His Story Of The Beard
The history of facial hair is very variable, at times favoring the growth of beards while most often tending toward the shaven look. The traditions pertaining to the growth of the manly beard have shifted from one extreme to the other, with the vast amount of time favoring the lack of facial hair due to practicality rather than fashionable trends.
The prehistoric man is believed to have grown his facial fur to lend warmth to the face in the absence of modern-day shawls and hoodies. The beard’s second purpose might have been to add a look of mystery and danger to its wearer, making other males less likely to pursue battle with him. Maybe facial hair even helped dampen an enemy’s punch to the face.
As man became civilized and part of a society, the aforementioned reasons might not have been advantageous anymore. Yet whiskers continued to grow on men’s faces, their popularity depending on other factors such as religious beliefs, dictators’ rules, and personal tastes.
Today’s men are seeing another rise in the beard’s popularity, this time most likely due to fashionable trends (although it is not inconceivable that some men of the more belligerent variety might be growing their facial furs to protect them from their victims’ defensive blows).
What Makes The Beard?
Beards are a fascinating physical characteristic of the male anatomy. Hair is a key characteristic identifying humans as part of the mammal species. All human hair is made up of non-living protein filaments called keratins. Each hair growth from its root, a follicle situated within the skin. Each strand of hair is in one of three phases of the growth cycle at any given moment. The rate of growth is basically determined by genes. These facts also hold true for beard hair.
Male facial hair growth begins during puberty and is regulated by hormones. While the rate and amount of growth are largely predetermined, follicle stimulation, amount of stress, and diet are believed to play a minor role as well.
Ancient societies had different traditions involving facial hair or the absence thereof. In ancient Egypt, for example, the pharaohs used their beards as a distinguishing fashion statement to indicate their superior status; they colored their goatees or even plated them in gold to signify their royalty. In Mesopotamia, on the other hand, the upper class tended to oil and style their beards with intricate curls to denote their superior status. Ancient Greece had a similar penchant for beard presentation. In India, the focus was on the length of the beard which indicated a man’s wisdom.
In other societies, men were discouraged from growing a beard because it would give the enemy the upper hand during battle if he were to grab and pull on it. The majority of the Western world has recently witnessed a trend where the majority of men shave off all their facial hair. In general, the hairless mug has been considered the more clean, professional, and well-maintained image of man.
Yet times are changing constantly; and since 2014, the beard has been trending once again in the Western world. This time around, facial hair growth does not signify any particular class or creed; instead, the beard has become an increasingly fashionable object to add individuality and creativity to its wearer.
When In Rome…
The popularity of beards seems to be inversely related to the Roman Empire. During the Roman Empire’s rise, beards’ popularity saw a decline as the Romans roamed the streets clean-shaven. Yet with the fall of Rome, beards’ popularity experienced another incline.
While the Roman Empire was at its peak, it exuded influence on large parts of the civilized world. Whether they were in Rome or not, others liked to do as the Romans did. Roman leaders had the most influence. When a particular Roman Emperor started to let his facial hair cover up his scars, a lot of the Roman men copied his example to show their allegiance.
Starting at the Middle Ages
In the Middle Ages, facial hair became common among the upper class and the knights in shining armor. The former used their well-maintained beards to show off their higher status, the latter grew their bristles to appear especially rough and masculine. This lasted until about the Renaissance, when peachy faces became a favorite yet again.
When Henry VIII came to power, beards took on a brand new function. Although the man wore a face full of whiskers until he took his last breath, he forbade all other men from growing any of their facial hairs. During his reign, beards functioned as a taxable misdemeanor. Queen Elizabeth disdained facial hair and reinforced the beard taboo, continuing the tradition of collecting tax from any man who dared to grow his beard. This became a trend as Peter the Great decided to impose the same beard tax in Russia. In a way, clean-shaven men became a symbol of Western society.
The 1800s and 1900s
Beginning in the mid-1800s, powerful and famous men began to sprout their facial bristles as a sign of wisdom, power, and command. Abraham Lincoln heeded the advice of a young fan who advised him to grow his beard in order to appear bigger and more powerful. Other well-known men of those times who opted to let their whiskers grow included Emperor Napoleon III of the French Second Republic, German revolutionary socialist Karl Marx, as well as author Charles Dickens and Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi. These men made long beards a popular trend as many men copied their facial hairdos.
The beard’s popularity made another 180 degree turn in the early 1900’s when men decided to favor the shaven look yet again. During World War I, soldiers were warned not to grow their facial hair because that would not allow for a proper fit of the gas masks. Even after the war, soldiers continued to sport the peachy-faced look all the way past World War II.
The next switch in popularity occurred with the hippie movement in the 1960s and 1970s. For this generation, grown-out beards were a symbol of being hip and liberal, a counterculture that prefers to let nature take its course.
Around the time of the hipster movement, another culture began to spread from England outward into the far reaches of planet Earth. The four members of the English band The Beatles began to let their beards and mustaches grow in the late 1960s. Their extreme popularity and large fan base, including women as well as men, caused the facial hair trend to take on international heights. Scores of men wished to emulate these four idols while innumerable women swooned over their bearded faces.
The trend dipped low when the band broke apart, only to be revived again in the early 21st century. The latest rise in the beard fad began in 2014, according to Google trends. Many celebrities are opting to cover their faces with bristles, each creating his own unique style. Seeing that facial hair is once again a crowd-pleaser among the ladies, other men have followed suit by ditching their razors and buying beard comb and oil instead.
It is apparent that mankind goes through cycles of facial hair trends, where a period of beard idolization is followed by gradual dislike until the majority of men whip out their razors each morning once again. Then another event or famous individual initiates the gradual rise and rule of the beard, completing the cycle.