The hairy history of man and beard

Beards have been sprouting from our chins since the beginning of time and have always been an integral part of a man’s life. Some wanted, some not, but rain or shine, the battle for and against this bushy growth in both fashion and preference is an ongoing part of our human being.

The hairy history of man and beard

In most men, facial hair develops when they hit puberty. However, some women may also develop excessive body or facial hair due to higher-than-normal levels of androgens, including testosterone. All women produce androgens, but the levels typically remain low. Certain medical conditions can cause a woman to produce too many androgens. In days gone by the 'bearded lady' was often a curiosity in many travelling fairs and sideshows. While the sideshow 'strong man' often donned a handlebar moustache.

However, the epic history and tradition of the beard goes back a mighty long way. In prehistoric times, anthropologists believe that men grew beards for many differing reasons - for warmth, as a sign of virility, to scare enemies or as tribal decoration. 

In ancient times, men also grew beards as a sign of masculine strength - their beard being likened to the mane of a lion. Also, the beards of prehistoric man were also symbol of honour and stature. Beards were cut as a punishment for those who were not thought worthy of wearing them. Only those men who were honourable and behaved with integrity were allowed to keep their beards. Back then, if you had a beard, you were important and a force to be reckoned with.

The evolution of beards

Many historians believed that beards were grown by prehistoric men at the beginning stages of evolution to keep themselves warm during winter and to protect their face from the elements and insects.

At that time, there was high competition for food, shelter, and other things for survival, and for that, a man was ready to sacrifice anything. However, a beard protected them against enemies because it highlights the jaw, making them appear more rugged and threatening. Also, talking practically, there were no efficient mirrors at that time, so it must have been a hard task keeping your beard in check.

Beards throughout history

Ancient times

In the ancient world, men wore facial hair to keep themselves protected against weather and enemies. Beards became more prevalent in ancient Greece, as the Greeks saw the beard as a symbol of masculinity and wisdom. The only time when beards were shaved off was as a sign of mourning or as punishment. Although, some men saw them as a hinderance during battles. Alexander the Great, ordered his soldiers to shave their faces clean before fighting with the Persian Emperor over Asia’s control in 331 BC.

However, maybe the real reason behind this is that he wanted his soldiers to look like him. Alexander himself kept his face clean and compared his look with Heracles, youthful and powerful as depicted in the paintings and sculptures of the time.

The Romans popularised shaving in Europe, as beards went out of fashion and often proved to be a very grabbable liability on the battlefield. While this transition didn't mark the permanent decline of the facial hair, it certainly lessened it's popularity.

The middle ages

After the decline of Rome, a majority of men still wore beards until the 7th century. When Christianity spread throughout Europe, the priesthood had to shave off their beards. The English monarchy grew moustaches until the 11th century when William the Conqueror chose to be cleanly shaven to fit in with the Norman fashion.

Soon men started growing their facial hair as they wanted. During the 1600s, painter Anthony Van Dyck painted a nobleman with a pointed beard, giving rise to the Van Dyck style beard.

The 19th century

In the early 1800's, most men were clean-shaven as having a beard was more of the mark for the common man. But facial hair was back in trend by the mid of 1800's when full beards were again all the rage. With the popularity of Abraham Lincoln in America, facial hair was common with the upper classes. In Britain, the beard returned due to the Crimean war between 1853-1856. The lack of shaving cream and the cold weather conditions made beards a somewhat enforced choice.

The 20th century

However, beards were not so popular at the beginning of the 20th century, although some prominent men like Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, and Marcel Proust wore long beard styles or even moustaches. By the 1920's most men in the United States adopted a mostly clean-shaven look, preferring their facial hair limited to the handlebar moustache.

Eventually even the moustache’s popularity began to decline. Mainly during the second world war because it could prevent gas masks from fitting tightly to the face. However, beards became popular once again as a symbol of anti-establishment. So while many 'respected' men maintained a clean-shaven appearance, writers, musicians and hippies grew out their beards to show their contempt for convention.

Although this beardy anti-establishment trend waned towards the end of the 1970's, moustaches stayed in fashion. But with the beard then demoted and mainly associated with 'old men' it took the rising fashionable popularity of the Goatee to re-establish the beard in the 1980's and following that beards have once again become a popular choice for many men. Since then, the rise of steampunk and the increasing popularity of folk and Victorian style fashions have once again propelled the beard to new heights in desirable men's fashion.

Whichever way you cut it, beards have played an essential role in fashion, practicality and tradition, and however you wear your beard or indeed choose not to have one, regular trimming, shaving and grooming are a necessity. Check out our range of award winning grooming tools from Carrera. They'll keep your whiskers in perfect shape or rid you of your facial hair completely - the choice is yours!


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