The Outstater

February 6, 2023

A Brief Monograph on Facial Hair 

MEN’S FASHION in facial hair should be taken seriously. Throughout history, it has informed the observant of societal bent, usually downward, sometimes in a martial direction.

Look, I don’t have anything against mustaches and beards intrinsically. I grew a mustache in the Navy because I imagined it would make me look grownup and formidable. Fifty-five years later I am considering growing another, this time to make my face more grandfatherly and less frightening to small children.

For background, this brief beard history is from the website

“In ancient Greece, beards were seen as signs of virility, manhood and wisdom. They were cut only during a time of mourning or as a form of punishment to Spartans. The ancient Romans decided to distinguish themselves from the Greeks by being clean-shaven. It was so important to Roman culture that religious ceremonies were held when boys shaved for the first time. By the years 330 – 1750 in Europe, facial hair had mixed support. While knights maintained beards as a sign of masculinity and honor, King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth weren’t fans, at least on those they ruled. King Henry kept his beard while everyone else had to pay a tax for growing one.”

I have a neighbor who grows a full beard in winter when he ostensibly needs the warmth. He shaves clean in summer when it would be itchy. That makes sense.

What make no sense, historically or otherwise, is the stubble beard or three-day growth that is so de rigueur these days. It is harder to maintain than a daily shave. You need expensive equipment to keep it looking right. It has you rubbing your chin all day.

UCLA basketball coach John Wooden famously rejected Hall of Fame inductee Bill Walton’s request to be exempted from the team’s prohibition on facial hair and hair longer than two inches. “That’s good Bill, I admire people who have strong beliefs and stick by them, I really do,” Walton remembers the coach saying, “We’re going to miss you.”

Wooden further explained that if he relaxed the prohibition he would have to hire another coach or two to measure haircuts. It wasn’t in the budget and had nothing to do with winning basketball games.

A restauranteur friend refuses to hire men with any sort of beard. His 60 years in the business tell him the bearded do not make reliable employees or the kind who win promotion. I would suppose that is especially true of applicants who appear too lazy to shave. Just saying.

So why the stubble?

Early on, there was a rationale of sorts. And you may be interested to know the stubble is not all that new. It was invented as a fashion by Don Johnson in the character of Sonny Crocett on the 1984 television series “Miami Vice.”

Back then, a three-day growth on a plain-clothes vice detective might have served as a deception. Regular cops in those days had morning inspections in which daily shaving was the rule. For that reason, Johnson’s character, with a stubble, couldn’t be the police, or at least not in the minds of the more gullible of the television bad guys.

More importantly, it developed the character of Crocett as an independent even romantic force, not some time-puncher under workaday supervision. If you regularly sported a three-day growth in the ‘80s you were someone — or meant to seem as someone — either with special skills or so wealthy you didn’t go through no stinking hiring process. (A decade later the “man bun” attempted the same message.)

Let me veer off for a moment. I had always wondered why Hitler wore such a silly-looking mustache. For whatever he was, he was not silly. I now learn that it signaled that he had been on the front lines of WWI, where soldiers trimmed the edges of their mustaches so a gas mask would fit more perfectly.

Mustaches and beards, you see, are not wanton. They are meant to say something.

But not every man can grow a good-looking one — genetics, you know. Everyone, though, can grow a stubble. But its popularity is more complex than that. Nor does it signal an independent disposition or idle wealth. Indeed, too many men are wearing it to have any distinguishing purpose whatsoever. So what are they trying to say?

Well, there’s this: Young women have begun telling pollsters in recent years that they prefer men with a heavy stubble.

Could young men be wearing stubble beards only because some woman — probably not their mother — has told them it makes them handsome? Do we have a generation of men so hollow that they allow the disinterested, i.e., women playfully testing their power to flatter, to dictate grooming habits?

Another reason we should pray for peace. — tcl


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