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Beards - They Grow On You!

Updated on November 4, 2009

A beard is a growth of hair on the jaw and cheeks. All facial hair was once considered part of the beard. Hair grown on the upper lip is now called a moustache. The term "whiskers" commonly suggests the hairs of a long beard.

The appearance of facial hair is caused by the release of the testosterone hormone at puberty, and the rare case of female beard growth is an indication of hormone imbalance. The beard is usually wiry and often a different color from the terminal, or head, hair.

Throughout history the wearing or nonwearing of beards has been determined largely by religious customs or secular fashion and has often been considered a symbol of manhood and authority. Early Biblical, mythological, and historical figures, such as Adam, Abraham, Moses, Woden, King Arthur, and Charlemagne, are usually depicted with beards. In past ages, women with beards, like the three witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth, were thought to have supernatural powers.

A moutee (or circle beard) is a goatee and moustache connected by hair on both sides of the mouth to form a complete circle.
A moutee (or circle beard) is a goatee and moustache connected by hair on both sides of the mouth to form a complete circle.

History of the Beard

The fashions of beards have varied considerably throughout history.

The ancient Egyptians shaved their faces for religious reasons. Although they were clean­-shaven, a false metal beard held in place by a chin-strap was a symbol of power and was worn by the Pharaohs and sometimes even their queens.

On the other hand, among the Jews, adult men were required to wear full beards, which they were forbidden to trim in the manner of neighboring tribes. To this day men of the ultraorthodox sect of Hasidic Jews wear long uncut beards.

The ancient Greeks wore beards. The great Homeric heroes were described as bearded, and Greek philosophers were distinguished by their long flowing beards. In Greek the word pogdno-trophos signifies a bearded man or a philosopher. Among the Greeks the custom of shaving is attributed to Alexander the Great, who insisted that all his soldiers should be clean-shaven, "to remove the handle that the enemy can seize", as he realized a long beard would give the enemy an advantage in close hand-to-hand fighting.

The early Romans wore their beards uncut until about 300 B.C., when barbers were introduced. The Roman general Scipio Africanus (237-183 BC) was noted as the first to shave regularly. In religious practice the Romans wore beards as a sign of mourning, whereas the Greeks shaved as a mark of respect. For a time Roman young men dedicated the cuttings from their first shaves to the goddess Fortuna, who in this connection was known as Fortuna Barbata. Gauls, who wore moustaches and no beards, were considered to be savages by the Romans.

Mohammed ordained the wearing of a beard to set his followers apart from shaven idolators, but they were required to clip their beards to distinguish themselves from the full-bearded Jews. In later times the Sikhs of the Punjab regarded the full beard, rolled up and pinned under the chin, as a mark of manliness.

The Anglo-Saxons wore beards prior to the seventh century AD, as did the Germanic tribes. Following the Norman Conquest of England, regular shaving was introduced, a custom among the clergy in northern France. Beards returned to popularity in the reign of Edward III of England (1312-1377), although in 1447 an English law was passed that forced men to shave their upper lip. Henry VII revived the beard, and in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries European cardinals and priests wore beards. It was the fashion at the court of Elizabeth I to cultivate extravagant styles of beards.

Efforts to revive the custom of wearing beards during the reign of Henry I were vigorously suppressed by the clergy. Nevertheless, beards returned to popularity in the reign of Edward III (1312-1377) and were fashionable during the reigns of Francis I of France (1494-1547) and Henry VIII of England (1491-1547), who themselves wore full beards.

Beards were fashionable at the court of Elizabeth I (1533–1603) when many different styles were worn, among them the spade, the pique devant, the cathedral, the swallow-tail, and the bush. Many beards were colored golden as a compliment to the Queen, who had golden hair. Small, tufted beards were fashionable during the reign of Charles I (1625–1649). In the Victorian era beards were symbolic of wisdom and learning.

By the 18th century, beards had gone through successive periods of favor and disfavor. In 1705 Peter the Great of Russia made shaving compulsory and levied a tax on all beards and moustaches. Tax-collectors were stationed at the gates of each town and, when the tax was paid, the bearded recipient received a copper disk which showed he had paid his tax for the year.

No signer of the Declaration of Independence or of the Constitution wore a beard or even a moustache.

The 19th and 20th Centuries

The return of the beard in the early 19th century was at first associated with revolutionary politics and Bohemian ways of life. Bearded men were stigmatized as radicals or social outcasts, and in the eastern United States beards were regarded unfavorably. By mid-century, however, whiskers had become a mark of Western pioneers and prospectors, and many well-known writers, scholars, and medical practitioners wore beards. Thus the beard gained respectability again. Significantly, Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) was the first president to wear a beard.

During the American Civil War (1861–1865) beards were worn both by Union and by Confederate generals, many of whom had entered the war clean-shaven.

Until the early nineteenth century the guardsman's moustache was the hallmark of the French and Prussian military. In 1838 the king of Prussia issued an edict forbidding moustaches in his army. After 1840 the beard was regarded as being the mark of the French radical.

In the first half of the 20th century, beards went out of style in Western countries, particularly the United States. Ragged whiskers became a cartoonist's symbol for Bolsheviks and anarchists.

Certain famous men who still wore beards, Sigmund Freud and Bernard Shaw for example, stood out by contrast with the clean-shaven majority.

After 1945, beards became popular among artists, writers and rebels. The beatniks of the 1950s and the hippies of the 1960s wore beards to signify their social and political rebellion. This attitude has become progressively less common and beards and moustaches are now worn by many people of different age groups and social classes.

