Women did their hair at home in the 19th century. Men dominated the hairdressing industry, and most establishments catered only for men. A few mixed-sex salons operated, sometimes in conjunction with baths, at a time when not every home had the convenience of running water.
When women chose radical new hairstyles such as the bob, a visit to a professional was required – in this case, the barber. The bob created a brief female ‘invasion’ of barber shops in the 1920s. Some barbers expanded to make room for women, but more salons specifically for women (and with women hairdressers) opened from the 1920s. By the 1940s women’s salons specialised in cuts, perms, the weekly wash and set and, later, the cut and blow wave. Unisex salons appeared in the 1960s and 1970s, and after that most salons catered for both women and men.
The clean-shaven, short-haired look worn by men was a boon for barbers until the mid-20th century. Haircuts and wet shaves were available at barbershops, and some men visited weekly, or even daily, for their shave or clip to their short back and sides.
Changing technology and fashions led to the demise of barbers. The safety razor, developed early in the 20th century, became widespread from the 1920s, so more men shaved themselves at home. A trend towards longer hair meant fewer trips to the barber and from the 1950s barbershops steadily closed down.
In urban centres especially, barbershops underwent a late 20th-century mini revival as they catered for a younger clientele. Some rebranded themselves as places where ‘blokes could be blokes’, offering sports channels on the television and men’s magazines; others reintroduced the wet shave.
Changing fashions and ideals about femininity shifted social attitudes to body hair. Through the 20th century many women increasingly removed more of their body hair: from armpits, legs, face and the pubic area. Conversely, some women retained their body hair as a protest against what they saw as excessive ideals of femininity.
Plucking, shaving and depilatory creams were the most common methods of hair removal. From the 1960s and 1970s, waxing (either at home or in salons) became widespread as wax strips and hot and cold waxes entered the market. Electrolysis became available in New Zealand in the early 1970s and laser hair removal in 1996.
By the end of the 20th century there were beauty salons specialising in hair removal, often by waxing. Salons reported a younger clientele, and of pre-teens as young as 10 having their legs waxed. ‘Brazilians’ (and their variants) were increasingly common, and by 2011 some doctors reported that pubic hair removal was the norm for women under 30.
In the 2000s one Auckland firm, Off Wax, coined the term ‘bro-zilian’ for a man’s pubic hair wax. According to one of the staff, New Zealand men were more ‘wussy’ (fearful) than their female counterparts: ‘they seem more precious about their private parts but I just tell them to grunt up.’1
Male sportsmen often removed their body hair in order to achieve a smooth look or aerodynamic effect. By the 1990s some men were removing their body hair in response to changing ideals about masculinity that emphasised a sleek, muscular and urbane appearance.