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A full beard

A beard is the hair that grows on a man's chin, cheeks, and the area above the upper lip (the opposite is a clean-shaven face). In the course of history, men with facial hair have been ascribed various and varying attributes such as wisdom, sexual potency, or high status, but also lack of cleanliness and refinement or crankiness and an eccentric disposition.

Beards also play an important role in some religions. Zeus and Poseidon are always portrayed with beards, Apollo never and Dionysus rarely. For example, Amish and Hutterite men shave until they are married, then grow a beard and are never thereafter without one -- but it's a particular form of a beard (see Visual markers of marital status). In Orthodox Christianity, beards are worn by the priesthood, and at times have been required for all believers - see Old Believers. Sikhs do not remove a single hair from their body. Many devout Muslims also grow their facial hair, ostensibly in emulation of the Prophet - see also life under Taliban rule.

In urban circles of Western Europe and the Americas, beards were out of fashion after the early 17th century, returned to fashion after the Napoleonic Era, and were out of fashion again during the first part of the 20th century. Beards, together with long hair, were reintroduced to mainstream society in Western Europe and North America by the hippies in the mid-1960s. At the beginning of the 21st century, the closely clipped Verdi beard, usually with an integrated moustache, also closely clipped, is relatively common, as is a stubble beard (especially on younger men). However, although Full beards are increasingly seen in these areas, they remain a fringe phenomenon.

Beard hair is most commonly removed by shaving. If only the area above the upper lip is left unshaven, the resulting facial hairstyle is known as a moustache (mustache in the USA); if hair is left only on the chin, the style is a goatee. It is decidedly less common to see a beard or goatee without a corresponding moustache.



Ancient Egyptians associated facial hair with mourning. With the exception of a pencil-thin moustache or goatees, they generally found beards unattractive.

It was a custom among the Romans to consecrate the first growth of their beard to some god; thus Nero at the Gynick games, which he exhibited in the Septa, cut off the first growth of his beard, which he placed in a golden box, adorned with pearls, and then consecrated it in the Capitol to Jupiter.

The nations in the east used mostly to nourish their beards with great care and veneration, and it was a punishment among them, for licentiousness and adultery, to have the beard of the offending parties publicly cut off. Such a sacred regard had they for the preservation of their beards, that if a man pledged it for the payment of a debt, he would not fail to pay it. Among the Romans a bearded man was a proverbial expression for a man of virtue and simplicity. The Romans during grief and mourning used to let their hair and beard grow (Livy), while the Greeks on the contrary used to cut off their hair and shave their beards on such occasions (Seneca) (From this custom probably originated that in England, of widows concealing their hair for a stated period after the death of their husbands. Indeed, we know of more than one instance of a widow closely cutting off her hair. But these sorrowful observances are becoming less and less frequent). When Alexander the Great was going to fight against the Persians, one of his officers brought him word that all was ready for battle, and demanded if he required anything further. On which Alexander replied, "nothing but that the Macedonians cut off their beards, for there is not a better handle to take a man by than the beard." This shows Alexander intended close fighting. Shaving was not introduced among the Romans until late. Pliny tells us that P. Ticinias was the first who brought a barber to Rome, which was in the 454th year from the building of the city. Scipio Africanus was the first among the Romans who shaved his beard, and Adrianus the emperor (says Dion,) was the first of all the Caesars who nourished his beard.

The Roman servants or slaves were not allowed to poll their hair, or shave their beards. The Jews thought it ignominious to lose their beards (Bible: 2 Samuels ch. 10, verse 4). Among the Catti, a nation of Germany, a young man was not allowed to shave or cut his hair till he had slain an enemy. (Tacitus.) The Lombards or Longobards, derived their Fame from the great length of their beards. When Otho the Great used to speak anything serious, he swore by his beard, which covered his breast. The Persians are fond of long beards. We read in Olearius' Travels of a king of Persia who had commanded his steward's head to be cut off, and on its being brought to him, he remarked, "what a pity it was, that a man possessing such fine mustachios, should have been executed," but added he, "Ah! it was your own fault." The Normans considered the beard as an indication of distress and misery. The Ancient Britons used always to wear the hair on the upper lip, and so strongly were they attached to this custom, that when William the Conqueror ordered them to shave their upper lip, it was so repugnant to their feelings, that many of them chose rather to abandon their country than resign their mustachios. In the 15th century, the beard was worn long. In the 16th, it was suffered to grow to an amazing length, (see the portraits of Bishop Gardiner , and Cardinal Pole, during Queen Mary's reign) and very often made use of as a tooth-pick case. Brantome tells us that Admiral Coligny wore his tooth-pick in his beard.

