Monday, March 10, 2008

Historical Methods of Hair Removal

Ladies, have you ever forgotten to shave your legs, underarms or bikini area, then donned an outfit that showed your hairy figure perfectly to the world?

Men have you forgotten to shave your face, rolled out bed when the alarm clock didn’t go off and then showed up to work looking scruffy and stubbly? Or oh know! You didn’t wax your back before going to the beach…

We’re talking about hair removal today, and when it came about and why it’s so important. I’m giving you a very short version of history, but you should be able to get the basic ideas.

Hair removal didn’t start just yesterday, or even a hundred years ago. It has been around since caveman times. Although some things have changed, mostly which part of the body we’re removing hair from, the techniques have only been honed a little with technology.

Removing hair from the head and face of men was originally not for vanity purposes but for survival. It is known that not only cavemen did this but ancient Egyptians as well. There have been speculations that for safety, scraping off the beard and hair on the head would take away the advantage of an adversary having anything to grab onto. For cavemen it was possibly known that those with less hair had less mites, hence scraping the hair from the face.

Now I keep saying scrape…why scrape? Well they didn’t have Gillette or Bic back in the day…They would take sharp rocks, sea shells or flint blades and literally scrape the hair from their faces. I’m sure not only hair came…OW!!!

The ancient Egyptians were known to have better forms of razors made of flint or bronze. They also used a method of depilatory called sugaring. A sticky paste (bees wax was sometimes used) would be applied to the skin, kind of like waxing. Then a strip of cloth was pressed onto the paste and yanked off, removing the hair.

There is a rumor going around that women have only been removing hair from their legs for the last hundred years or so. Well that is true for American and European women. The fact that removal of body hair for Europeans wasn’t popular gives sense to the fact that American women didn’t shave, because most of the immigrants were European. However in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Middle Eastern countries, removing body hair was important. In fact these women removed most of their body hair, except for t the eyebrows. Egyptian women removed their head hair. Having hair down under was considered uncivilized. Now any men reading this should know the women were not the only ones to remove their pubic hair…

It was also considered uncivilized for men to have hair on their face. Having a scruffy face meant you were a slave or servant, definitely of lower class. Is that why corporate guys and politicians always have clean shaven faces? Do we associate a clean shaven face with someone powerful?

In the ancient Roman Empire, hair removal was often seen as an identifier of class. The wealthy women would remove their body hair with pumice stones, razors, tweezers and depilatory creams.

(Check out this painting that was painting in the 1800's by French painter, William-Adolphe Bouguereau. Venus is devoid of body hair, and you will notice in most paintings throughout history the women are void of body hair...)

There was also another technique used called threading. The women would take some string or yarn and lace it through the fingers of both hands, then vigorously rub it on the area therefore tugging, ripping, pulling the unwanted hair away…

We do know European women did not engage in body hair removal during the middle ages. In fact it wasn’t until Elizabethan times that Euro women began the practice of hair removal…except they didn’t remove leg, armpit or pubic hair…they removed their eyebrows and the hair from their foreheads to give themselves a longer brow.

This look was so fashionable that it is said, mothers would often rub walnut oil on their children’s foreheads to prevent hair growth. They were also said to use bandages covered with vinegar and cat’s poo. Gross!

The Perret razor was invented in the 1760’s by French barber, Jean Jacques Perret. It is an L-shaped wooden guard that holds the razor and is supposed to reduce the damage done to skin (ex: cuts!) when shaving.
(left picture)

However it wasn’t until the 1880’s that a much safer razor came along. Meet King Camp Gillette. He wasn’t a king, that was just his name. He was an American businessman, and in case you didn’t recognize his last name, he was the inventor of the Gillette razor. (right picture)

In 1915, the first women’s razor came out. It was in this same year that an edition of Harpers Bazaar magazine came out with an issue featuring a model wearing a sleeveless dress and *gasp* no hair in the armpits!

Thus started the ritual we have today of shaving away the unwanted hair.

So what do you think? Do you like shaving? Wish it wasn't a big deal? Check out the polls on the main page...

Have a great week!


  1. Wow, 1915!

    Guess that made way for the flappers of the 1920s to expose themsevles. LOL.

    Great info, Eliza!

  2. All I can say is "ouch"! Thanks for another great post, Eliza.

  3. We haven't really come far as far as hair removal have we, LOL. Loved your post. Knew Egyptians were ahead of the game, but didn't know the Greeks were too...although, hm, those hairless, smooth greek statues are a dead give away...

