Sunday, July 13, 2014

Iconic Moment: Red Lipstick Goes to War to Boost Morale and Elizabeth Arden Creates a New Red

By Randi Reed

Ask any beauty aficionado what comes to mind when they think of 1940’s makeup, and they’ll inevitably say, “The red lip."

You can thank Elizabeth Arden, Winston Churchill, and the United States Marine Corps for that.

While red lipstick had been steadily gaining popularity since the mid-1930’s, World War ll firmly cemented it as a classic beauty staple. With other cosmetics rationed throughout Great Britain to help the war effort, red lipstick, deemed a morale booster by Winston Churchill, remained in production. A few years later, in the U.S., a similar cosmetics rationing effort was instituted and promptly reversed to “voluntary” status after several months, also citing morale.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Marine Corps Women’s Reserve did their part, too.

The 1943 uniform regulations for the newly-formed U.S. Marine Corps Women’s Reserves required that not only were women required to wear red lipstick and nail polish, it must match the “Marine scarlet” chevrons and cap cord of their forest green* uniforms. Seeking an easier way for their Women Reserves to achieve uniformity with their lipstick and nail polish, the Marine Corps asked Elizabeth Arden, who  introduced a lipstick shade called “Victory Red” in 1941 and had the exclusive on products used in on-base salons, to create a new shade of red cosmetics.

Elizabeth Arden ad for Victory Red, 1941.

Elizabeth Arden duly arrived at Camp Le Jeune, North Carolina in 1943. Reserve Claire Cummings was assigned to show her around, and after meeting with Reserves and having a good look at their “Marine forest green” uniforms, Arden came up with a shade that coordinated beautifully with their bright scarlet cap cord and chevrons.

Reservists at Camp Le Jeune, NC, 1943 (Photo: unknown, via

U.S. M.C. Women's Reserve recruiting poster, 1943.

The red Elizabeth Arden created, “Montezuma Red,” named after the first line in the Marine Corps Hymn, was released to U.S. consumers in in 1944 in the form of lipstick, nail polish, and rouge.

1944 Elizabeth Arden ad for "Montezuma Red". See below for ad copy.***

Elizabeth Arden may have had the official commission, but red lipstick sales in the U.S. and Great Britain were going through the roof all around. In the U.S., female factory workers were encouraged to wear red lipstick with their "Rosie the Riveter" garb and applied matching red polish to their factory-practical short nails. Other cosmetics companies were on the war bandwagon too, coming up with patriotic ads depicting women in uniform (or women waiting for their men who were in uniform), and designing compacts and lipstick tubes with patriotic themes.
Unknown worker at North American Aviation, Inc. in CA during WWll.
(Photo: Alfred T. Palmer, Farm Security Admin., Office of War Information Collection
via .)

While all this was going on, the boys overseas were giving ‘em hell in bombers sporting nose art of pinup girls with bright red lips .[Warning--link Not Safe for Work!] Red lipstick for everybody!

All combined, these forces collided to make red lipstick a permanent part of World War ll-era pop culture. Later, in gratitude for their military service as well as their role in modern cosmetics history, Elizabeth Arden, Inc. honored Claire Cummings and other U.S. Marine Corps Womens’ Reserve members at a World War ll anniversary event, gifting them with commemorative tubes of “Montezuma Red” lipstick.
Wartime ad for Tangee lipstick.

World War ll poster recruiting women factory workers.

World War ll poster recruiting women for the workforce.

World War ll poster. Note her red lipstick.

Unknown World war ll -era cosmetics ad.

Magazine cover, 1943.

1939 Cyclax lipstick ad, London.

Tussy lipstick ad, American, early 1940's.

Unknown model WW2.

*Nurses, who were required to wear natural shades of pink nail polish, were the exception to World War 2-era red nail polish rule for U.S. military women.

**Some sources on the Internet claim, incorrectly, that “Montezuma Red” was created to coordinate with blue uniforms. The confusion over the uniform color may have stemmed from the fact that the gray uniform depicted in some colorized 1944 Elizabeth Arden consumer ads read slightly blue. That the uniforms were actually  Marine forest green is well-documented in full-color armed forces drawings of women’s uniforms, still-available vintage uniform stock from the period, guidelines for women’s armed services uniforms on  World War 2 reenactment websites, and oral and written histories of the women who were there.

***Elizabeth Arden "Montezuma Red" ad copy (punctuation and capitalization theirs): Elizabeth Arden's newest lipstick color--Montezuma Red...inspired by the brave, true red of the hat cord, scarf, and chevrons of the Women in the Marines. A vivid red to wear with black, white, gray, beige, navy and tweeds. A tribute to some of the bravest men and women in the world. Complete Montezuma Red makeup: Montezuma Red lipstick $1.50 (refills .75) Montezuma Red Cream Rouge 1.25 and 1.75 Montezuma Red Nail Polish .75 All Day Foundation, Dark Rachel, 1.00  Illusion Powder, Special Mat Fonce 1.75 and 3.00  Cameo Powder, Rose Beige, 1.75 and 3.00 Eye Shade, Malachite 1.25  Eyelash Pomade, Dark, 1.00 and 2.00 

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