Historical author Annie Burrows explains how women have always worried about hairy legs and reveals the lengths the Regency lady would go to for smooth skin!
Ah, summer. Long hot days. Those short flirty skirts and sleeveless tops … that add a new element to my grooming routine – the removal of body hair.
Depilatory creams don’t work on my gorilla-like pelt. Shaving only keeps legs looking smooth for a day or so. In the UK this doesn’t usually matter, as we don’t often get more than a couple of sunny days at a time, but if I ever go on a holiday to somewhere that the sun does shine on a regular basis, I wax.
The first time I tried this method, I ended up almost passing out. It was the hour spent repeatedly applying the wax, then bracing myself for the pain of tearing my hair out by the roots, in the confines of a bathroom resembling a sauna (since the instructions said that a steamy atmosphere helped relax the root so the hair would come away easier – hah!) I staggered out of that torture chamber light-headed still covered in tufts of hair and smears of wax. So I HAD to shave anyway! And I got the rash the instruction leaflet warned me I might get (though it did fade by the time I’d reached my tropical destination).
My legs did stay smooth for the duration of the holiday. But it left me wishing I lived in an age where legs stayed decorously covered. A Regency lady would have protected her complexion from the sun, not smeared herself in wax, and then oil, and stayed out in it until she resembled a lobster.
Well, yes. She might have stayed out of the sun. But she still regarded superfluous hair as unfeminine. And how do I know this? Because I have discovered a recipe for a home-made depilatory cream, the main ingredient of which was quicklime. The way to test the efficacy of this concoction apparently was to dip a feather, or quill into the brew. If the feathery bits fell away from the central rib, the mix was ready to apply to the human body.
And leave behind, I suspect, a nasty burn.
On the whole, I’d rather wax!
Rgency Recipe for Depilatory Cream
Take quicklime and orpiment (a yellow sulphide mineral). Place these in a small linen sack and let them boil until they are cooked. If the depilatory be too thick, put fresh water in it to thin it. Take care it is not cooked too much and does not stay on the skin too long. It causes intense heat (I just bet it does!) Note that the dried powder of this is good for abrading bad flesh and for making hair grow again on the heads of people with tinea (ringworm infection). But first the affected place must be anointed with oil or honey. Then the powder is sprinkled on.
From the heat of summer to the fire of the battlefield… Have you discovered A Mistress for Major Bartlett Annie Burrows’s contribution to the Brides of Waterloo trilogy?
Follow the hashtag #SummerSizzler on Twitter and look out for the logo on our books for extra content, features and competitions. Find all our editorial selected sauciest summer reads on our #SummerSizzler page!