Shaping the Beauty Landscape: Cosmetology in America from 1911 to 1919


The second decade of the 20th century marked a dynamic period in the history of cosmetology in America. As societal norms continued to evolve, the beauty industry responded with innovative products and techniques that would profoundly influence the standards and practices of personal grooming. This period saw a shift in the perception of femininity, the inception of an influential beauty event, and the introduction of groundbreaking hair care innovations.

Cosmetology in America from 1911 to 1919

Cosmetology in America

A New Definition of Femininity: The Influence of Irene Castle and the First Women’s Razor

The 1910s brought about a significant change in the definition of femininity. A key figure in this shift was the elegant dancer Irene Castle. Known for her shingled bob, Castle’s bold hairstyle choice was a departure from the long, flowing locks that had previously dominated women’s hairstyles. As Castle twirled on stage, she embodied a new vision of the modern woman: confident, stylish, and unafraid to break from tradition.

Fashion trends of the era also played a role in the evolving perception of femininity. Hemlines were rising, and sleeveless dresses were becoming more popular, leading to the exposure of underarm hair. This new fashion trend quickly resulted in the creation of the first women’s razor, marking a significant milestone in women’s personal grooming habits.

The International Beauty Show: A Meeting of Minds and Innovations

In 1917, the first International Beauty Shop Owners Convention and Exhibition (now known as the International Beauty Show, or IBS) was held at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. With 15 exhibitors and 300 barbers in attendance, it served as a platform for the introduction of new products and innovations. This pioneering event played a vital role in shaping the future of the beauty industry, fostering collaboration, and encouraging innovation.

Groundbreaking Innovations in Hair Care: Proline’s “No Lye Relaxer” and Wahl’s Electromagnetic Clipper

The 1910s also witnessed significant advancements in hair care. Proline introduced the first commercial “no lye relaxer,” which used potassium hydroxide. This product marked an evolution in hair relaxing techniques, offering a safer and more effective solution for straightening hair.

In the same period, Leo J. Wahl invented the first electromagnetic clipper. The clipper, which featured a quieter and lighter alternating current (AC) motor, was an improvement over the direct current (DC) clippers of the time. Following this innovation, Wahl established Wahl Clipper, a company that continues to be a favorite in the salon industry today.


The period from 1911 to 1919 marked a time of rapid change and innovation in the American cosmetology industry. The changing definition of femininity, the establishment of the International Beauty Show, and the introduction of revolutionary hair care products and tools were all pivotal developments. These changes not only shaped the beauty landscape of the time but also laid the foundation for the diverse and dynamic industry we see today.

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