Pola Negri silent film star and sex symbol (picture found here excellent article too). This picture was taken in the very early 1920s I believe.
In the 1920s sleeveless dresses and ones with sheer sleeves were being introduced to women, previously women had to be completely covered up but now they had shorter hemlines and were able to show off more of their body. With this came ads beginning in 1915 with an ad in Harper’s Bazar for women to shave their underarms. Before this the only people who shaved were sex workers to show they didn’t have lice.
With the advent of sleeveless clothes companies decided to market razors, shaving creams, and depilatories to women. They did this by making underarm hair seem unsanitary and that it wasn’t ladylike. There are a lot of theories as to why women still are supposed to shave including that it makes women seem younger and innocent.
In 1922 Sears and Roebuck catalogue included women’s razors and sleeveless dresses. At that point it seemed that women shaving their armpits was here to stay and ads instead concentrated on what company that women should go with.
Women shaving leg hair didn’t come into fashion until the 1940s with that iconic pin-up of Betty Grable. The look that was in had women wearing sheer stockings and leg hair poking out ruined that look. But ever since shaving the armpit came into style there were ads and columnists that told women to shave their legs. But during the 30s hemlines were lowered and since no one saw their legs women didn’t feel the need to shave.
What started out as a way to sell more razors has now become a requirement for women so much so that Disney’s The Croods has a cavewoman that is completely shaven. It is unthinkable for women not to shave. In recent years though there has been a pushback from women against the idea that they should shave a huge portion of their bodies. Women have co-opted the No Shave November. It was originally for men to grow out their beards and mustaches to raise money and awareness for prostate and testicular cancer but it has grown out (pun intended) of that mindset, but even the Movember organization says it isn’t just for men.
As you can see though Pola Negri’s beauty isn’t diminished by having armpit hair. She was extremely successful and achieved worldwide fame as an actress. So maybe we should loosen this idea that women have to shave everywhere for them to be seen as women.