Little did I realize when I let my facial hair grow between Christmas and New Year’s that I was stumbling into a trend. What began as a social-media related experiment, ending with a landslide vote to keep the beard, unintentionally thrust me among a facial fashion, as countless articles tell us beards are back.
The Times UK notes in a subhead: Film stars are sprouting it with abandon, women are tolerating it — even the man on the street is going ape. Beard scholar (yes, there is such a thing, aka pogonologist) Allen Peterkin noted that it’s one of the few ways a man can quickly and easily change his image. You can find blogs about beards, festivals devoted to facial hair and over-the-top growing contests.
Others put facial hair in an economic context as much as fashion statement. Sources ranging for fashion pundits to urbandictionary.com speak of men spouting recession beards, brought about by layoffs and the money savings of not shaving. Or are they acts of playful rebellion? AdAge talks (albeit not in free online content) of Norelco incorporating the recession beard idea into marketing its shaving accessories. (And, yes, the backlash against the recession-beard movement has already started.)
But the power and context of the beard span civilized times. In his excellent 1841 work Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, Charles Mackay includes a chapter on Influence of Politics and Religion on the Hair and Beard. France’s Louis VII shaving his beard in the 12th century, Mackay said, had resounding implications; his queen, Eleanor of Guienne, hated his new look and, after the resulting fallout, married Henry II of England — which made her dowry of Normandy a British foothold and led to centuries of battles and bloodshed. During the Crusades, many Saxons remaining in England grew beards to differentiate themselves from the more staid Normans; the Cavaliers made a subtler yet similar statement as they squared off against the Roundheads in the 17th century British Civil War. In 1705, Russia’s Peter the Great thought the bearded look antiquated and instituted a tax and on men sporting facial hair, complete with its own bureaucratic system. (Let’s hope this doesn’t give our governor any ideas.)
So any current beardmania is just part of a long line of our hirsuite history. I just enjoy not having to shave every morning and that I receive the occasional complement on it. Apparent trendiness is a bonus.