Behind the Color: 1941 Victory Red

Behind the Color: Bésame Cosmetics 1941 Victory Red


It’s 6 am and your alarm clock is singing louder than the birds. You slowly open your eyes, groggily getting accustomed to your brightly lit room. You still haven’t quite gotten use to waking up at this hour. Gone are the glamorous parties and dancing the night away to Moonlight Serenade by the ever popular Glenn Miller. Now you’re a woman of the workforce, one of many who’ve grown accustom to rigorous labor.  You take pride in your new career, happily doing your part for the ongoing war.  You walk to your closet and choose your outfit for the day— an olive green Marine Corps Uniform. With confidence you put on your uniform, carefully adjusting the jacket so it lays smoothly. You pull your hair back and tuck your curls up away from your shoulders before placing your cap upon your head.  Next, a simple swipe of pale powder on the face, a soft pink rouge for the cheeks, thick brows, and long luscious lashes. Lastly, your military issued lipstick – a bright, vibrant red that perfectly matches your uniform’s trim. It’s your favorite shade, perfect for the confident, patriotic woman of the 1940s. 

The 1940s was an era brimming with patriotism, optimism, and bold red lips. America had just entered the second World War and women’s roles in the workplace began to be redefined.  The 1930s saw women as nurses, school teachers, and homemakers. However, with men off at war, the 1940s woman could now work in factories, on assembly lines, or even join the military. At the urging of Eleanor Roosevelt (the first lady at the time), and General George Marshall, the first women’s branch of service was established in 1941— the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (later to be known as Women’s Army Corps).
With women becoming more and more involved in the war effort, one would think makeup was a lost priority. However, during the decade “beauty was your duty” and considered an act of patriotism. Red lips symbolized victory, optimism, and impacted morale. Red lipstick was seen a suitable shade for any occasion: at home, in the workplace, and even active duty. 
In the early 1940s, famous makeup artist, and women’s activist, Elizabeth Arden was approached to create a lipstick specifically designed for women in service. In 1941 “Montezuma Red” was created. It was a bright, vibrant red, and perfectly matched to the red piping and chevrons on women’s military uniforms. Montezuma Red was issued to military women in an official kit which included the beautiful red lipstick, a matching cream rouge, and nail polish. 
As the popularity of Montezuma Red blossomed, the public demanded a shade of their own. Elizabeth Arden created “Victory Red”, among other reds, so any woman could proudly honor her country. 
Inspired by the strength, and optimism of the 1940s woman, Bésame’s very own “1941 Victory Red” is a faithful reproduction of the red lipstick once issued to military women. While beauty may not be considered a “duty” for today’s lifestyle, this shade will forever be linked to the confident and inspiring women of the 1940s. 

Hernandez, Gabriela. Classic Beauty: the History of Makeup. Schiffer Publishing Ltd, 2017. Staff. “American Women in World War II.”, A&E Television Networks, 2010,

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