. The street does not get lit at night, so people hurry home. Those people who squeeze themselves into the trains, shoving one another, look like refugees.
The deglamorization of city life signified the resounding triumph of a publicity campaign to promote nationwide austerity—prompted by the prolongation of Japanese military engagement in China—that started in the summer of 1940. Fifteen hundred signs bearing slogans such as “A True Japanese Cannot Afford to Be Indulgent” and “Luxury Is the Enemy” (Zeitaku wa Tekida) were put up all over Tokyo (though the insertion of one syllable by a graffitist often turned the latter phrase into “Luxury Is Wonderful” [Zeitaku wa Su-Tekida]).
Volunteers from patriotic women’s associations took to the streets, leading this campaign. These righteous women admonished those who, in their vigilant eyes, wore the kind of lavish clothes they themselves had given up, and they handed out note cards asking them to “please exercise self-restraint.” Women who wore permed hairdos, rings, nail polish, lipstick, or gold-rimmed glasses were also targeted because they were seen as endorsing a “corrupt” and “individualistic” Western lifestyle. There was some angry resistance to this type of witch-hunting. One woman was spotted crying and shouting hysterically, “I can’t stand this!” A young man strutted down the street wearing makeup, daring the patriotic fashion police: “Well, aren’t you going to say something?” But these were very small acts of defiance in the larger scheme of things.
posted by sukeban at 3:22 PM on July 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

I remember reading a history of fashion that said the time-consuming hairstyles of the war peroid where to make up for ratins of makeup, stockings, new outfits, etc. A big complex, pinned and swept do only took time, but I've never heard that from any other source soooo
posted by The Whelk at 3:40 PM on July 31, 2014

The Khmer Rouge forced everyone to wear black trousers and white shirts, variations of such over the patterns and colors in Cambodia before. You very rarely see older people wear that ever now. Brown pants, colored shirts etc. I made the mistake of wearing a black dress at work once and it was a slight but noticeable effect of less warmth all round from older staff. It's just a toxic color now and color is strongly emphasized. Plus they have a wonderful, and often still followed for fancy occasions, tradition of a particular color each day of the week - Friday is for happy blue!

Great article and analysis, the journal looks worth reading too.
posted by viggorlijah at 6:28 PM on July 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

This makes me think of the scene during The Third Man when Anna Schmidt is being detained and the French officer won't let her leave without her lipstick.
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 6:44 PM on August 1, 2014

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