Monday, September 14, 2015

Beards & Hair: A Short History of Men's Facial and Head Hair Styles

For many years, something upwards of 30 years, I wore a beard. I am not sure why but it seemed a logical next step from years of wearing a mustache. When I worked for Kmart in the early 70's we manager assistants were told NOT to wear beards, mustaches and the like by the corporate office in Troy, MI. I rebelled and grew a mustache, something I could do in a week. Every other man in our store, located back then and maybe even today in the backwater of Los Angeles County, Lancaster, CA grew a mustache too.  Few would visit us from Troy, MI and the manager, who didn't dare, supported our rebellion. I had tried earlier when I was in the Peace Corps but it was so hot and muggy in West Africa, I sweated so much I could feel the rivulets of sweat go down every hair! However, I moved on to a beard in the more civilized San Gabriel Valley, just east of the Los Angeles city limits. 

Post Metrosexual beard and hairstyle. 
All that's missing here are the tattoos.
Bin Laden
Recently I have become aware of the beards the post Metrosexual men have been wearing. Never much of a fashionista, a short jaunt to Santa Monica's 3rd Street Promenade recently made me totally aware that the young men were dressing differently than what was being worn in Alhambra. There are many Asians in my area now and they are probably as tuned in to the latest fads as anyone but even they couldn't match what I had seen on the west side. As I perused "People" magazines in doctors offices I saw this was what all the stars were wearing as well.

There were many young men that didn't look all the different than the model (above left) with a kind of pompadour on top with hair shaved on the sides and well, a Bin Laden styled beard. Neat and ratty.

General Grant - Savior of the Union
Never having seen this fashion before I wondered why would young men ape a face style from a man (Bin Laden above right) or group that we have fought now in wars for at least 14 years - the Taliban, ISIS and other Arabic terrorist groups. Yet we have a history of beards in the United States and looking farther into this realized beards are here today and gone tomorrow.
General Ambrose Burnside

The founding fathers were generally beardless, nary a mustache. However, by the time of the Civil War, just about every general and the Union President sported a beard. Why, we will never know. Someone was a trend setter and soon the fashion swept the nation. 

President Abraham Lincoln

There were a variety of styles to choose from ... a full beard like General Grant shown here or a modified moustache shown on General Burnside. That Grant won the war and Burnside was a disgrace seemed to have no affect on fashion. President Lincoln had a modified scraggy beard usually favored by Quakers and the Amish, eschewing the fancy twists and turns of some of his peers.

After the Civil War beards fell out of disfavor unless you were a settler who didn't care or have the time on the plains as railroads brought thousands of farmers to settle the land from around the world. Working class men rarely sported a beard. Class equaled head fashion.

King George of England
Europeans made beards acceptable again at the beginning of the 20th century. King George of England as well as Czar Nicholas of Russia had beards that sported a rather dandified mustache with many modifications. Captain Smith of the HMS Titanic also sported such a beard. Two years later when World War 1 started soldiers didn't have the time to preen themselves. Beards fell out of favor. The 1920's and 30's saw clean shaven men. Their frivolity was spent on suits and shirts and hair styles that we would recognize today. Suddenly men dressed much we do today and beards were a thing of the past. Women's styles were more drastically changed.

Lionel Richie with his Afro
Instead men worked with their hairdo's. Anyone remember the Afro? It wasn't just for the African Americans either. 

I sported an Afro being told it would hide my growing bald spot that started in my 20's. I don't know why women go through curling! Finally I started wearing it short after seeing a "combover" flipping in the wind. After that I swore that I would never ever do that, and never have.

The Afro was followed by the "shag" I think pioneered by Rod Stewart. Men, pretty much, didn't wear a beard but by then I did. There were a few mustaches, but mighty few. Again they were long droopy types recalling a cowboy on the farm. My father-in-law wore a beard for many years and since I had very sensitive facial skin it seemed the answer to a whole range of problems. When it was discovered that I had a blood disorder and had to beware of any kind of cuts when put on blood thinners, the beard was for me the best solution. It was bad enough shaving under my chin and neck!

Rod Stewarts shaggy cut
For awhile now, men have sported a two or three day unshaved look beard. It was popular everywhere ... movie stars, thugs and the average Joe on the street. I always thought it looked like you were too lazy to shave that day. When the clothing ads starting using models with that look it really took off. I remember reading an article written by some fashionista saying it was "sexy" and turned women and probably other men on too. I remember wondering if she had ever kissed a man with a 3 day beard. Like kissing sandpaper. I guess girlfriends and wives are good sports.

Hugh Jackman forgot to shave today
There were many, many styles in between. Marlon Brando, James Dean, Elvis Presley and the Fonz with their pompadours, the buzz cut and totally shaved heads especially favored by African-Americans, styles that faded sometimes and then suddenly returned. Remember the spiked Homer Simpson "does"?  With the likes of Justin Bieber ... hair piled on the top of his head and cut short on the sides the market was open again. The one good thing about these styles, if you had a head of hair to do it with, was that when a fashion died, you could always get another haircut.

What is so amazing to me is the need for men, who I guess spend as much now on certain grooming products as women, to follow a trend and yet within it be strive to be different, creating an element of individuality. This trend I believe started with tattoos. Tattoos could be individualized to the man but the fact you had them made you part of a group. I remember as a child only red neck, white trash ever had a tattoo. It was usually one or two on a bicep and usually 
Fashion elements combined - from the 50's to the 21st Century
covered by a t-shirt. Suddenly everyone had one. Many tattoos are undeniably beautiful in the here and now but give them 15 - 20 years when skin begins to sag. I remember my son being enamored with the huge eagle on the chest of our 80 year old neighbor who seemed to always be shirtless. However, one look and you knew the huge eagle on his chest had landed. 

While a tattoo is forever, mercifully haircuts seem to change like the weather. We live though in an era today where  our heads have elements of all past trends ... pompadour, military buzz cuts, beards of the Taliban and enough tattoos to please the Yakuza! The man shown here on the right has all these elements, even the rolled cuffs on his jeans ala James Dean! Where once this would have be been anathema to all regular people, it has become acceptable when movie stars such as Angelina Jolie and other stars sport such additions to their bodies. Why is it acceptable? Will the next generation continue this or will they, like the Boomers generally avoid doing this? 

These elements are conscious designs that we create for our lives seeking a kind of individuality within a carefully chosen group. I do have to wonder though, how many people wake up the next day and wonder why did I do that? This may not be a bad time to invest in laser tattoo removal!

Thank you for reading my blog. Please check out my other blogs that cover and whole range of comments on the designs that shape our lives!


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