‘No shave’ November: A brief history of beards

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“Novembeard” is upon us, and while it’s never too late to participate, you’ve almost missed out on the month where not shaving your face is acceptable – even in a corporate setting.

Click through the image to share a photo of your “No Shave November” or regular ol’ beard in the photo gallery.Click through the image to share a photo of your “No Shave November” or regular ol’ beard in the photo gallery.

Way back in 2004, before the unfortunate turn of hipster events made having a beard Starbucks-worthy attire, a group called “Movember” began a event that encouraged men to grow mustaches during the month of November, to raise awareness of men’s health issues – cancers, depression, etc. Their goal, “to change the face of men’s health,” has morphed into “No Shave November,” and the mustache has gone full-blown face covering.

“No Shave November” lost a little of its punch a few years ago, when the aforementioned hipster craze made it desirable to be facially festooned. (This proves my point that hipsters have ruined everything, and are the direct reason we can’t have nice things anymore.) And while money is still being raised for everything from palliative hospice care to prostate cancer research, it’s not that unusual to see a man in a suit with a full beard anymore, so the impact has been softened somewhat.

While a beard has often been seen as the privilege of a blue-collar man, it’s actually fallen in and out of fashion for hundreds of years. Thirteenth-century face history represents a clean-shaven era, but beardliness became popular among European nobility in the 14th and 15th centuries. If you sported a beard in England during the early 1700s, you paid a tax on it, so it was most definitely a status symbol. Male models in late-18th-century fashion magazines, and our founding fathers, were both devoid of facial hair.

“Beard historians” (yes, there really is such a thing) remind us of a time when beards were associated with power and strength. Bare chins were historically used to indicate servitude: prisoners were sometimes forcibly shaved to disgrace them. By the second half of the 19th century, American men had made it clear what it meant for a man to have a beard: it gave him authority. Abraham Lincoln grew a beard during his 1860 presidential campaign; thus began 50 consecutive years of presidential beards and mustaches.

The late 19th and early 20th century represented a time of great change for men in general. Women had begun to fight for equal rights, and traditional masculine roles were being challenged. Opponents of the equal rights movement cited beards as biological proof that only men should have positions of authority. According to a US History/Scene article titled “‘Power is on the side of the beard’: Masculinity and Facial Hair in Nineteenth-Century America”, “A woman’s very lack of facial hair was sufficient evidence that women should not, would not, and could not be in power. A woman trying to be in power was as ludicrous and unnatural to them as a woman trying to grow a beard.”

In 1917, the United States entered WWI, and beards fell out of fashion as German gas attacks came into fashion. A clean shaven face wasn’t just required by the military, it was required to save your life. With war came economy booms, and returning soldiers were offered products at their local neighborhood pharmacy beginning to specifically target men’s facial care.

WWII strengthened the “clean-cut American” look, and facial hair in the 40s and 50s was pretty much restricted to pencil-thin Clark Gable mustaches. Again, the economy boomed and more white-collar jobs than ever were available to returning soldiers. These jobs opened up markets in high-end men’s clothing lines, closely followed by high-end shaving and skin-care products. The seed for the Metrosexual was planted.

The Korean and Vietnam wars shook the faith of many “clean-cut Americans,” and by the late 1960s, a beard often represented rebellion against society. Shaving wasn’t something you forgot to do, it was a choice to have long hair and a beard, a political statement.

Technology in the booming 80s and the early 90s’ economy of liquid cash bolstered men’s fashion sense again, and the Metrosexual was born. Gone were the barriers of barber shops; men unabashedly visited the same salons their wives did, skin-care and product lines specifically for men boomed along with the trends. No one wanted to cover a face to which they had just applied $90 skin cream with hair, and the beard became a blue-collar thing again.

When the economy tanked a few years ago, and $90 skin creams became a thing of the past for many, a new and improved respect for the beard appeared. A weird amalgamation of grunge rock, unemployment and over-educated youth came together and odd fashion statements from various eras have been chosen – thrift-store style – to make up the new lovers of everything beard. The trend toward skin-care products made the way for beard care products, and right now, beards are big business.

So whether you’re growing it to raise awareness, or fund a cancer charity or just to have one, enjoy No Shave November!

Show us your Novembeard in the gallery here. 

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