After you have put off your hair removal session for the third time in a week, you may be dreaming of a blessed time in the past when hair could freely go about its life under long, somewhat chaste, dresses. It’s quite common, by the way, to ask for how long women have been shaving?
Well, it’s for much longer than you might have imagined. We’re giving you a good excuse to procrastinate a little longer. Read on for a brief summary of the history of hair removal through the ages, from Cleopatra to the present day!
Female Hair Removal: As Old As The Hills
The imagined paradise where women would live in perfect harmony with their hair seems never to have existed. Almost everywhere in the world, prehistoric cemeteries hide old-fashioned tweezers. We take this opportunity to bust a myth: early human females did not necessarily have more work to do than us when it came to hair removal.
In an age before cosmetic surgery, hairstyling, hair removal and shaving meant that hair was the easiest way to beautify the human body. After all, what other part of us can be taken away and then restyled infinitely?
Ancient Egypt: Hairless Kings and Queens (or almost so)
The first true golden age of hair removal dates from -3000 BC. In Egypt, full hair removal from head to toe, eyebrows included, was the norm for both men and women. In Mesopotamia and Phoenicia, a thousand years later, kings and queens were also closely shaved. Why? At the time, sticking on hairpieces and wigs instead of hair was well worth it…
Cleopatra’s tips for combating cactus-stubble skin included using bronze tweezers, beeswax, honey and sugar as well as a seashell razor…
Antiquity: Light on Soft Skin
During the Roman Empire period and in Ancient Greece, women used depilatory creams made with pitch. Their hair was often exposed to a flame under a lamp, with the welcome help of a depilator, so as to avoid burning themselves. Hair removal was undertaken in private by the rich and at thermal baths for others who could afford it.
The peach skin tricks of Popea, the Roman empress who was the wife of Nero used glowing walnut shells, oil lamps, pine resin and pumice stones. Her hair removal included the upper lip, chest, legs, arms, armpits and even the nose…
The Crusades and the Books of Secrets
The arrival of Christianity marked something of a pause in female hair removal in the West. At the time of the Crusades, knights discovered the art of oriental hair removal and brought these practices up to date. This was the era of the so-called ‘Books of Secrets’, which contained beauty guidance accessible primarily to noble women only.
At the time, Lady Trotula’s infamous compendium of women’s medicine included anti-hair remedies that used slugs, frogs, ant eggs or even quicklime. And, if you end up missing your old hairstyle, then you could always regrow it – once your skin had healed, of course. Apply a little pyrethrum and bear grease and you’re done.
From the Renaissance to the 19th Century: Hair to the Forefront
Around the time of the Renaissance, the hair intensity went up a notch. The big fashion trend of the day? Wax your forehead, as high as possible, so that the hairline becomes smooth and rounded.
Eyebrows also tended to disappear, thereby contributing to the desired appearance that was so sought-after. Hair removal focussed on visible areas of the body, the neck, the eyebrows, lip hair and undercutting. Those who like their calves warm in winter will understand…
Until the end of the 19th century, the creation of DIY depilatory creams continued unabated, with ever more inventive recipes, some of which included cat droppings and vinegar, hemlock or even arsenic sulphide… yummy!
Catherine Sforza’s (yes, she of the Borgia family) tips for an irresistible forehead included using bat’s blood, orpiment and lime boiled in oil. If that didn’t work out, then tweezers were an alternative, too…
The Early 20th Century, When Everything Accelerated
The period following the First World War was characterised by a wave of independence: boyish haircuts, sleeveless dresses, skirts that were worn above the ankles… Smooth armpits soon become a big feature in mass-market advertising.
The first feminine safety razors appeared during this period, such as the Milady Décolletée by Gillette. At the same time, depilatory creams were becoming more popular. Those who wanted to could now depilate themselves, in the comfort of their bathroom.
The Bikini Becomes a Friend…
After the Second World War, nylon stockings put smooth legs in the spotlight. Then, in the 50s and 60s, women’s skirts got noticeably shorter and, what’s more, the bikini hit the beaches for the first time. It was then we said ‘hello’ to bikini waxing, of course! Women were demanding the right to have their bodies as they saw fit and to show them off if they wanted to.
After a brief, bushy period in the 1970s, female hair removal started to become the norm, especially since it was becoming almost ubiquitous on screen. Brazilian hair removal, full bikini hair removal, wax strips and laser hair removal started to offer increasingly long-lasting solutions, too. It became part of a woman’s to-do list – today, empty the trash, post a letter and remember to wax. That said, removing hair is a job like any other, and can hardly be called the funkiest of activities!
At the time, reactions from girlfriends by the pool you might have expected included, ‘Hey, honey, do you wax much?’ At which, of course, many women would have come up with the plan to pay for a session at a salon.
What Now? No More Taboos
Today, we call a hair a hair wherever it may be on the body. Thankfully, many taboos are being lifted even if this is little by little. More than ever, celebrities push their hair to the forefront and claim it for their own. Hair is being ever more exposed and, in the end, this feeds wider debate on the subject.
When it comes down to it, whether you choose to show it or not, whether you choose to remove it or not, you just want it to stop monopolising conversations about hair and your hair removal agenda. When you want smooth skin, you don’t want to complicate your life or spend hours on it. After all, the sooner you’re shaved, the sooner you don’t have to worry about shaving!
Still here? Take a look at our historical sources, so you can procrastinate a little longer:
- https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Bad-Hair-Days-in-the-Paleolithic%3A-Modern-of-the-Man-Berman/69ce2303022e3aa42a93be52f90df853967c67ec hair of early humans.
- https://books.openedition.org/pup/3511?lang=en Lady Trotula’s beauty blog.
- https://www.persee.fr/doc/pharm_0035-2349_2005_num_93_345_5769 history of depilatories (if you find the recipe for the mysterious Dropax, write to us!)
- https://www.persee.fr/doc/comm_0588-8018_1987_num_46_1_1687 Venetian beauty secrets, which, among others things, includes the trendiest muses of the Renaissance.
- https://www.pinterest.fr/pin/683210205953130119″/>Milady Décolletée by Gillette, a must-have in 1926, almost as stylish as a Venus Razor.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jm8lWi5X73U you didn’t think you had to wear a swimsuit