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Through Time: the evolution of period products

Updated: Oct 3, 2021

Have you ever wondered what the ladies of yore used to use before Tampax? What Grandma did before Mooncup? Well even if you haven’t, we’re finding out the answers today - at least, as far as the western world is concerned. Personally, I’m pretty chuffed that I’m alive in the era of cups, period panties and ibuprofen. Having said that, menstruators have come up with some pretty nifty solutions throughout the years.

One thing to bear in mind: periods today tend to be heavier than those a few centuries ago thanks to general improvements in lifestyle and nourishment. So, with that bit of context in place, let’s take a look at how period products have evolved through the years:

The Ancient Times: Put a Cork in it!

Whilst historians aren’t 100% sure which products were used, it’s believed that womxn in ancient civilisations created tampons and pads from natural resources.

For the Egyptians, that meant tampons out of softened papyrus (i.e. the papery/fabric stuff which they wrote on). Sticks wrapped in lint were the weapon of choice for the Greeks, and the Romans turned to wool for all their monthly needs.

The Medieval Period: On the Rag

The age of witches, herbal remedies and plague, it’s no big surprise that we didn’t really experience many technological advances in terms of dealing with periods during this time.

Rags and cloths were mostly used for heavier flows. Those with a lighter flow would apparently free-bleed (i.e. not use any products).

The Victorian Era: Surely there’s a better solution?

Queen Vic’s reign is when we really start to see tailored period products entering the market.

Available were:

The Hoosier Belt - a literal belt with hooks on, to which washable pads could be attached.

Lister’s Towels - the very fist disposable pads (not yet self-adhesive).

During this time, periods were still MASSIVELY stigmatised, so the products weren’t particularly well-advertised, and you definitely wouldn’t be recommending your fab new Hoosier Belt to Jane at the coffee shop. So sales weren’t astronomical, but the products were available.

20th Century: ‘A Modern Solution for the Modern Woman’

The two World Wars meant that we became pretty nifty as far as soaking up blood was concerned: cellulose, a material used for bandaging wounds, made its way into menstrual pads.

In 1929 the very first tampons landed on the market, made of cotton with a cardboard applicator.

The 1920s also saw the world’s first period panties. Sadly, they were made of rubber and therefore not nearly as practical as today’s offerings.

Despite these innovations, periods were STILL a huge taboo for the most part, with some brands going as far as to print coupons in newspapers to prevent Poor Delicate Ladies from having to ask out loud for their pads.

Real change started to come about in the 1970s, when disposable, adhesive pads to be stuck into a pair of knickers were invented. In 1985, Courtney Cox was the first person to ever say ‘period’ (with the menstruation meaning) on TV as part of a Tampax ad.

The 2000s: New Millennium, New Attitude

Today, there’s a whole host of different products available to us. Thankfully!

Pads have evolved to offer different rates of absorbency, be extra-long, fit onto a thong, or even come with ‘wings’ to prevent leakage onto your favourite undies (will probs still happen though in my unfortunate experience).

You can buy tampons which are scented (please don’t, your vaginal pH is too precious), organic, and in every size from extra mini to super super.

In the last 10 years or so, silicone cups and period panties have taken the market by storm. Re-usable pads are also making a comeback as we become more climate-conscious.

We’ve still got a long way to go in terms of making products affordable and accessible to EVERY menstruating person, but we’re a hell of a lot closer than we used to be. Yay!

Author; Maria Bennett

Ditch The Rag Donation Manager


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