Facial hair is, for the most part, a distinctly male feature. Fortunately, most women cannot grow facial hair as thickly and abundantly as most men. For this reason, facial hair has been a sign of manliness since the dawn of time. However, over the years, the perception and social acceptance of facial hair has changed: some generations have embraced the hair, while others have shunned it.
Social perceptions of facial hair
From what scientists can understand, the original cave people prized their facial hair highly. Facial hair was not only a fashion statement, but also provided practical protection for the men as well. For the cave man, facial hair was used for warmth, intimidation, and protection. Typically, a man’s social status and worth were judged by how full and long his beard was.
The time of Alexander the Great was the first period in which facial hair became a liability rather than an asset. Alexander the Great feared that his soldier’s beards could be used against them in battle, so he required that all soldiers be clean shaven. Since then, beards were no longer necessary for social status. After Alexander the Great, facial hair cycled in and out of style.
The Vikings saw facial hair as a sign of power and respect, as did many other cultures. However, the Romans, and many of the civilizations that led to the development of civilization as a whole were supporters of the clean shaven look.
The last time full facial hair was embraced was around the time of the American Civil War. Many generals and soldiers sported full beards with carefully sculpted sideburns, mustaches, and beards of varying lengths. After the Civil War, however, facial hair fell out of style. Since around the 1900s, most men had a nearly or completely clean-shaven face. Because of this, the sale of shave cream and other shaving products rose in the 1900s with the industrial revolution.
In the 1950s and 60s, a few subcultures tried growing facial hair again. These people were dubbed “hippies” and were largely looked down upon by traditional society. Because of the poor reputation of facial hair, most men between the 1980s and 2000s kept their faces completely clean.
Recent trends for facial hair
The sporting of facial hair is on the rise, however. Men have decided to take back their ability to wear facial hair. Some social scientists believe that men tend to grow more facial hair when it is easier to find women to date or marry. When women are scarcer, men will trim their facial hair to appear less intimidating to women. Since there have been few wars over the past 30 years, it is easier to see why men may be growing out their hair according to this theory. Societies and trends like the Movember Foundation charity have also improved the social view of facial hair in recent years.
Facial hair will always be around for most men. Men can either embrace the hair or try to shave it off, and as society continues to change, it is likely that there will continue to be periods of facial hair love and facial hair hatred through the years.
Kate Simmons is a freelance writer on various topics related to health and beauty. She is mainly interested in the history of beauty trends and their changes over time.