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This Timeline of Women's Fashion Proves Beauty Standards Are Arbitrary

Updated July 30, 2020 278.7k views13 items

When you stop to think about them, female beauty standards are pretty bizarre. When did hair-free limbs become the norm, and where was hair dye invented? The history of women's beauty is as fascinating as it is strange.

The ancient Egyptians started many of the grooming habits that women still follow today. It's not surprising - after all, Egyptian culture was considered highly advanced. The heyday of ancient Egypt might mark when shaving started, though it was largely for hygienic rather than cosmetic reasons. As for plucking one's eyebrows, that procedure is a bit more modern; thank the ladies of the 16th century court for it. Once you hit the 20th century, everything speeds up. New innovations in makeup, hair styling, and hair removal meant that women began spending a considerable amount of time on personal grooming.

Whether you consider grooming a chore or a treat, it's interesting to read about how - and why - women began altering their appearances.

  • Late 1800s: Women Used Extensions

    Photo: Anonymous / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Hair extensions and wigs are nothing new; people were wearing them in ancient Egypt. In the Western world, powdered wigs became the must-have look in the 18th century.

    Towards the end of the 19th century, however, more natural looking hair extensions became the norm. Piles of curls added volume to the elaborate updos favored by Victorian women. Human hair was favored for these pieces. Supposedly, more than 220,000 pounds of hair were sold in France in 1873.

  • 1915: Women Shaved Their Armpits

    Photo: Philippe Ortiz / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The ancient Egyptians were likely the first civilization to practice widespread body shaving, though it was mostly for hygienic purposes (to ward off fleas, for example).

    But shaving didn't really catch on in the United States until much, much later. In 1915, the first razor was marketed towards women. That same year, Harpers Bazaar showed a model wearing a sleeveless dress and rocking hairless underarms. By 1917, McCall's magazine included anti-underarm hair ads. And in 1922, the Sears, Roebuck catalog featured razors and depilatories.

  • 1917: Women Bought Mascara

    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Eyelash-darkening was once a practical move. In ancient Egypt, both men and women used kohl to tint their lashes; it helped protect the eyes from the glare of the sun. Lighter lashes were sought after in Elizabethan England, though darker hues became more popular in Victorian times. Women relied on various homemade concoctions - made of everything from crushed berries to soot - to achieve a fluttering look.

    In 1915, 19-year-old Thomas Lyle Williams created the Maybelline Company. He saw his older sister Mabel using Vaseline and coal dust to darken her eyelashes, and he believed he could produce a better product for women. He developed his own formula, and in 1917 sold it as Maybelline Cake Mascara. It was billed as "the first modern eye cosmetic for everyday use."

  • 1920s: Women Applied Eyeliner

    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Once again, you can thank the ancient Egyptians for a cosmetic staple. Egyptian men and women both used eyeliner, since it protected the eyes from the sun. Research also suggests that those lead-based cosmetics may have also prevented eye infections. Despite its benefits, though, the use of eyeliner decreased after the fall of Egypt under the Roman Empire.

    Hundreds of years later, eyeliner made a resurgence. When explorers Howard Carter and George Herbert uncovered the tomb of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun, the art of ancient Egyptian eyeliner was introduced once again to the world. Eyeliner was moderately used between the 1920s and 1960s before really taking off in the 1970s.