featuring guest authors; crafting tips and projects; recipes from food editor and sleuthing sidekick Cloris McWerther; and decorating, travel, fashion, health, beauty, and finance tips from the rest of the American Woman editors.

Thursday, March 31, 2016


Eric Reed is the pen name of writing duo Mary Reed and Eric Mayer, co-authors of the John, Lord Chamberlain, historical mystery series set in 6th century Byzantium. The Guardian Stones, a World War Two mystery set in rural Shropshire, England, is their most recent release. Learn more about Eric and Mary at their website and blog. Today Mary joins us to discuss how women during World War Two made do without their beauty staples.

Making Do for Makeup

Have you ever noticed how thick and lustrous women's hair looks in photos taken during the Second World War?

Egg shampoo is commonly touted as an excellent aid in achieving this effect, but in the spring of 1941 the practice led to questions in Parliament after a London West End hairdresser was reported for giving egg shampoos, using as many as four eggs for one treatment.

Hansard, the official record of Parliamentary proceedings, records that in replying, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food said enquiries into the case were under way, adding in the case of such egg shampoos, both hairdresser and client committed an offence under wartime regulations, by which he meant by willfully using food fit for human consumption for other purposes.

Beauty aids may not spring immediately to mind when considering the legendary British Make Do and Mend campaign during World War Two, but as a boost to general morale they were considered important to the war effort. It was another area where making do meant exercising great ingenuity in finding substitutes for what had been commonplace before hostilities broke out.

While makeup was not rationed, it was both expensive and hard to find, largely because a number of companies making it were now using part of their production facilities to manufacture items needed for the war effort.

Good old-fashioned British ingenuity came into play and substitutes were found.

In place of lipstick, for every day use at least, wartime's popular bright red lip coloring was achieved by applying beet juice or cochineal, although given rationing, the latter must have been more difficult to obtain than the common root vegetable. Liquid stockings -- brown tinting for the legs -- replaced real stockings, an item in very short supply. Eyebrow pencil was used to draw "seams" up the backs of the legs, and some fashionistas even traced out appropriately shaped faux heels and stocking tops. For those with less disposable income, there are references to the use of gravy browning to give the same effect. With general shortages, it must have been difficult at times to choose between putting gravy on your dinner or your legs! Burnt cork or boot polish were both reportedly substituted for mascara, although these sound dangerous to use to me, while baking soda often replaced deodorant.

Human nature being what it is, such shortages created openings to make a bit of money, meeting demand in a left-handed fashion despite stiff legal penalties if caught.

Although women often made do by applying talcum powder in place of face powder, also in short supply, we should not therefore be surprised to learn that in March 1942 a question was raised in Parliament concerning a man prosecuted for illegally manufacturing and selling the latter. Hansard records he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a £100 fine and three months in prison, plus another three months if he did not pay the fine.

We cannot say what his clients felt about his conviction and subsequent loss of supplies, but things would have gone better for him if he had remembered an old Dutch proverb to the effect that beauty is dross if honesty is lost.

The Guardian Stones

In mid-1941, children evacuated to the remote Shropshire village of Noddweir to escape the Blitz begin to vanish. It was not uncommon for city children faced with rural rigors to run away. But when retired American professor Edwin Carpenter, pursuing his study of standing
stones, visits the village and discovers bloody clothing in the forest, it is clear there is a more sinister explanation.

The village constable is away on military duty so the investigation falls to his daughter Grace. Some villagers see the hand of German infiltrators bent on terror. The superstitious, mindful of the prehistoric stone circle gazing down on Noddweir, are convinced malevolent supernatural powers are at work. And Edwin, determined to help Grace find whatever predator is in play, runs into widespread resentment over America's refusal to enter the war.

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1 comment:

Mary R said...

Thanks for giving me space to talk about a topic I find endlessly fascinating, which is to say civilian life in World War Two!