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Grin and Bare It: 11 Facts About Hair Removal

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The millennia-old quest for fuzz-free skin has been surprisingly, well, hairy. In ancient Egypt, for example, people relied on tools like seashell tweezers and pumice stones to keep their skin smooth, while cat poop was the depilatory of choice for the British in the 17th century. We’ve rounded up 11 more facts about the history of hair removal, which just might make you feel better the next time you decide to grin and bare it.

1. BEING HIRSUTE IN ANCIENT GREECE AND ROME WAS CONSIDERED GAUCHE.

At the time, if you had little hair it also probably meant that you had heaps of cash. Wealthy women used tweezers, stones, and early razors to remove all body hair, including pubic hair, which was considered unsightly. That’s why many Greek statues depicting the "ideal" female figure are devoid of any fuzz. (It's not believed to be related to paint flaking off the marble, as statues of males feature pubic hair that has been carved in.)

2. GOING BARE SOMETIMES INVOLVED ARSENIC.

One Renaissance-era DIY depilatory, according to a recipe from 1532, involved mixing one pint of arsenic and an eighth of a pint of quicklime, then smearing all over. “When the skin feels hot,” the text read, “wash quickly with hot water so the flesh doesn’t come off.”

3. QUEEN ELIZABETH I WAS ALL ABOUT THAT FACE.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Queen Elizabeth I removed most of the hair from her face—including eyebrows—but kept her body hair untouched. She was also in the habit of plucking the hairline around her forehead in order to make her face appear elongated. Naturally, her female subjects followed suit. Their depilatory products of choice: walnut oil, which was better than what women (and men) would soon be using. In the mid-17th century, Peter Levens gave a recipe titled “For to take away hair” that suggested the following: “[Get] hard cat’s dung, dry it, and beat it to powder, and temper it with strong vinegar; then wash the place with the same where you would have no hair to grow.”

4. THE PROCESS BECAME (A LITTLE) EASIER IN THE 1800s.

One of the first mass-produced depilatory creams, called Poudre Subtile, was created in the 1840s by the (fictitious) "Dr. T. Felix Gouraud." Not surprisingly, it could cause skin damage if applied incorrectly or left on for too long. In 1901, King Camp Gillette patented his first disposable razor for men. Fourteen years later, he crafted a razor specifically for women, delicately titled the "Milady Decolette."

5. BUT THE EARLY 1900s WERE THE PITS.

Around 1915, sleeveless dresses became fashionable. But with exposed armpits came societal pressure to remove decidedly unstylish underarm hair. That May, Harper’s Bazaar featured an ad of a young woman showing off her fuzz-free pits. The text read, “Summer Dress and Modern Dancing combine to make necessary the removal of objectionable hair.”

6. WORLD WAR II GAVE WOMEN THE RIGHT TO BARE LEGS.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

A wartime shortage of nylon meant women had to go barelegged more frequently, which led to a slew of new hair-removal products—including the first electric women’s razor in 1940. It also launched a new trend: Women would draw stripes on the backs of their bare legs to give the appearance of stocking seams.

7. THE ADVENT OF THE BIKINI POSED NEW CHALLENGES.

When the two-piece first appeared the United States in 1946, women began to tweeze and shave the hair outside their panty line, too. Writes Sarah Hildebrant in The EmBodyment of American Culture, “As this history illustrated, the more clothes women were 'allowed' (or expected) to remove, the more hair they were also expected to remove.”

8. NEW METHODS TOOK ROOT IN THE '60s.

Although waxing itself is thousands of years old, the method took off again in the 1960s with the introduction of wax strips. Early laser technology was also harnessed in the battle against body hair, but these lasers weren't yet refined enough to avoid damaging surrounding skin and were quickly abandoned.

9. AND THEN THERE WERE THE BRAZILIANS.

In 1987, seven J-monikered siblings opened the J. Sisters nail salon in New York City. There, in 1994, Jocely, Jonice, Janea, Joyce, Juracy, Jussara and Judeseia introduced the States to South America’s go-bare-or-go-home philosophy. “In Brazil, waxing is part of our culture because bikinis are so small,” Jonice explains on the salon's website. “We thought it was an important service to add because personal care is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity.” Today, Brazilian bikini waxing is the salon’s most requested service.

10. SOME CREDIT SEX AND THE CITY WITH GENERATING A BRAZILIAN BUZZ.

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In a 2000 episode of the HBO hit, Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw feels decidedly bare after getting an accidental Brazilian bikini wax. Ildi Gulas, a wax and laser specialist at New York City's Spruce & Bond salon, told Refinery29 that scene gave the procedure “a major boom” in clients seeking out the service. But whether you credit the rise of pubic hair grooming to Sex and the City, the J. Sisters' NYC takeover, or the spread of pornography, the fact is that the majority of American women today either trim, shave, or wax the hair down there. In one survey, published in JAMA Dermatology earlier this year, 84 percent of the 3300 respondents said they've always groomed their pubic hair, while 62 percent admitted to getting rid of all of it at least once in their lives. (Back in 1968, 40 percent of women had never touched their pubes, while just 10 percent had ever gotten rid of it all.)

11. EVEN THE GOVERNATOR HAS DARED TO GO HAIRLESS.

While announcing his candidacy for governor of California on The Tonight Show in 2003, Arnold Schwarzenegger told Jay Leno, “It’s the most difficult [decision] I’ve made in my entire life, except the one I made in 1978 when I decided to get a bikini wax.” Today, manscaping isn't limited to bodybuilders like Ahh-nold looking to show off their hard-won physiques. According to Inc., men's grooming pulls in $4 billion a year in the U.S.—$1 billion of which is from hair removal products. With those kinds of deep (cultural) roots, there's no way the hair removal industry will be going the way of, say, those errant hairs stippling your upper lip anytime soon.

