Sue Cook presents the series that examines listeners' historical queries, exploring avenues of research and uncovering mysteries.
Men shaving - when it became the fashion
"When I was young, men went to the barber's for a shave. When did it become the fashion for men to go clean-shaven, and when did they start to shave themselves?"
Shaving has gone on since the earliest times. The Egyptians used copper razors. Alexander the Great is said to have shaved before battle, and Julius Caesar is said to have had the hairs on his face plucked out with tweezers. Throughout history, shaving - leaving on moustaches and sometimes beards - has been fashionable but this was usually done for the nobles and aristocrats. They did not shave themselves, though Queen Victoria laid out Prince Albert's shaving equipment every day after his death.
In the 18th century a French barber, Jean Jacques Perrett, wrote a treatise entitled 'The Art of Learning to Shave Oneself', in which he proposed a safety razor which had an L-shaped wooden guard to prevent it cutting too deeply into the skin. The American King Camp Gillette in 1901 came up with the idea of a disposable blade, a blade that would be thrown away after only limited use. Though he sold only 168 blades in his first year, he sold thousands the next. The safety razor was brought to Britain in 1905, and American soldiers in Europe for the First World War had them while British soldiers were issued with cut-throat razors. The British army was always clean-shaven, though Wellington would relax the rules once battle had commenced.
In 1939 the American razor manufacturer Schick brought out the first successful electric razor and Philishave followed suit in Europe. Going to the barber for a shave - which was almost as expensive as a haircut - disappeared soon after the Second World War.
Caroline Cox, Good Hair Days: A History of British Hairdressing (Quartet, 2000)
Robin Bryer, The History of Hair: Fashion and Fantasy Down the Ages (Philip Wilson Publishers, 2000)
Phillip L. Krumholz, A History of Shaving and Razors (Adlibs Publising Company, 1987)
Vanessa has presented science and current affairs programmes for BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Discovery and has presented for BBC Radio 4 & Five Live and a regular contributor to the Daily Telegraph and the Mail on Sunday, Scotsman and Sunday Herald.
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