Early Christian Attitudes

  • "How womanly it is for one who is a man to comb himself and shave himself with a razor, for the sake of fine effect, and to arrange his hair at the mirror, shave his cheeks, pluck hairs out of them, and smooth them!…For God wished women to be smooth and to rejoice in their locks alone growing spontaneously, as a horse in his mane. But He adorned man like the lions, with a beard, and endowed him as an attribute of manhood, with a hairy chest--a sign of strength and rule." St. Clement of Alexandria, 2.275
  • “This, then, is the mark of the man, the beard. By this, he is seen to be a man. It is older than Eve. It is the token of the superior nature….It is therefore unholy to desecrate the symbol of manhood, hairiness.” St. Clement of Alexandria, 2.276
  • "It is not lawful to pluck out the beard, man’s natural and noble adornment." St. Clement of Alexandria, 2.277
  • "In their manners, there was no discipline. In men, their beards were defaced." St Cyprian (c. 250, W), 5.438
  • "The beard must not be plucked. 'You will not deface the figure of your beard'." [Lev 19:32] St. Cyprian, 5.553
  • "The nature of the beard contributes in an incredible degree to distinguish the maturity of bodies, or to distinguish the sex, or to contribute to the beauty of manliness and strength." Lactantius (c. 304-314, W), 7.288
  • "Men may not destroy the hair of their beards and unnaturally change the form of a man. For the Law says, “You will not deface your beards.” For God the Creator has made this decent for women, but has determined that it is unsuitable for men." Apostolic Constitutions (compiled c.390, E) 7.392. (1)

Modern Attitudes

From the 1920s to the 1960s, beards were virtually forbidden in mainstream America. The few men who wore beards during this period were either old, in academia, or part of the counterculture, such as the "beatniks". Even today there is prejudice against beards and against men who wear beards, although it is much less serious than it once was.

It has been noted that there is a close and consistent association of long standing in American film between facial hair and role -- if one lead male character has more facial hair than another, he is far more likely to be the antagonist, and the man with less (or no) facial hair the protagonist.

The enlistment of military recruits for World War I in 1914 precipitated a major migration of men from rural to urban locales. This was the largest such migration that had ever occurred in The United States up to that time. The rural lives of some of these bearded men included the "Saturday Night bath" as a reality rather than as a humorism. The sudden concentration of recruits in crowded army induction centers brought with it disease, including head lice. Remedial action was taken by immediately shaving the faces and cutting the hair of all inductees upon their arrival.

When the war concluded in 1918 the Dough boys returned to a hero's welcome. During this time period the Film Industry was coming into its own and "going to the movies" became an extremely popular pastime. Due to the recent Armistice many of the films, for example "All Quiet on The Western Front," had themes related to World War I. These popular films featured actors who portrayed the Dough boys with their clean shaven faces and "crew cuts".

Concurrently, "Madison Avenue's" psychological mass marketing was becoming prevalent. The Gillette Safety Razor Company was one of these marketers' early clients. These events conspired to popularize short hair and clean shaven faces as the only acceptable style for decades to come.

Today, with some exceptions, beards are much more accepted in the western world than they once were. Most armed forces still prohibit beards. The U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps justify banning beards on the basis of both hygiene and of the necessity for a good seal with gas masks. The U.S. Navy did allow beards for a time in the 1970s and 1980s, but subsequently banned them again. The vast majority of police forces across the United States still ban beards. However, mustaches are generally allowed in both the military and police forces.

Jehovah's Witnesses are not allowed to grow beards.

It is illegal for boxers to have beards.

Sayings about Beards

  • "There are two kinds of people in this world that go around beardless—boys and women, and I am neither one".
    —Greek saying.

Beard Styles

  • Full - downward flowing beard with either styled or integrated moustache
  • Garibaldi - wide, full beard with rounded bottom and integrated moustache
  • Stubble - a very short beard of only one to a few days growth
  • Verdi - short beard with rounded bottom and slightly shaven cheeks with prominent moustache

See also

External links

Further reading

  • Helen Bunkin, Randall Williams: Beards, Beards, Beards (Hunter & Cyr, 2000) (ISBN 1588380017)
  • Allan Peterkin: One Thousand Beards. A Cultural History of Facial Hair (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2001) (ISBN 1551521075)


  1. A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, David W. Bercot, Editor, pg 66-67.

Last updated: 12-17-2004 01:38:15