Stuff Mom Never Told You
Seeing beyond pink and blue to decode the mysteries of men and women.

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When did women start shaving their legs? | October 20, 2010

 
Cristen

Right, because it’s not gonna be until two years later in 1917 that we start seeing anti-underarm hair ads pop up in more middle class magazines like McCall’s.

Molly

Now let’s talk about this first ad, this 1915 ad. It was in Harper’s Bazaar as Cristen said, and the copy read, “Fashion says evening gowns must be sleeveless or made with the mere suggestion of gauzy sleeves of tulle or lace. The woman of fashion says the underarms must be as smooth as the face.”

Cristen

Right, because that was another interesting distinction that Gillette made between men shaving and women shaving whereas men shave off their beards, their stubble on their faces, they marketed underarm shaving as smoothing for women.

Molly

Smoothing. Shaving was never said because that’s something the men do.

Cristen

Right. And even mentioning the fact that at this point, we aren’t really shaving our legs yet and that’s probably because even talking about a woman’s legs was very risqué at the time.

Molly

Oh my, no.

Cristen

Because we know that woman’s legs lead up to the private parts.

Molly

The private parts. In fact, when the first ads start appearing about shaving your legs, they don’t even say legs.

Cristen Yeah, it says limbs.

Molly

And the ad is, as you can tell, it makes this excuse out of the fact that you’re wearing this beautiful dress, everything about you should be smooth, including the dress. And ads that followed up after that were very kind of educational. They would instruct women on how to use their product. And the product itself may not be front and center so much as the instructions on how to use it, why you’re using it. These product makers really had to educate the women on why they’re shaving their legs and their underarms and how to do it just because as we said, no one was doing it up to this point. You didn’t have to.

Cristen

Right. And not just educating them in terms of how to remove the hair, but educating them in the sense of “teaching them” this idea that underarm hair is offensive. Women’s underarm hair is something that’s unclean. This is also during the Victorian era. They were all about bizarre personal sanitation and so they attach underarm hair as this filthy, filthy thing because this is also around the time that we have the emergence of deodorants and mouthwashes.

Molly

Mouthwashes.

Cristen

Yeah, when we have this idea that things like body odor and bad breath and now underarm hair are things that a woman just should not associate herself with at all. If you wanna be feminine, you smell good and you have smooth underarms.

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