How we groom
In the U.S. and the U.K. it has become a fashionable norm for women to remove what advertisers and
deem "unwanted" hair.
Why is it that this is such an imperative here, while it doesn't exist as such in Europe (and was not even the case in the U.S. before the Roaring '20s)?
While there is evidence that, from time to time, various cultures included hair removal as an ideal for female beauty (the ancient Greeks and Egyptians among them), it took
's focus on selling "safety razors" to men in the late 1800s to kick-start the trend in the U.S.
Company founder King Camp Gillette, who invented the disposable razor in 1885, saw sales close in on 100,000 units sold in just the second year they were made.
By 1915, the huge success of the product led to internal debates over how to reach a new sales plateau. The answer came that year as Gillette introduced its first razor for women.
It was a product in search of a market, however, as women of the time rarely shaved either their legs or armpits.
Historian Christine Hope, in a 1982 article from the
Journal of American Culture
Caucasian Female Body Hair and American Culture
, detailed Gillette's efforts to change this.
Ads in both the relatively upper-class publication
as well as more middle-class magazines such as
Ladies Home Journal
promoted clean-shaven armpits as a must-have for open-sleeved summer dresses. Other companies jumped into the fray with ads of their own and momentum began to build, reaching a mass-market victory when
(SHLD - Get Report)
began selling razors and depilatories through its catalog in 1922.
With armpits as a mission accomplished, advertisers set their sights closer to the ground, executing similar, fashion-based campaigns against leg hair.
The short skirts of the 1920s led many American women to start shaving their legs, a practice that came and went as hemlines fell. In the World War II era, marketing campaigns got a much-needed boost from the smooth, showcased gams of pinup girl Betty Grable and took hold as an aesthetic norm.