Facial hair has a long and complicated history that dates back long before celebrities – like Chris Hemsworth, Prince Harry, and Donald Glover – brought their perfectly groomed beards to the mainstream.
In fact, during the Middle Ages and the 16th century, men were known to grow full beards. At one point, Charles Darwin even believed that beards were a symbol of power used to attract women, and he tried to prove that bearded men are better at procreating. At other times in history, beards were considered uncleanly and inappropriate.
Keep reading to learn more about how facial hair has evolved over the past 200 years.
Before the late 1860s, facial hair was viewed as radical. But as the US entered into the Civil War, facial hair quickly became a symbol of masculinity and power. One of the popular styles was called “sideburns,” which is a bushy beard with a clean-shaven chin. The look was inspired by Civil War General Ambrose Burnside. In fact, his last name, Burnside, was first used to describe the style, but this later evolved into “sideburns.”
1860s: Chin curtain or chin strap
When Abraham Lincoln became president in 1861, he ushered in a new beard style that caught on with many men: the “chin curtain.” For those who didn’t want to sport the sideburn look, they chose to grow their beard along the jawline and clean-shave the mustache.
1890: Full beards
Like Abraham Lincoln, presidents Rutherford Hayes and James Garfield sparked another facial hairstyle, and one that we are more used to today: the full beard. Towards the end of the 19th century, men embraced a fuller – and sometimes unkempt – look when it came to their facial hair.
Early 1900s: Handlebar mustache
In Europe, men started sculpting their beards into mustaches during World War I because it was difficult to put on gas masks with a full beard. Once the war ended, a mustache revolution took over. President William Howard Taft then helped make the “handlebar mustache” popular in the US by curling the ends up towards the eyes.
In the ’20s, the mustache became the most popular style for men to sport. Some tribute the popularity to Agatha Christie’s famous mustached protagonist Hercule Poirot from “The Mysterious Affair at Styles.” The BBC also cites the boom of Hollywood’s leading men – like Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, and Ronald Colman – who all donned the mustache look.
1930s: Toothbrush mustache
The toothbrush mustache is most famous for the last person to wear it – Adolf Hitler. Today the look is considered offensive, but back in the 1930s, the trimmed down mustache was a very popular look among men, especially in Europe. Even Walt Disney wore the style at the time. In a New York Times article from 1908, they said a man’s toothbrush mustache was a “characteristic of his class.” But the style disappeared after World War II for obvious reasons.
1940s: Pencil mustache
When “Gone With the Wind” premiered in 1939, it sparked a new facial hair style thanks to the film’s leading man, Clark Gables. His thin ‘stache inspired another spin on the look by thinning the mustache and bringing it closer to the upper lip. The look is called the “pencil mustache.” At the time, it was meant to look dignified, prompting many famous men to choose the thinner look, like writer George Orwell and musician Sammy Davis Jr.
During the ’50s in the US, most men were clean-shaven, but facial hair continued to flourish in creative communities. As the US entered a cultural Renaissance of sorts in the ’50s, artists crafted their facial hair into what is now known as a goatee, which allows for hair to grow solely around the mouth. The style started with jazz musicians but quickly spread to other artists.
1970s: Horseshoe mustache
While Hulk Hogan is most associated with the famous “horseshoe mustache,” there are a number of other people who helped bring this facial hairstyle into the mainstream. Metallica frontman James Hetfield and Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose both sported the “pornstache” – a horseshoe-shaped mustache that frames the mouth with two parallel lines of hair. You can also find this style in many biker groups that started to pop up in the ’70s.
1980s: The Chevron mustache
In the 1980s, mustaches became fuller, thicker, and dipped just below the upper lip. The look became known as the Chevron and was made popular by actor Tom Selleck.
Early 2000s: Five o’clock shadow
At the turn of the century, the unkempt look started to become popular. A five o’clock shadow or some stubble was considered attractive. It was popular among movie stars like Brad Pitt and George Clooney.
While stubble is still popular today, men now prefer donning a full beard that is expertly manicured and styled. It can be seen on a number of celebrities like Chris Hemsworth, Idris Elba, and even Prince Harry, who kept is beard for his royal wedding in an unusual move for a prince.
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