Postwar Expansion

By the 1940s, makeup had become accepted as an integral dimension of women's everyday appearance. Home economics courses taught how to use makeup in classes on good grooming; department stores held beauty days for schoolgirls; white-collar personnel offices looked favorably on job candidates with carefully applied lipstick and rouge. Psychologists and other professionals insisted that cosmetics were essential to women's mental health and a mature feminine identity.

During World War II, bright red lipstick became a sign of women's patriotism among the Allies. As women went into industry in record numbers, they continued to use cosmetics to affirm their femininity and boost their morale. When the American government tried to restrict cosmetics as a conservation measure in 1942, it found itself backpedaling six months later. Although discontinuing metal containers and limiting some ingredients, it nevertheless made a wide range of beauty preparations available.

Cosmetics use increased dramatically in the postwar world. Women purchased cosmetics to complement seasonal changes in fashion, buying wardrobes of lipstick and nail polish. As the market for cosmetics matured, the beauty business created distinctive brands intended to appeal to women according to demographics and lifestyle. Maybelline, Revlon, and Noxzema (Noxell)—small-scale firms that before the war had specialized in eye makeup, nail enamel, and skin cream, respectively—became large corporations with extensive product lines. New women entrepreneurs also emerged after World War II, including Estee Lauder and Mary Kay Ash. Home-based selling proved highly successful in this period. Avon, founded in 1886, used door-to-door sales to expand from rural communities and cities into the burgeoning postwar suburbs. Using the multilevel marketing strategy pioneered by earlier black businesswomen, Mary Kay organized home parties for women to learn about and purchase cosmetics.

Postwar youth culture spurred cosmetic firms to market cosmetics especially for teenage girls. Noxzema's Cover Girl offered sheer, medicated foundations and lighter tints as a "clean makeup" that would appeal to both teens and their parents. In the early 1960s, the sale of eye makeup—mascara, eyeliner, and colorful eye shadow—finally took off, an aesthetic trend among young women that coincided with the miniskirt and long hair of the time. Grooming aids, powder, and lip gloss for young girls appeared as early as the 1950s; by the 1970s, toy companies and major cosmetics firms competed for these juvenile consumers.

Market segmentation meant that advertising varied considerably in this period. Compared with their prewar counterparts, however, advertisements in the 1950s and 1960s more boldly accentuated women's sexuality and need to appeal physically to men. Revlon's Fire and Ice campaign in 1952 cast a playful yet erotic and charged aura around a medium-red lipstick. During the "British Invasion" of the 1960s, Mary Quant's Love Cosmetics used phallic packaging and Mod design to tie teen cosmetics to the sexual revolution.

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