With today’s “beard boom” phenomenon especially popular with the millennial age bracket one oftentimes overlooks why men even go out of their way to grow that extra bit of facial hair.
The normal and first reaction to why men grow beards is, “because they want to” or sometimes, “because he’s making a fashion statement”. Well in this article, I am determined to dig up the annals of history to find out the deeper meaning of the question, “Why do men grow beards?”
A Look Through Time: Why Men Grew Beards (Then and Now)
Flashback to the age where civilization wasn’t born yet and men lived out in the wild. Whether it’s in caves, dwellings, or igloos, man was at the mercy of the elements. This was especially true in the areas that experienced 4 seasons and the geographical destinations that experienced harsh winters.
With man being responsible for hunting or gathering food, he was normally out of the home often and was the one most exposed to the cold. Having a beard, for all intents and practical purposes meant you had the advantage in tackling the unforgivable conditions that surrounded you. This also served as a signal that you were a good provider and thus made you very attractive to mate with since food security was no longer a matter to worry about.
When the cradles of civilization rose up in the Tigris-Euphrates valley and on the banks of the Nile in Egypt, the climatic conditions were entirely different from what the early human ancestors had to deal with. Being in a warmer climate, it was ideal to grow crops and enjoy a sustainable food supply.
Now that there was no need to hunt people could now branch out to different professions aside from food growth. Here in this scenario, beard growth served a different purpose. With the hot sun baking down on the city-state, workers had to remove as much hair as possible to adapt to the environment and get laborious and intense work done. The elite, landed class such as the rulers, the priests, the administrators were spared from such intolerable conditions as they basked in the warm comfort of their palaces and monuments. Thus they were able to allow facial hair to grow, even taking steps like applying beard oil and beard balm to them to create a distinct look, a look that was out of reach of the workers below their social status.
The beard had become a status symbol once again, a signal that one was rich and influential enough to not toil under the sun and carry the air of nobility.
Want to get an epic beard? Read our Ultimate Beard Guide:
The Roman Empire had a totally different take on beards and this trend also continued during the Enlightenment era in France, which sought to repeat the glory of Rome. To the Romans, the barbarians of the North, who wielded beards to protect themselves from the harsh weather, had beards because they had poor shelter, no great buildings and an almost bestial diet of hunted instead of grown food. Thus it was imperative as a gesture of Roman greatness and finesse that they were clean-shaven. They had access to baths, barbers, slaves that would do the hard work for them and so having a beard was seen as uncouth and uncivilized.
In the late 19th century, the beard was again considered fashionable. Perhaps it was a statement of the now-dominant British Empire over their arch-rival the French that they were different and delighted in the glory of their facial hair. The trend continued quite well until World War I when beards were heavily discouraged since they got in the way of gas masks and so it was a matter of looking good or choking to death on mustard gas. The latter seemed more appealing to the majority of men who dwelled in trenches at that time. So for most of the 20th century the beard was only reserved as a symbol of rebellion against “The Man”.
Hippies donned beards since they refused to accept the status quo and refused to shave. Hippie women even refused to shave their underarms, but that is a story for a different article. Having a beard in the 80s to 2000s would have meant people associated you with the homeless, with biker gangs, with prison convicts and with general rebels to society.
One of the USA’s most hated world leaders, Ayatollah Khomeini, donning a full-on beard at the time didn’t help the fashion statement either.
Recently, with the dawn of the 2010s, a beard boom is up and about again. Some say as a reaction to the status quo and being different. Others claim it’s a stab at nostalgia to retreat to a time where materialism and greed were not the core values and a more organic, vintage approach needs to be taken.
To summarize it all and look at why men grow beards, the reason is really to make a statement and send a signal of where you stand in society. Whether it’s as a rebel, an oligarch or just because you want to, having that option of altering your look for free is a luxury that men over the ages has taken advantage of.