Throughout history beards have been worn and forgotten. In the ancient world from China to Germanic tribes and everything in between, men donned beards as symbols of status, virility, wisdom and honor. From kings to pharaohs beards were worn and treated much like they are today. Statues and coins of iconic people of the time are shown with magnificent beards, curled and groomed to perfection.
Moving into the 16th-century beards reached new heights. In this period, we start to see some of the beard styles we know today. The Spanish spade beard, the English square-cut beard, the forked beard and the stiletto beard were all in style.
There is a dark side to these lovely locks of manliness on our face. Although there are long periods where the beard flourished and societies embraced them as a cornerstone of manly prowess. There are also periods throughout history where the clean-shaven look prevailed. Not so bad… seems like the natural ebb and flow of things, right? Well you’d be correct until we meet Peter the Great in 1698 who went so far as to order his men to shave their beards. Not satisfied with this measure, he took it a step further and levied a tax on beards in 1705. I for one am very grateful my beard is not taxed today.
The 19th century saw a stark shift in beard popularity. In the early 19th century it was common among nobles and the upper class to remain clean-shaven. Fast forward to 1850, beards were back in business almost overnight. The surge in beard popularity in this time can be attributed to world leaders and cultural leaders alike sporting the natural locks. Figures such as Alexander III of Russia, Charles Dickens and even Honest Abe Lincoln (the first bearded President of the United States), cultivated well-groomed beards.
Once again, we see the beard in this period was linked to masculinity and courage. Sound familiar? It seems to be a trend throughout history. No matter the style, a bearded man is perceived to radiate the most desired qualities of manliness.
From the end of the 19th century to the 20th century beards were on a hiatus again. Across the world there were cultural events that drove majestic beards to the background. Many who did sport facial hair went with a simple mustache, or at most a goatee. It wasn’t until the counterculture of the 1960’s and 1970’s that beards recovered. Actually… recovered, does not do the resurgence justice. Beard popularity exploded! This explosion can be largely attributed to the pop culture led by the Clint Eastwood, Jim Morrison (The Doors), Barry White and many others. Nonetheless, beards were back!
After a very brief absence of beards in the 80’s and limited beards in the 90’s we arrive at today’s beard culture in the United States. What is the reason for the current beard revival? And as a society where do we find these groups of finely bearded men?
Some attribute the latest trend to the lumbersexual, or the hipster movement. Others will tell you beards will be grown in times of hardship and claim that is the cause for the latest trend. As the U.S. pulls itself out of the “Great Recession,” it seems there could be a case there. Another group is your veterans returning from war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Whether the beard is small sign of rebellion, badge of honor or a force multiplier; the “Veteran Beard” and/or “Combat Beard” is grown by almost every veteran who can grow one. It’s also grown as a tactical instrument when working with cultures in the Middle East. There, beards are a seen as a sign of manhood and social status.
So, what does the future hold? We are living in a time where beards are flourishing. New bearded trends are being discovered as well as timeless traditions, uncovered. One thing is for sure, the beard will never fully disappear. They may become less popular for short periods, but if history tells us anything, beards will remain the cornerstone of gentlemanly attributes. Some may even go so far as to say, our beards are a gift us men should give to the world proudly. Take pride in knowing the bravest, most intelligent and most honorable men have cultivated manly beards throughout history. And take part in our manly history, become a bearded gentleman.
~Mansome Fellow signing off