The History of Shaving and Beards

Timeline of Cultures and Facial Hair

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Methods of shaving have changed significantly throughout history, and perceptions of facial hair like beards and mustaches have changed with them.

Whether or not a man grows facial hair has been determined culturally based on religion, convenience in war, and simple preference. Beards have been regarded as unclean nuisances, signs of divinity, symbols of strength, and handsome characteristis of an elite man throughout the centuries. In the present day, due to the safety and convenience of razors, more men have embraced the ease of a clean-shaven lifestyle. Take a look at how cultures from the ancient Egyptians to the more recent French monarchies decided whether or not to grow a beard!

Shaving and Facial Hair in Ancient History

  • c. 30,000 BC: There is archaeological evidence of shaving or removing hairs with clamshells, which were used like tweezers, or with flint razors. Flint was used to make the first disposable razors because it was sharp enough to allow a man to shave but dulled quickly.

  • c. 3000 BC: Copper razors arrived in India and Egypt.

  • c. 3000-332 BC: Ancient Egyptian nobles shaved their heads and bodies because they highly valued hairlessness, though men (and sometimes women) of noble birth wore artificial beards as a sign of divinity. Wigs were also common to protect the head from the sun.

  • c. 2900-500 BC: Mesopotamian rulers and elites wore beards, which were signs of masculinity and strength.

  • c. 1500-1200 BC: Scandinavian burial mounds contain elaborate bronze razors with handles shaped like the heads of horses.

  • c. 800 BC-600 ADThe Ancient Greeks found beards very important and only cut them during times of mourning. Losing one’s beard was very shameful. Young men were not allowed to cut their hair until they grew beards, and they sacrificed their first beards to the god Apollo.

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  • 400-300 BC: Alexander the Great was clean-shaven and encouraged the same in his soldiers, as beards could be grabbed by enemies in “hand-to-beard combat.”

  • c. 300 BC: Young Roman men celebrated their first shave in parties with gifts symbolizing the transition to adulthood. Roman men either went to the barber at the start of their days or had a live-in servant to help them shave. Romans let their beards grow when in mourning.

  • c. 50 BC: Julius Caesar plucked out his beard hairs, and many Roman men followed suit.

  • c. 100 AD: Roman Emperor Hadrian revived the growing of beards throughout Rome.

Shaving and Facial Hair in Modern History

  • Middle Ages: Beards went in and out of fashion depending on the habits of prominent men. English King Henry VII was beardless, and Henry VIII wore a beard. Many members of French royalty donned beards as well.

  • c. 1500: Many emerging Protestants grew beads as a demonstration against Catholicism (most priests were clean-shaven).

  • 1770: French barber Jean-Jacques Perret published The Art of Learning to Shave Oneself (La Pogonotomie). The Perret Razor was invented as a safety measure with a wooden guard to hold the razor blade in place and prevent deep cuts.

  • 1789-1861: The first 15 U.S. presidents were beardless.

  • c. 1800: Straight steel razors were widely popular. Men had to rub the blade against a usually leather or canvas strap, called stropping, to realign the fine metal edge and remove any corrosion before each shave. The blades also needed to be honed periodically, a sharpening process that was often done by a barber.

  • 1861-1913: Starting with Abraham Lincoln, who was famously advised to grow a beard by a little girl, every president up to William Howard Taft wore facial hair (except Andrew Johnson, who was impeached, and William McKinley, who was assassinated). Beards were required to be carefully maintained during the Victorian Era.

  • 1895: King Gillette invented and began to sell disposable razor blades. With the disposable blade, stropping and honing were no longer needed.

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  • 1913-Present: All presidents have been clean-shaven since William Howard Taft.

  • 1928: Jacob Schick invented the electric razor.

  • 1930: The U.S. military prohibited beards because they prevent a tight seal for gas masks.

  • 1990: J. Ann Reed and Elizabeth Blunk’s paper in Social Behavior and Personality found “consistently more positive perceptions of social/physical attractiveness, personality, competency, and composure for men with facial hair.”

  • 1999: In Police v. City of Newark, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of two Muslim policemen who objected to shaving their beards on religious grounds.

  • Present: Amish men shave until they are married, then never again. Observant Jewish men follow Leviticus 19:27, forbidding them to shave “the corners of the beard.” Most men decide whether or not to shave based on personal preference, but shaving’s ease and convenience have drawn more men to be clean-shaven.

Have a beard and eager to maintain it? Try out these great conditioner recipes and these tips for hair care.

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