Friday, June 29, 2012

Question from Amanda - Tudor women and shaving

Did Tudor-era women shave their legs or their underarms? If so, how did they do this? Was it just not a big deal back then? Thank you.


PhD Historian said...

Isn't shaving, for women, a practice that developed in the 20th century when fashions finally began showing legs and shoulders? I do know that lots of 19th and early 20th century historic nude photography (both artistic and prurient) contains women with all body hair intact. Yet artists tended to "remove" the hair in painted pictures of nude women. I have never seen any reference to women of the Tudor period ... or any period between the Roman Empire and the 19th century ... removing body hair, so I would be shocked if any did. After all, Tudor fashions did not expose much flesh, other than the hands, neck, and the portion of the shoulders closest to the neck. Legs and underarms were never exposed.

Courtney said...

I've read fiction where women in the East (Muslim countries like Turkey and Mughal India) removed the hair from everywhere but their heads, usually using what sounded like some kind of depilatory. Then again, the clothing styles were much different there than in Europe, and I imagine it was also much warmer. I suppose it could be a device utilized by authors to make female charactesr more attractive to a modern audience.

Anonymous said...

"The returning Crusaders (1096-1270) brought the practice back to Europe. In many European castles built between 1200 and 1600 AD, a special room was constructed where the ladies of the court could gather to shave. During the Renaissance, the practice of pubic hair removal flourished. Sixteenth and seventeenth century artists portrayed women as having little or no pubic hair. The work of Rubens, whose models typified the ideal in feminine beauty at the time, most dramatically reveals this.

The habit of depilating started to wane (publicly at least) during the reign of Catherine de Medici (1547-1589) who was then queen of France and something of a religious zealot. She forbade her ladies in waiting to remove their pubic hair any longer; however, it was still widely practiced until the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) and the smothering prudishness of the "Victorian Era." Even then, it remained popular in private, especially for the ruling classes. There is some photographic evidence ranging from the time of the Civil War to the "blue movies" of the 1920s and 30s that shows that the amount of pubic hair during that time varied from full to none. Even though repressed by the outward morality of the era, it appears pubic shaving never disappeared but instead more appropriately went underground." - It all really depended on the person. Many women of higher class/station would remove unattractive leg, underarm, and pubic hair. Look for portraits like, Iphigenia by William Etty(circa 1800s), for evidence. Or, scan through the galleries at, where you will find hardly any portraits of women with body hair. (The web site is not porn, it is a history of erotic art, with paintings and sculptures dating back to BC. You will find some useful info there.) Yes, hair removal was a luxury, but it has existed, improved, and thrived throughout most of history.