  4. My head is exploding because this blog made me remember a random I can't recall where I heard it from...

    ... that in old Victorian photos a way to tell a little boy from a little girl (since they dressed very similar) was in the way the hair was parted...

    Or, I could be going nuts. Must be shaving creme fumes or something...

  5. Fascinating. I can't imagine trying to remove my leg hair with a sea shell so thank goodness for Mr. Gillette. I vaguely remember reading in a Bertrice Small novel where the heroine had her body hair removed by sugaring.

  6. How do you think up these topics? They're great! LOL! Thank goodness Gillette came into favor.

    Great post, Eliza!

  7. Fascinating post, Eliza!! Both educational and entertaining at the same time!

  8. I'm so glad everyone enjoyed the post!

    Delilah, Love the hairless greek statues!

    Jennifer, that makes sense since they all dressed the same when they were young! Poor boys made to wear dresses! Could you imagine if we did that nowadays?

    Holly, honestly, all of my topics are questions I've had myself while writing, and figured I must share them with everyone else! I can't be the only one questioning these things right? lol

    Thanks again everyone!

  9. Oww!! Man, as much as I hate the dreaded razor - I love smooth legs and other areas, but I hate to get it done - I'm so glad I've never had to use a sharp stone to do it! Yikes!
    Another great post Eliza! Thanks!

  10. Interesting post! All I have to say is thank goodness for razors - no shell, sharpened stones, or wax jobs for me!

    While researching one of my own books, I discovered it was Alexander the Great who first ordered his soldiers to cut their beards so that their opponents in battle won't have anything to grab onto. I used that tidbit in one of my books, when my heroine was trying to convince my Druid hero to shave his beard! He considered shaving a sign of weakness.

    Guess who won the argument?

    Joy Nash
    DEEP MAGIC: Druids of Avalon #2 Jan 08 Gwendolyn risks forbidden magic and forbidden love in her quest to forge a magical sword in Avalon's defense.

  11. Owwww, and we complain about using our lovely BIC for women with the Aloe strip? OMG, those poor women. I can just imagine them taking a piece of string and rubbing their skin raw- gives me the heebie jeebies!!! Another great post, Eliza. I am learning so much!! Thanks!!


  12. They've got a whole segment on the history of hair removal over at this hair removal Houston, TX website that I found. It's actually very interesting. Did you know that the actual first method of removing hair was by scraping the skin with a smooth stone over the course of 3 years? Well, that was the first record case.

  13. Thanks Heather! I can't imagine doing that...ouch!

    I'll go check it out :)

  14. I discovered it was Alexander the Great who first ordered his soldiers to cut their beards so that their opponents in battle won't have anything to grab onto.
    Term Papers

  15. Really the blogging is spreading its wings rapidly. Your write up is a fine example of it.

  16. This is a magnificent blog post covering all historical facts of hair removal.But I am still in search of a painless and economical facial Hair removal for women.Your blog is not only useful but also very informative. Thanks for your nice blogging spirit.

  17. I stumbled here doing some fact-checking on the Showtime series "The Tudors" (wonderful drama, wretched history). I was struck by the silky-smooth legs and pits of all the women in the show and was thinking "REALLY?".

    And your informative post confirmed "not really".

    Informative post, and looks like a wonderful blog. I'll be dropping by again.


  18. ps. on a side-note, pubic hair removal was actually fairly common in 15th C. Europe and England (those pesky pubic lice, ya know). Hence the "Merkin" (pubic hair wig)

  19. actually, threading is quite common today for facial hair removal. And I'd pick waxing over shaving any day!

  20. thank you for this! I want to link to it in our new blog! I hope that's okay!

  21. I'm intrigued at the fact that you pointed out regarding the many famous artworks depicting hairless women. Particularly since European women through most of time kept their body hair, and in fact in several pieces I have read on the subject, this was found sexually appealing by their men. I'd love to see more exploration of this, although I suspect the main reason is that body hair is probably harder to paint!

  22. i really meant specifically the practice of hairline plucking - to be sure their is a wonder about so many hairlessy women in paintings. That would be a fantastic blog all of it's own.

  23. I can't imagine shaving myself with a sharp rock.

  24. I do not want to be with anyone who has not cleaned up down there. FOOEY!