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Depilation: the story of how advertising convinced women to shave their legs


Source: Vox

In 1920, an article appeared in one of the American newspapers that a certain girl, whose name they were even afraid to name, shaved her legs. Now you won’t surprise anyone with this, but then it was considered not only unusual, but something out of the ordinary. How did it happen that after only 30 years, shaving legs and underarms became mainstream? Knows the answer Vox.

Photo: Shutterstock

Competent researchers are unanimous that advertising has played a decisive role in the discussion “to shave or not to shave”. But let's see how things were 20 years before the very case that hit the front page of the newspaper.

In 1900, most women did not care for vegetation under their arms or legs. After all, why display hair where only your own husband sees it?
Long skirts and sleeves made it almost impossible to see a lady's bare leg or shoulder. Yes, in the early 1910s, hair was already removed - but, as a rule, in order to perform a surgical operation, so this had nothing to do with aesthetics.
At the beginning of the 20th century, women were disturbed by vegetation in completely different places. This is the volume of Kristina Hope’s scientific work entitled “Hair on the Body of European Women and American Culture”. Hope studied ads in old issues of magazines Harper's Bazaar and McCall's, and found that women at that time were interested in removing vegetation only on the face, neck and shoulders.

However, soon new fashionable trends appeared, which changed the ideas of women about the hair on the female body.

Advertiser Aims Arms

According to Christina Hope, the changes began in 1915, when advertisers in Harper's Bazaar began to offer women a variety of depilatory creams. The new fashion for sleeveless dresses, taken from the Greek and Roman traditions, finally bared the hands of women. This, in turn, led to the development of the depilatory industry and the spread of women's negative attitude towards armpit hair.

Here is an example of a typical magazine ad. Harper's Bazaar: "A well-groomed woman knows that the armpit should be as smooth as the skin of the face."
Safety razor manufacturers also picked up this wave. In one of the advertisements of the company Gillette reported: “Milady Decollete” is an exquisite little razor Gillette especially for women with smooth underarms. The popularization of shaving was made possible not least by the invention of the safety razor with a disposable blade in 1901 and the mass production of shaving cream in 1919. But it took some time for these new technologies to take over the market.

In the 1920s, the depilation industry set its sights on the legs

In the 1920s, the fashion for knee socks and midi skirts made women's legs more open. Depilation companies wereted no time in trying to convince women that their products would allow them to bare their legs without embarrassment.
However, the analysis of ads in magazines shows that at that time a very small part of advertisements about hair removal on the legs read. For example, in Harper's Bazaar In 66,% of the ads mentioned shaving the legs, but only 10% of manufacturers emphasized on this type of depilation.
Then it seemed to many that depilation of the armpits and legs was just a fleeting female hobby. For example, from 1924 to 1926, such ads disappeared from magazines. Sears and McCall's, and in other publications, advertisements were printed mainly in the summer, when women had to bare their legs and forearms.

In 1940, leg depilation becomes the standard

However, by the beginning of 1940-x, according to Hope, 56% of advertisements in Harper's Bazaar Readers focus on hair removal on the legs. In a more conservative Mccall did not explicitly copy this approach, but also slightly turned towards leg hair removal and published several controversial advertising slogans like "Look at your legs - others are watching."

In 1941 year Harper's Bazaar went even further by typing a joke: "If I were the dean of the women's department, I would reprimand every hairy leg on campus."

By the end of 1950-x attitude towards the vegetation on the ladies' legs formed completely. And by 1964, 98% of American women aged from 15 to 44 years reported that they regularly remove hair in their armpits and legs.

Did advertisements make women shave their armpits and legs?
Whether this is only advertising campaigns is an open question. After all, before there was a prejudice against the hair on the face, neck and shoulders. Just under the influence of fashion, it spread to the hairs in other, for some time open, areas of the female body. In addition, the advertisement initially hinted that shaving the legs and armpits could be situational: if a woman decided to wear an open dress or to flaunt a well-groomed body on the beach. And for many years, smooth legs and armpits were not something mandatory.

Hope notes that over time, these soft tips from advertisements begin to sound very different. Since 1945, judging by the materials in fashion magazines, women were almost obliged to remove vegetation from exposed areas of the body.

Now we can only say with certainty that in 1920 a woman went down in history when she shaved her legs. And in our time, she will definitely go down in history if she does not.

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