Here at Neville, we might shine a light on the skills of the sure-eyed barber and insist on the very best products for shaving at home. But we’re not all about the clean shaven. The merits of a good beard hold our attention too.
Despite our penchant for a well-groomed visage, we can’t deny modern man’s love affair with covered chops. In recent times, well-kept facial hair – from neatly trimmed sideburns to waxed and curled moustaches – have made a comeback, scything down out-dated clichés of lumberjacks and wild men with haloed-haired hair-rimmed grins.
The beard is back – and with it, a heady (and hairy) history. The truth is, as hyperbole as it may sound, beards can win you elections or lose you wars.
Alexander the Great knew all too well the importance of the beard, or more precisely, the military advantage of not having one. During the conqueror’s reign (356 – 323 BC), the Great encouraged his soldiers to remain clean shaven, insuring the enemy didn’t grab their hair and gain an advantage in hand-to-hand combat.
Others, such as 17th and 18th century pirate Blackbeard (Edward Teach), saw an opportunity to exploit their facial locks. The infamous pirate, already feared for his heinous acts, would strike terror into his seafaring foes by placing lit candles or fuses amongst his facial fur. Smoke would bellow out from within his black thicket playing up the idea that Mr Teach was one of Satan’s favourite demons.
If military men such as Alexander the Great and Blackbeard understood the impact of facial hair on the battleground, statesmen have understood its prominence on the political landscape as well.
During Julius Caesar’s reign of the Roman Empire (100-44BC), men would rid their face of hairs by strenuous plucking and the use of homemade depilatories. Ingredients included goat’s gall, bat’s blood and powdered viper. Something you won’t find in our products, gladly. But Wwhen Roman Emperor Hadrian (76-138AD) took to the throne,, shaving (which had been the norm since Julius Caesar’s reign) suddenly became out-dated as men all over the land mimicked their new leader’s look. Hadrian’s beard was no style statement however.
Through his beard, Hadrian associated himself with Greek culture – where a beard was commonplace – and in doing so subliminally declared to his intellectual followers his desire to grow ties with the great democratic thinkers of Greece. An act which swiftly made its imprint on Roman fashion, as every subsequent Emperor until Constantine the Great (272-337AD) bearded up.
It is perhaps no surprise that an entire culture can influence one man’s grooming habits – think long-haired hippies of the sixties. But can the same be said of one solitary correspondence with a stranger?
On October 15, 1860, the clean shaven Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln received a letter from 11 year-old Grace Bedell. The young fan wrote: “If you let your whiskers grow… I will try and get the rest of them (talking of her four brothers) to vote for you… All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.”
Lincoln , who was running for President of the United States at the time, replied to Bedell four days later asking the little girl: “As to the whiskers… dDo you not think people would call it a silly affection if I were to begin it now?”
Less than a month later, Lincoln had swept to power becoming the 16th President of the United States. The young girl had clearly swayed the great man, as photographs of his early presidential days show him with a beard. The next eleven presidents, bar one, would sport fur.
Facial hair may come and go, cut down by the gliding kiss of the razor, but so to do grooming fashions; worn thin by the trends of the time, removed and grown back again, at the call of a military leader or at the whim of a little girl. The tale of the beard, so it seems, is far from over.