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    • profile image

      almorr 3 years ago

      I would so like to grow a beard, I can, I have experimented in growing one for two weeks, it was coming on great but my family called me all the names under the sun, I looked like an old man etc. At the most I only shave once a week, that way my face becomes quite rough, I do let my sideburns grow and they do get thick after 8 weeks, if that extended all over my face and I did not do anything like trimming I could have a very thick beard within 3 months, nice to know. I just leave everything else to nature, that's why I am so hairy, don't mind but if I was allowed to grow a beard for a year I would look a bit like Rasputin.

    • biblicaliving profile image

      biblicaliving 3 years ago from U.S.A.

      Great hub on beards! It's interesting to learn the reactions of different cultures to something as natural as a beard. The last few months I have had a beard, and many people whined about it. So, I stopped trimming it altogether, I have really given them something to talk about!

    • profile image

      Douglas Smythe 4 years ago

      Although I am a huge fan of the tache a dashing beard chiseled to a point can really make one stand out in a world gone bland. There is a huge misconception about the bearded; I had one in college and it's a lot of work to keep up with! Grow for it my furry brothers see you at:

      http://howtogrowamoustache.com

    • rikabella profile image

      rikabella 7 years ago from Toronto

      I personally think beards on men are HOT. Although they should really know how to maintain it so it doesn't become too caveman-ish....

    • mel22 profile image

      mel22 7 years ago from ,

      BTW, there is a tax on razors, I just bought a 5 pack of Gillette Mach III's replacements and it's 15 bucks. That's like 3 dollars each , man. What gives!

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 7 years ago

      Yo Darkside. I've had a beard since leaving the Marine Corps and my second tour of duty in the Orient during the Vietnam era. Like Johnny Cash wearing black- I can't live without it. I've raced bicycles in a bald face world for decades. Nobody likes to get dropped by a beard! Some of the greatest deceivers of all time have been clean shaven to "blend in", to be the chameleon, to deceive. The name "Ted Bundy" comes to mind right off. Keep them rolling.

    • AdamCairn profile image

      AdamCairn 7 years ago from UK

      Great beard article, and a cracking title. I never knew there was a history of beards.

    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 7 years ago from Georgia

      I'm not sure beards grow on me. My boyfriend's facial hair grows so fast, but he refuses to shave more than once a week. I seldom see him clean shaven. :-/ Ha He has goatee hair, which is ok, but again he doesn't trim it up until it's near wooly mammoth.

    • profile image

      Talha 7 years ago

      Excellent article...quite enlightening and concise. Just one correction; as Muslim man who sports the beard - I just wanted to mention that the Prophet (peace be upon him) asked us to trim specifically the moustache regularly while keeping the beard (at least) fist length.

    • The Good Cook profile image

      The Good Cook 7 years ago

      Here I was, thinking that beards were only worn by men to hide their weak chins! Nice topic choice.

    • The Bard profile image

      The Bard 7 years ago from London, England & San Pablo City, Philippines

      I shall treat my beard with much more respect after reading this. I agree with dusanotes. Your research here is total enlightenment. To think I nearly shaved mine off because it was getting hot under the collar. From now on I will treat it with all the love and attention of a furry friend. I may even take it out for walks in the park. In fact, I may even put it out for stud!

    • CMHypno profile image

      CMHypno 7 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Interesting history of beards and how they have come in and out of favour during the course of history - but I don't like them! Clean shaven men definitely more attractive to me! Though I'm sure that if you are brought up in a culture where beards are the norm, then that is what you would be attracted to.

    • Sufidreamer profile image

      Sufidreamer 7 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      er..Hi Frogdropping - I have a beard :D

      Good article, Darkside - I love my beard and have no intention of shaving. It is interesting how culture affects things - in the UK, I would have been hard-pressed to find a job with a beard. In Greece, a beard is seen as something worthy of respect - the Priests all sport beards!

    • frogdropping profile image

      Andria 7 years ago

      Facial hair rocks. Providing it's only on a man. I have a weird aversion to seeing it on women. Maybe that's just me ...

      Fabulous article Darkside, incredibly interesting.

      I'd love to see a random hub from you. A 'wing it' one. Something from your mind, no sneaky peaks in books. Off the top of your head 'been there, done that, worn the t-shirt' style.

      I'm sure you're chock full :)

    • Green Lotus profile image

      Hillary 7 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      I like your new avatar darkside!

    • Enelle Lamb profile image

      Enelle Lamb 7 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      My grandmother never trusted a man with a beard! Personally, I like the moutee. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the history of whiskers - very entertaining and interesting!

    • escritor profile image

      escritor 7 years ago

      I'll never think of beards the same. Great article. Thanks. Alan

    • darkside profile image
      Author

      Glen 7 years ago from Australia

      Thanks all. Don, I thought the same. The idea sprung from a discussion on the forum, about Movember (http://www.movember.com) and one of the ladies said something about having a thing for beards. And I paused to think about it, and decided to do a bit of research. And this is the result.

    • dusanotes profile image

      dusanotes 7 years ago from Windermere, FL

      Your research was great and the article just as good as anything I've seen. If you had asked me before hand what did I think of writing a "beard" Hub, I would have said it's not for me. But you have taken a rather mundane topic and made it a jewel. Thanks, Don White

    • profile image

      Justine76 7 years ago

      I had no idea there was so much history to beards!!! That thing about the signers of the Declaration of Independence is interesting. Nice hub.

    • darkside profile image
      Author

      Glen 7 years ago from Australia

      I'm sure if any present day government took up such a tax they'd also sneak in higher taxes on razor blades. They seem to like to squeeze both ends.

    • Green Lotus profile image

      Hillary 7 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Hairy stuff Darkside. I think the U.S. should eliminate the sales tax and begin taxing men with beards.

      As always, a brilliantly researched topic worthy of a bookmark.