Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Okay, What is the Shocking Truth about Women’s Blouses?

I knew you were all dying of curiosity about what shocking pronouncement I might have on the subject, so I couldn’t leave you in suspense, could I?

As I’ve been reading ladies’ magazines from the summer of 1917 and paying especial attention to the advertisements, I noticed a surprising thing: the many ads for, of all things, underarm hair removal. Yes, you heard me correctly. Like this one, from McCall's July 1917 issue:

And this one from The Delineator, also July 1917:

And that doesn’t include the ads for antiperspirants and deodorants and talcum powder (some of which, by the way, are quite lovely (sorry that the image is a trifle crooked--I didn't want to damage the magazine while scanning it. This one's from McCall's, by the way):

This surprised me at first—underarm hair removal? Really? But as it says in the ad, ladies’ blouses made of sheer batistes, cottons, and linens were all the fashion. Here’s a couple from the same issue of The Delineator. Look closely and you can see that the sleeve fabric was indeed very sheer:

And that doesn’t include bathing suits, some of which were sleeveless by now (also from July's The Delineator):

Underarm hair would be clearly visible in both cases...and definitely not “dainty” (a favorite adjective from this era, it seems)...hence, hair removal products. Maybe I’m clueless, but I’d just never thought of this as an early twentieth century problem...but evidently it was.

And this is part of why I take such joy in research: because you don’t know what you don’t know, and filling in all those gaps in knowledge is such a wonderful thing. Even when it involves underarm hair. I don't think I'll be writing any scenes in which my characters fret about this problem--at least, I don't think I will--but it certainly was interesting to learn about. This is not the kind of history that ever makes it into the history books...but it's history just the same--how the people before us lived. It's my favorite kind of history, and I hope you've enjoyed all the shreds of it that Regina and I try to bring to you.


Liviania said...

I didn't know underarm hair was considered a problem that early, but I'm definitely still laughing at that talcum powder ad.

Barbara Arent said...

I wonder did the El Rado actually removed the hair with coarsening it. If so, it would be nice to have today.