Walking through an antique mall, I spotted this display “for the woman who has everything.” Now, I don’t have everything; but like many people, I’m vain enough to wish for what those people can have.
Once my eyes settled on this vintage, nearly-antique, item and its large counter-top cardboard display sign, I immediately recognized both what the “Tweaker” contraption was — and how such beauty devices designed to appeal to one’s vanity will hurt more than just one’s pride. The Tweaker is a vintage beauty device which removes unwanted hair, much like the Epilady I was once forced to demonstrate in the cosmetic department at Marshall Field’s. While the Tweaker is a bit more complicated and awkward to use (until, the accompanying booklet says, you become “accustomed to the movement”), it’s the same principal of ripping body hairs out of your skin by the roots.
The Tweaker may not be one of the loveliest vanity collectibles, but it is a personal possession of the female variety and for that reason (along with my personal relationship with selling beauty products and my fascination with retail history), I knew I’d have to add the Tweaker and it’s point of sale stand-up sign to my collection.
My vintage Tweaker is nearly as complete as the day it was sold for $3.50. Inside the plain cardboard stock box, there’s another cardboard box with a black faux leather finish and a gold foil label. Inside that box sits the hair removal appliance, the original booklet, and an envelope with the size number eight rubber bands used to pull the hairs out. The rubber bands are dried and decaying, so I can’t test the Tweaker. Not that I’d want to; my memories of demonstrating the Epilady are still too vivid. This is one of my collectibles which is best left in unused condition!
Made by the Tweaker Manufacturing Company of Chicago, the Tweaker debuted in 1927 via a bold ad in the Chicago Daily Tribune — an advertisement which Time (August 1, 1927) called “not squeamish”. For while the Tweaker may call itself “dainty” as often as it can, the depictions, descriptions, and realities of this product inspire far less than ladylike images.
I’d like to call this item “the original Epilady,” but both of these hair removal items (along with many others) are based upon the ancient art of threading — something the booklet for the Tweaker admits, even if it doesn’t quite name:
Although Tweaker is new here in the Occident, lovely women of the Orient have been using this pleasing method of removing hair for centuries.
Perhaps nowhere in the world so much as in the luxurious East is woman’s beauty so highly prized and so carefully cherished.
It is only natural, then, that this daintier, better way of ending woman’s most embarrassing problem should come from the Orient.
Now, this being the 1920s, the insistence upon romanticizing the Orient should come as no surprise; the Art Deco period was greatly influenced by the amazing finds of archeological excavations in the East, including the still-popular tomb of Tutankhamun. But there was more than the desire to wax like Egyptians at work here.
The Roaring Twenties and the shorter hemlines and rolled stockings of flapper dress wasn’t exactly the bees knees for those with hairy legs. In fact, the new flapper fashions and freedoms brought about new concerns of unwanted female body hair. From the Tweaker insert or booklet:
Your daintiness demands arms and legs free from unsightly hairs. When you mingle with the happy summer throng at the beaches… whenever you “go formal”… every time you wear a pair of gossamer chiffon hose… you are conscious of the importance of taking every precaution against embarrassment. Your happiness, your peace of mind depends so much on this one thing.
Ah, how the beauty industry has always preyed upon our fears.