a beard-thropology

November 18th, 2014 | written by:
in: Culture, Fashion

Beards are nothing new. Humans have been growing beards for thousands of years. In my mind I envision Neanderthal and early Homo Sapiens men traversing glacier-covered Europe sporting thick, luscious beards. I’m 99.99% sure early humans would have sported beards quite often because there wasn’t really a good way to shave. I like to imagine that they enjoyed their beards too (I can dream, right?). As history continued, beards were a part of men’s fashion, coming in an almost never-ending variety of shapes and sizes. Some of history’s greatest thinkers even wore beards – Edward Burnett Tylor, Erasmus Darwin, Charles Darwin, Leonardo DaVinci…

You’ve probably seen old photos of business men with crazy (dare I say ‘crazy awesome’?) beards or Mutton chops. Business tycoons, aristocrats, and presidents all had beards (Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant come to mind). Over the intervening years, though, beards fell out of fashion. They began to be associated with laziness, “counter culture”, and all-around strangeness.

Over the last few years, though, there has been a resurgence of “the beard” in men’s fashion and popular culture. This comeback has been highlighted by the television show Beard Wars on IFC, a plethora of beard-related blogs online, and a growth in beard-care products like beard oil, beard brushes, beard balm, beard shampoo, and mustache wax. As beards are becoming more popular, they are also, slowly, becoming more acceptable in the workplace.

I’m not only entertained by all of this, but intrigued by it. As an anthropologist my curiosity has been piqued. This increased popularity of beards opens up a multitude of questions to be asked and answered. Is there a beard culture? What constitutes beard culture? How is beard culture defined compared to American culture? What are the social rules? How does one become part of beard culture? Is beard culture solely the realm of males, can women participate in beard culture? I’ve also been given an opportunity to grow out my beard by this new-found social acceptance of facial hair, generally, and full beards, specifically. I’m not simply an observer of this phenomenon, I’m a participant in the growing beard culture.

I hope that this modern resurgence of beard popularity is not a passing fad. I like my beard. I encourage my friends to grow beards, no matter what their beard-growing ability is (everyone should at least give it a try).

I have been growing a beard continuously for the last 7 years. Until this year, I continually kept my beard trimmed to a “corporate” style, full beard. Now, however, I’ve been letting my beard grow. My goal is to eventually take part in a beard competition, or at the very least attend one. I’m also quite lucky that my fiancée is supportive of my beard growing.

My next step is to dig deeper into beard culture. What does it mean to be part of the beard culture? Is it simply growing a beard? Is it using the products? Maintaining my beard? Do I have to enter a “bearding” competition? Do I have to have a prize-winning beard? Can women participate in beard culture? Is there such a thing as a beard culture? From here I will work on answering the questions above and probably come up with more in the process.

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