uestion: I’m curious about the history of shaving. How, when, where and why did the act of men shaving their faces come about? I’m sure glad they did find the easy way to do it! Likewise, for the ladies shaving. Also, why are some people not able to grow much facial hair? (Asked by a curious reader via cyberspace.)
Reply: First, let’s define “shaving” in general as the removal of body hair. Shaving these days tends to mean using modern blades. But discovered artifacts suggest that shaving has been around since approximately 100,000 BCE. Cavemen would eliminate hair from their bodies one at a time using shells or rocks as tweezers. Fast forward some hundreds of years, and sharpened flint was found to cut and improve hair removal. Copper razors were developed in ancient Egypt around 1000 BCE in the form of straight razors.
Shaving and facial hair (beards) are intimately related. The Old Farmer’s Almanac gives a history which addresses this and reflects on shaving. Here’s a synopsis:
• 400-300 BCE: Alexander the Great was clean shaven and encouraged his soldiers to shave before battle as beards could be grabbed by enemies in hand-to-hand combat.
• 1769: The Perret razor was developed in France with a wooden guard to hold the blade in place and prevent deep cuts.
• 1789-1861: The first 15 U.S. presidents were beardless.
• 1861-1913: Starting with Lincoln, who was advised to grow a beard by a little girl, every president up to William Howard Taft wore facial hair except Andrew Johnson and William McKinley. All presidents since Taft have been clean shaven.
• 1895: King Gillette invented and began selling disposable razor blades, eliminating the need for blade honing.
• 1928: Jacob Schick invented the electric razor.
• 1930: The U.S. military prohibited beards because they prevented a tight seal for gas masks.
• Amish men shave until they’re married. Observant Jewish men follow Leviticus 19:27, forbidding them to shave “the corners of the beard.”
About women shaving: this is not facial hair, but historically under the arms. For many years, women’s bare arms and underarms were not shown because of clothing, so these areas remained unshaven. However, when it became socially appropriate to expose these areas of the body, shaving became an aesthetic practice. Women’s leg saving is also a wide cultural practice. Men do not generally shave their underarms, but I see razor commercials on TV where men shave various parts of the body, including the chest.
Hair growth is ultimately determined by genetics. Some have thick hair growth on their faces and bodies, and some do not. Deciding whether to shave or to grow a beard is a personal choice. I went the beard route, and have had one for nearly 50 years, which is quite practical. Look at all the time and money I’ve saved!
C.P.S. (Curious Postscript): “Of the Seven Dwarfs, the only one who shaved was Dopey. That should tell us something about the wisdom of shaving.” — Tom Robbins