Beards are having a moment. Quite a long one. For the past few years we have observed a sea of fashion-conscious men who have let their beards grow. How long this trend will last, and what lies behind it, is difficult to say. Men behave according to the influences of the society they live in. Growing a beard is a conscious decision and can be so for a variety of reasons – from cultural to religious. The history of beard was as stormy as the fate of humanity, and the dilemma for leaving or removing hair from the body grew even to the level of highest political importance. Facial hair played a significant role in past societies and has been ascribed various symbolic attributes, such as sexual virility, wisdom and high social status.
But some cultures also associated beards with poor hygiene, poverty and threat. For instance, Fidel Castro accused the CIA of attempts of destroying his image by causing his beard to fall out. The CIA figured that the loss of the beard would show Cubans that Castro was weak and fallible. They obsessively believed that Castro’s beard possessed some sort of super power that made him immortal. Albert Einstein and Henry Miller claimed that they came up with some of their best ideas while shaving.
TO BEARD OR NOT TO BEARD
Over time, attitudes to beardedness and shaving have constantly shifted. During ancient times, Egyptians were generally clean shaven. Natural hair was considered as unwanted and disgusting. Only the poor and the foreigners remained hairy.
In Greece, beards were a sign of honor, wisdom and dignity that predominated until 4th century B.C. at which time Alexander the Great ordered his soldiers to be clean shaven. He was afraid that opposing soldiers would grab on to the Grecians’ beards and use it against them while in battle.
In Rome, the use of the razor was encouraged by Lucius Tarquinius Priscus in an effort towards hygienic reform.
Shaving was not generally accepted until a group of traveling Greek Sicilian barbers appeared in Rome. When shaving started to become the trend, philosophers continued to keep their beards.
Amongst Celts and Germanic tribes, facial hair played a huge role and was a matter of honor. The Lombards or Langobards derived their fame from the length of their beards.
In 1698, Peter the Great – the Tsar of Russia ordered men to shave off their beards, and in 1705 levied a tax on beards.
For centuries Russian men had worn long beards. It was a deep-rooted cultural tradition and it embodied Orthodox views on manhood and the image of man as God created him. Many considered shaving as a sin and a deeply symbolic act.
In the Renaissance, beard-wearing was a sign of masculinity. In the 15th century, most European men were clean-shaven, but the 16th century brought a new statement “the beard made the man”. Growing a beard represented the transformation from a boy into a man.
Beards in 17th century were closely linked the very essence of manhood, and concepts of health, sexuality and the body.
The 18th century, by contrast, was almost entirely clean-shaven. Beards fell dramatically from favor for some reasons. After decades of beardedness, the face of the enlightened gentleman was smooth-cheeked. This was the age of dandies and massive wigs and the shaved face has been the rule.
During the 19th the mustache was a mark of the fighting man, mainly amongst British soldiers and officers. Most men who retained facial hair during the 1920s and 1930s limited themselves to a mustache or a goatee. Hitler, Stalin, Trotsky or Einstein are just a few examples. One thing was sure – after its peak, beards went into retreat.
In the United States, due to cinematography, movie heroes were portrayed with clean-shaven faces, also due to a sudden appearance of the Gillette Company. The beard was reintroduced to mainstream society by the hippie movement and became a symbol of dropping out from society – a clear statement against detrimental actions taken by the American government (the Vietnam War).
Theorists say we might have reached peak beard and the era of fashionable facial hair may be coming to an end. According to researcher Robert Brooks “The bigger the trend gets, the weaker the preference for beards and the tide will go out again”.
Well, looking at London – a melting pot for what’s going on in fashion, where being inked, having a beard, wearing a denim shirt is just a fact now – it is hard to believe. Brooks thinks that these trends usually move in 30-years cycles, but with the Internet, things are moving faster. For me, there are certainly no signs of change at the moment and what’s more 2014 proved being the year of the beard. There is actually a World Beard Day; the British Beard Championships occurred in Bath this September and in No-Shave November, or for those who prefer – Movember, everyone was talking about a campaign raising cancer awareness and encourages all men to grow out their facial hair and embrace their beards, mustaches, goatees, sideburns in honor of the people who loose their hair during cancer treatments. To “change the face of men’s health” – literally and figuratively.