Why the Government Feared Actress Veronica Lake’s Hairstyle Might Cost Us the War

Few actresses did more to influence mid-century fashion than Veronica Lake, the sultry star who favored a hairstyle that fell over one eye. It started as an accident — the hair had simply fallen into her face during a screen test — but became a trademark for the actress. Because so many women admired Lake, they adopted the same style. That became a problem when women entered the workforce in increasing numbers during World War II. The look, which resulted in partially obscured vision, was thought to be hazardous in factory jobs, where heavy machinery could cause real physical injury. Reports circulated of airplane factory workers getting “scalped” as a result of their hairdos. This led to the dreaded interoffice memo — this one penned by Mary Brewster White of the War Manpower Commission. “The working gal’s indifference to the dangers of long flowing hairdos has driven personnel directors to the last stages of profanity,” she wrote. “Veronica Lake has had a tremendous influence because of her unfettered mane upon too large a percentage of ladies engaged in turning out the ammunition.” The government went to Paramount Pictures in the hopes Lake might be receptive to changing her hairstyle. She did, and even appeared in a short film promoting a new look. Lake always had a good reason for persisting with the natural veil, however. She once noted that when she wore her hair up or back, she became far less recognizable while out in public.