Trendy razor companies are moving away from clean shaves. How are armpit hairs rerouted? From glossy ads to celebrities’ underarms–and even Vogue cover
Julia Roberts wore a sparkling red gown to the “Notting Hill’ premiere in 1999, and her hair was dripping from her arms. The Herald Sun, Melbourne, Australia declared that “Fuzzy about Feminism” was the title. The Denver Post stated that Fur Flies when Julia Roberts Greets People. “Pitty Woman” was the headline of the Sun in the United Kingdom. It also asked readers to dial its “Furry Phone In” and share their thoughts. Howard Stern was told at the time that Ms. Roberts didn’t get all the fuss. She declined to comment today.
Armpit hair should not be a problem for all genders, as embraced by celebrities and espoused since 1960s by laissez-faire hippies. It still raises eyebrows even though it is back in the zeitgeist.
Vogue’s August cover features Emma Corrin, “The Crown” actress. It is the first Vogue issue to feature a nonbinary individual and probably its first Vogue cover to display armpit hair. This actor uses the they/them pronouns and joins a growing list of nonbinary female actors who have armpit hair. Lourdes Leon, the daughter of Madonna, Janelle Monae and Miley Cyrus are just a few examples. Model Emily Ratajkowski, who appeared in lingerie featuring visible armpit hair, wrote in a 2019 Harper’s Bazaar article.
As well, armpit hair is becoming more common among the general population. Jada Mackenzie Trav was raised in conservative North Carolina and didn’t know that it was possible to refuse to shave. Now 24, the florist and singer had never seen an armpit-haired woman before. After a trip to New York, she was exposed to different gender expressions. She decided to remove her armpit hair and now sees it as a way for her to be more authentic.
Rachael Gibson from London, a hair historian, said that women have had smooth armpits throughout modern history. Ms. Gibson stated that body hair removal has been practiced by all sexes since prehistoric times. She used crude tools such as tweezer made from shells during Roman times. Flapper dresses and depilatory creams were introduced to women by the emergence of flapper fashions, such as Gillette’s “Milady” (1915).
Ms. Gibson pointed out that body hair has a bad reputation throughout art history, which shows it being removed from statues of nudes and paintings for centuries. Similar to Emma Corrin’s cover photo for Vogue, Emma Corrin appears to have blurred her armpit hair, suggesting that armpit hair can still be indecent. Vogue did not comment on the image.
Except for a small spike in the second-wave feminist movement of the 1960s/70s, the clean-shaven look is still popular–until now. Mintel, a retail analysis firm, stated in 2021 the market for hair removal “was already on an sluggish trajectory prior to COVID-19,” which can partly be attributed to consumers’ relaxed approach to shaving.
Armpit hair can be a fashion statement for some. Others find it more comfortable, more efficient, less irritating to the skin, or in line with their cultural or religious beliefs. The Sikh mandatenot tampering with the hair that one was born with.
Many people who take a stand on body hair believe it’s about hair positivity more than autonomy over their bodies. Ms. Ratajkowski said that body hair was another way for women to exercise their freedom to choose. Ms. Travis, who sings songs about her new freedom, said that having control over your hair can have bigger ramifications on your life. “It’s all about allowing people be what they want.”
Companies that offer hair-removal services are following the trend and presenting armpit shaving as an option rather than a necessity. Billie, a 2017 hair-removal startup, claims it is “the first to show body hair during the 100 years” of shave advertisements. Its modern, millennial-friendly advertisement shows a variety of bodies and different amounts. Gillette Venus recently showed models with unshaven armpits. This is a comparison to an early 21st century ad for X Bazin powder depilatory, which stated: “Summer dancing and modern dressing combine to require the removal of objectionable locks.”
Ajani Russell (24), an actor and artist who appeared on HBO’s drama, “The Skate Kitchen,” said that she hated shaving so she no longer does it. “I have always wanted a beard I could stroke while I contemplate my existence. And I think armpit hair comes in close second.”
Corrections & Amplitudes
Feminism’s second wave was marked by the 1960s and 1970s. In an earlier version of this article, the first-wave of feminism was incorrectly called 1960s and 1970s. The 19th-century first-wave feminism was concerned with women’s rights. (Resurrected July 18).