Over the years I have amassed hundreds of hair net envelopes. I love them because their artful graphics often evoke the era in which they were created. Plus, they are inexpensive and easy to display or store.
I bought this Miss Freedom hair net package in an online auction several years ago for $10, and it feels like an appropriate item to spotlight this holiday week. The package portrays a WWII-era woman at her glamorous and sophisticated best—coiffed in face framing curls and wearing a blue gown that’s aglow with spangles.
Despite wartime shortages and restrictions, women were exhorted during the 1940s to keep up their appearance as a way to boost the morale of their military mates and fellow factory workers. Headlines such as "Feminine Role in National Defense Starts at Beauty Shop" were typical, and hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles offered tips for maintaining a beauty routine while sticking to a budget that provided few funds for frills. After all, women didn’t put down their lipstick, face powder, or nail polish when they stepped in to fill gaps in the workforce, nor did they quit styling their hair.
Joan Renner's mom, Phyllis
Many of the factories that employed female workers were savvy enough to understand the complex relationship between home front productivity and beauty rituals, so they installed onsite salons where a woman could get a manicure or a perm between shifts.
Imagine a woman, exhausted after a long shift at an airplane factory, stopping by her local five and dime for a hair net to keep her ‘do in place as she riveted pieces of a B-52 together. The patriotic design of the Miss Freedom hair net envelope would have caught the eye of any “Rosie the Riveter,” and the practical contents would have enabled a woman to volunteer at the local Red Cross, plant a victory garden, and build a tank all without mussing her hair.
The Miss Freedom hair net package recalls for me the women of the Greatest Generation—especially my mother. My mom, Phyllis, worked for Cadillac in Detroit during WWII and she shared with me during my childhood stories of her wartime experiences, particularly how she and her friends scrimped and saved to buy the everyday beauty products we take for granted. My mom passed away over the Fourth of July weekend eight years ago, so the holiday is a melancholy time for me. This year when I think of her I will also mediate on the bravery and beauty of the women of her generation—and l will try to live up to the example they set.
Joan Renner is an L.A.-based writer, lecturer, and social historian with an expert knowledge of vintage beauty products. She blogs at The Clutch once a week and writes about cosmetics and beauty history at her Web site, Vintage Powder Room.