Over the past five years or so, the hipster has been on the rise in Britain.
As we saw yesterday, hipster Anglican priests in London’s East End are embracing the trend of facial hair as an evangelism tool. Let us know, chaps, when your parish churches show a rise in attendance. I won’t hold my breath waiting.
I reread the comments that accompanied Christopher Howse’s ‘peak beard’ editorial for The Telegraph in 2014. The readers made a few socio-political and hygienic points related to beards.
Ian B wrote about the waxing and waning of Puritans versus Cavaliers since the 17th century. From the Puritans we inherited not only a certain strain of Christianity but along with that Cromwell and the English Civil War. Hairlessness, he rightly says, denotes Puritanism. Cromwell’s army were the Roundheads. The hairy, pleasure-loving monarchists were the Cavaliers.
Ian B explains that the later Victorian period
was the last valiant battle by men to be allowed some form of individualist display, when their clothes had been dowdied-down. It was eclipsed.
Another reader explains the reason why beards disappeared in the early 20th century, which I’ll come to shortly.
Back to Ian B, who says that the 1960s and 1970s popularised hirsute men, but that, too, disappeared and in more recent years gave way to the shaved or stubbled head. With more beards within the past few years
it may be a hopeful indication of a weakening of puritan hegemony and the first green shoots of another attempt to return to (our more natural, for England) liberal individualism.
However, George Williams gave us the reason why beards went out of fashion in the early 20th century (emphasis mine):
In World War 1 commanders learned the only way to control head lice in the trenches was to cut off all hair. Soldiers mustering home were regarded as heroes and their short-haired clean-shaven look remained the manly ideal until the rebellious ’60s.
That makes sense for both eras. Note the hygiene aspect with the Great War.
In reaction against the Vietnam War — and the establishment — facial hair made a big comeback as a statement decades later.
Although Christopher Howse, himself hirsute, predicted peak beard in 2014, by the end of 2015, it still hadn’t happened. However, The Sun reported several weeks ago that historian Alun Withey told sister paper The Times that
2016 would see the end of the beard trend.
One wonders. Last year, a study was widely reported around the world which said that beards harbour all manner of bacteria. It’s believable. Have you ever had occasion to examine paperwork closely with a bearded man hovering next to you? Some — some, not all — of these men smell unclean, as if they need a good wash with soap. I know of women who dislike bussing bearded acquaintances on the cheek or eating with them. In the latter situation, crumbs or soup drops, even when momentarily visible are off-putting. As for the bussing, one woman I know said:
He smells positively sebaceous.
Agreed. A bit like the aforementioned guy co-examining paperwork: too much information. I don’t want to smell it.
If you want a pleasing beard, you really do have to keep all of it well washed — especially the bit from lip to chin — down to the skin.
Yet, in 2016, the beard picture changed, perhaps to avoid offending the sensibilities of men of a certain religion who think they have to be hairy in order to demonstrate their piety. On January 20, 2016, Dr Adam Roberts, a microbiologist from University College London, claimed that good beard bacteria killed harmful beard bacteria. Roberts purports that clean shaven men have more facial bacteria. I doubt that very much. I would also like to see a photograph of Dr Roberts to see if he has any biases in the hirsute direction.
Bottom line — and this goes for women, too — a person of breeding (rich or poor) avoids touching his or her face during the day. Wash it, moisturise it and leave it alone apart from dabbing the lips at mealtime.
Furthermore, only a few months ago, The Sun reported that Britons ‘slam beards in workplace poll’, along with showing too much of the body, flip flops and high heels.
What The Sun doesn’t say is that workers object to beards which are ‘unkempt, long or full’. That objection is No. 15 in the list, far below the other three that I mentioned which come in at Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 13; No. 5 and No. 14.
In closing, there’s another growing male fashion craze involving hair — the man bun — yours for only £9.99.
As the illustrations show, it goes so nicely with a beard.