Though standards of female hair appearance have changed drastically in the past two hundred years, women have been shaving, plucking and stripping their follicles since basically the beginning of time.
Women (and the menfolk, too) removed their body hair, and often the hair on their heads, by scraping it off with razor-like implements made of sharp flint or bronze. It is also believed that they used tweezers constructed out of seashells, and practiced an early form of waxing with sticky beeswax and cloth strips.
The Roman Empire
Excess hair was considered uncivilized: therefore, wealthy and high-class women would remove theirs using stones, flints, tweezers and creams. Art from the period also depicts women with a distinct lack of pubic hair — which makes us immensely grateful that we live in an era of waxing salons.
The Middle Ages
Body hair removal wasn’t necessary (hello multi-layered, full-coverage clothing!). However, in a fashion popularised by Queen Elizabeth I, women would remove their eyebrows and inches of hair from the hairline in order to make their foreheads appear large. To do so they used cloth soaked in vinegar, walnut oil and — gulp — cat pee (high in ammonia, don’t you know).
The 18th Century
Continuing with the modest-is-hottest fashion sensibility, women weren’t terribly concerned with bodily hair removal (don’t be too jealous, they had to wear corsets and couldn’t own property). A straight razor for men was invented by a French barber in 1760, and some women adapted this strategy — though we can imagine the Psycho-like scenario if that ever went wrong.
The 19th Century
The first depilatory cream, called Poudre Subtile, was introduced in 1844. And in the last quarter of the century, King Camp Gillette created the first modern razor for men. It’s getting closer! (#seewhatwedidthere)
The 20th Century
With hemlines getting higher, necklines getting lower and sleeveless shifts on the horizon, the first razor specifically designed for ladies was introduced in 1915 (Gillette’s Milady Decolletée). Ads for depilatory creams began to proliferate, and by 1920 fashion magazines were showing women with bare underarms.
The 21st Century
With more removal options than ever before, including electrolysis and pain-free waxing (!?) — not to mention pro-hair movements cropping up left and right — it would seem we’ve hit the golden age of hair (in the Western world, at least). Now, if closing the wage gap were as easy as getting an eyebrow-threading appointment on your lunch break…
Image Attribution: Vintage ad for the Milady Decollete Gillette, 1916.
Thanks to the following sources: Glo MSN.