It seems, that in the past few years, beards have made a comeback in a big way. They are being accepted and allowed more and more even in strictly corporate workplaces (of course on the exception that you keep it well-groomed and professional) and have also become somewhat of a topic of interest. From No Shave Novembers to a plethora of beard grooming products, it is safe to say, that the beard has well and truly found its place in modern society. Interestingly, beards have also had a rather colourful and eccentric past and it’s nothing short of an informative, humour-drenched history page-turner. So here’s a look at what beards went through from the past to the present.
Beards have also had a bit of a multi-purpose aspect to them. For example, early humans – we’re talking prehistoric days – used beards to intimidate opponents and to keep them warm. It also kept their mouths protected from sand, dirt and sun among other natural elements. In the present, a softer and more sophisticated twist has made beards the flagbearer for royalty, masculinity, status and of course, fashion.
From 3000 BCE to 1580 BCE, Egyptian royalty wore a fake beard that was made of metal. It was tied above their heads with ribbons and were often dyed in tones that varied from reddish to solid browns. Strangely, these metal beards were worn by both kings and queens and apart from the possibility that it may have signified a royal trend, the purpose of this fake metal beard remains unknown.
The great Mesopotamian civilizations’ beards had something in common with the modern-day beard. They groomed it well and used products such as beard oils to keep them healthy. They even used ancient curling irons to make curls, ringlets, frizzles and various tier effects on their beard. The Assyrians would dye their beards black and Persians, an orange-red hue. In Turkey and in India a person with a long beard was considered to be wise and a dignified individual, and in India this trend continues up to date, especially with the ‘babas’ who people see as wise and spiritual beings.
Ancient Greece saw the beard as a sign of honour and often curled their beards with tongs to create hanging curls. Approximately around 345 BCE Alexander the Great sent out a decree that soldiers could not have beards. The reason for this being, that he worried that opponents could grab onto the Grecians’ beards and use it to their advantage (a well-founded worry, what with all those hanging, long curls). Romans preferred their beards to be trimmed and well-groomed and one Roman; Lucius Tarquinius Priscus encouraged others to use razors to increase hygiene from 616 – 578 BCE. This effort was only fully acknowledged in 454 BCE when a group of Greek Sicilian barbers travelling from Sicily to Italy setup barbershops and began shaving on the streets of Rome. Shaving eventually became the trend in Rome for everybody apart from philosophers.
For Anglo-Saxons beards were the norm until the advent of Christianity in the 7th century when the clergy was required to shave legally. Even English royalty would wear their beards until 1066 – 1087 CE when William the First passed a law that made it mandatory for princes to shave in order to fit in with Norman fashion. The Crusades also saw the rise of the beards as all kind, shapes, styles and lengths of beard became normal for men to have. In 1535 the beard was considered highly fashionable among men in the world and in 1560s Anglo-Saxons started to starch their beards.
Even though the Crusades were a friend to the beard, the WWI was foe. Beards were accepted and normal for men in the military until the WWI where it was absolutely killed off, thanks to the need to wear gas masks and also because of potential lice infestations that it would cause among soldiers. However the French and the psychoanalysts were the exceptions to the rule and continued to grow their beards. The 1980s however, saw, for the first time in history men of all ages and backgrounds, with completely clean-shaven faces in the majority.
In the military around the world today too, beards have been accepted and sometimes prohibited. In India, the Sikh Infantry and Regiment are allowed to grow out their long beards and even longer hair provided that they ‘wear them properly’ which refers to tying them up. This is in order to facilitate the religious requirements of the Sikhs. Other military personnel can grow moustaches of moderate length and in 2003 the Supreme Court of India ruled that Muslims can grow out their beards in general. In Iraq and Iran beards of a short length are permitted if kept well-groomed although many choose to shave them today and in Israel, the IDF prohibits the beard with the exception of full beards that need to be permitted by higher-ranking officers for religious, health (hiding acne) and free will (personal esteem) as reasons. Lebanon and Nepal do not allow beards in the military today and Pakistan liberally allows for their soldiers to wear beards. In Sri Lanka, the Navy allows for full set beards only and the Army and Air Force allows for moustaches only.
Beards have also come in many styles through the ages. The Chin Curtain is a style that was made popular by Abraham Lincoln which refers to facial hair grown along the jawline in a hanging fashion. American essayist Henry David Thoreau introduced the chinstrap with sideburns connected under the jaw with a thin hairline. Lemmy Kilmister, English metal-head and infamous musician introduced the muttonchops where sideburns are connected with a moustache and has no chin hair. The goatee is another popular facial hair trend.
It has been found that currently that 53% of men worldwide sport a beard or some type of facial hair. The very popular No Shave November was originally created to encourage men to embrace their facial hair. Even though today, people see it as a competition to see who grows the longest beard, the goal behind this is to raise cancer awareness among men including prostate cancer and to ask men to donate to the cause, the money they would spend on grooming their beards for that month.
So there you go, that’s the history and the evolution of the beard in a nutshell. It certainly looks like the beard has been through a lot and gone through its fair share of ups and downs too. Do you sport a beard? If you do, this walk down the bearded avenues of history is something that you are surely going to find rather interesting and funny. But remember, a beard will only look good and make you look good as long as you take care of it. So keep that beard rocking and look after it well. Happy Bearding!!!