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11 Classic Facts About Converse Chucks
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Converse’s Chuck Taylor sneakers have been around since the early 20th century, but they haven’t changed much—until recently. In 2015, The Chuck II—a new line of Converse that looks much the same as the original shoe but with a little more padding and arch support—hit stores. In honor of the kicks' staying power, here are 11 facts about Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars.  

1. They were originally athletic shoes. 

The Converse All-Star debuted in 1917 as an athletic sneaker. It quickly became the number one shoe for basketball, then a relatively new sport (basketball was invented by James Naismith in 1891, but the NBA wasn't founded until 1946). By the late 1940s, most of the NBA sported Chucks. They remain the best-selling basketball shoes of all time, even though very few people wear them for basketball anymore. (Many teams switched to leather Adidas in the late ‘60s.)

2. Converse previously made rain boots.

The company started in 1908 as a rubber shoe company that produced galoshes.  

3. The All-Star design hasn’t really changed since 1917.

The updated Chuck II is Converse’s first real attempt to update its flagship product since the early 20th century. The company is understandably reticent to shake things up: All-Stars make up the majority of the company’s revenue, and like any classic design, its fans can be die-hards. In the 1990s, when the company tried to introduce All-Stars that were more comfortable and had slightly fewer design inconsistencies, hardcore aficionados rebelled. “They missed the imperfections in the rubber tape that lines the base of the shoe,” according to the Washington Post. The company went back to making a slightly imperfect shoe.

4. Chuck Taylor was a basketball player and trainer ...

Chuck Taylor in 1921. Image Credit: North Carolina State University via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Taylor was a Converse salesman and former professional basketball player who traveled around the country teaching basketball clinics (and selling shoes) starting in the 1920s. His name was added onto an ankle patch on the sneaker in 1932

5. ... And though he sold a lot of Chucks, he wasn't always a great coach.

Taylor is in large part responsible for the shoe’s popularity with athletes (the company rewarded him with an unlimited expense account), but his training advice wasn’t always the best. As former University of North Carolina player Larry Brown told Spin in an oral history of the shoe:

My greatest memory of Chuck Taylor—probably ’61 or ’62—is that he told Coach [Dean] Smith that he’d make us special weighted shoes in Carolina blue. The idea was that we’d wear the weighted shoes in practice, and then during the games, we’d run faster and jump higher. Well, we tried them for one practice and everyone pulled a hamstring.

6. Converse didn’t intend for their shoes to be punk.

“We always thought of ourselves as an athletic shoe company,” John O’Neil, who oversaw Converse’s marketing from 1983 to 1997, told Spin. “We wanted to sell a wholesome shoe.” The company was still touting its shoes as basketball sneakers as late as 2012, and some of its non-Chucks sneakers still have pro endorsers.

7. The company owns a recording studio.

Finally embracing its role in the music scene, the company launched Rubber Tracks, a Brooklyn-based recording studio where bands can record for free, in 2011.

8. Not all the Ramones were fans. 

Chuck Taylors are associated with punk rockers, especially the Ramones, but not everyone in the band wore them. “Dee Dee and I switched over to the Chuck Taylors because they stopped making [the style of] U.S. Keds and Pro-Keds [that we liked],” Marky Ramone told Spin. “Joey never wore them. He needed a lot of arch support and Chuck Taylors are bad for that.”

9. Chucks were initially only high tops. 

In 1962, Converse rolled out its first oxford Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Previously, it had just been a high-top shoe. Four years later, the company would introduce the first colors other than black and white.

10. Rocky ran in them.

In 1976, All-Stars were still considered a viable athletic shoe. If you look closely at the training montage from Rocky, you’ll see the boxer is wearing Chucks. 

11. Wiz Khalifa loves them. 

The rapper named his record label Taylor Ganag Records, in part due to his appreciation for Chuck Taylors. In 2013, he launched a shoe collection with Converse featuring 12 styles. 

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Adidas Collaborates With Artists to Create Sneakers for All 50 States
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Adidas, Mari Orr

For a recent project from Adidas and Refinery29, artists were given a women’s running shoe to use as their blank canvas. Their only prompt: Design the sneaker to represent one of the American states. The results are as varied and colorful as the nation itself.

As Adweek reports, the initiative, dubbed BOOST the Nation, takes an all-American look at Adidas’s UltraBOOST X footwear line. Refinery29 selected several artists—all women—to put their regional stamp on the plain white shoe. Some have been decorated with state flora. For instance, the Florida sneaker sports a tropical frond and the shoe for North Carolina is embellished with Venus flytraps. Food is also a popular theme: Wisconsin cheese, Maine lobster, and Tennessee barbecue have all been incorporated into sneaker designs.

Each sneaker is one-of-a kind and only available through auction. All proceeds raised will go directly to Women Win, an organization dedicated to bringing sports to adolescent girls around the world. The auction runs through Tuesday, July 11, with current bids ranging from $110 to $2000. Check out the artists’ handiwork that's for sale below.

Sneaker designed to look like a peach.
Georgia

Checkered running shoe.
Indiana

Adidas, Jen Mussari

Yellow running shoe with cracker tag.
Wisconsin

Sneaker designed to look like a mountain.
South Dakota
Adidas, Mari Orr

Sneaker decorated with wheat.
Oklahoma

Adidas, Jen Mussari

Sneaker embellished with fake roses and leaves.
Kentucky

Pink running shoe with lobster claw.
Maine

[h/t Adweek]

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