Photographer Dave Mead took these incredible pictures of the winners of the 2009 World Beard and Moustache Championships. Photographed in Anchorage, Alaska, the portrait series has been exhibited around the world, showing as it does the most magnificent, bizarre, weird and wacky beards of all. We saw this as an opportunity to take a look at the history of this fulsome kind of facial hair.
Ah, beards… Men love them and women on the whole feel the reverse. Two thousand men and women were surveyed by Lynx, and the results proved to be a shocker. Sixty-three percent of men thought beards made them more manly and attractive, while 92% of women preferred clean-shaven men – and 95% said they were turned off by kissing a hairy face. Yet this dichotomy is not that strange. In the history of man, beards have been looked at as a sign of wisdom, manliness and high social status, but also eccentricity, dirtiness, and low social rank.
Burke of Olympia, Washington
Men with beards will argue that the latter suggestions are not only mistaken but positively unfair. However, history shows that each era has regarded pogonotrophy – growing a beard (if you shave you are practicing pogonotomy) – in markedly different ways.
High-ranking Ancient Egyptians often dyed their beards with henna, while kings, queens and occasionally cows wore a false metal beard called a postiche that was tied over the head and attached to a gold chinstrap. We will keep silent on what the addition of cows here might have meant in relation to beards…
Moving on, the Mesopotamians of the Ancient Middle East used curling irons and tongs to make tiered and curly designs of their carefully oiled beards.
Reinhardt of Neibausen, Switzerland
And in Ancient India, long beards were seen as a sign of wisdom and dignity. In fact, beards were so venerated that the punishment for adultery was to have one’s beard cut off. Men could even pledge their beard as collateral for a debt.
John of Toronto, Canada
The Ancient Greeks believed beards were a sign of virility and that clean-shaven men were effeminate. The only time they were cut was as a sign of mourning, and even then some were simply left untrimmed. Cowards were punished by the Spartans by having a portion of their beards cut off; interesting that even those who were being punished were not forced to be clean-shaven.
Bryan of Austin, Texas<
Thankfully, perhaps, for the women in Ancient Greek society, Alexander the Great of Macedonia started the practice of men having clean-shaven faces. Afraid they might be used as handles by enemies, he ordered his soldiers to cut off their beards.
By contrast with some of these other earlier societies, Ancient Rome also moved to the beardless look. Beards were considered a sign of slovenliness and squalor. The day a boy first shaved was a day of celebration as the point at which he reached manhood, something that is not so different today – albeit without the festival atmosphere.
Mr. Karl-Heinz, Berlin, Germany
In the Middle Ages, holding another man’s beard was such an offense that duels were fought over it, as beards were seen as a sign of honor and virility, especially among knights.
Hans-Peter of Rheinsheim, Germany
In the 15th century beards were rare, but in the 16th century beards were back in fashion again. Yet another about face (so to speak) occurred in the 17th century, with most of Europe clean-shaven – so much so that Peter the Great of Russia taxed beards and ordered men to shave them off. This trend continued until approximately 1850, when beards came back with a vengeance in both Europe and North America.
Jim of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania
By the early 20th century the beard had lost popularity, and when the age advertising arrived, Gillette was one of the first on board marketing their razors. Beards remained unpopular until the ’60s, when beatniks and others who were part of the counterculture movement started growing them as a sign of rebellion and embracing the natural look. The unpopularity of the Vietnam war helped to bring beards back into the mainstream again.
Steven of San Francisco, California
History shows that societies have been as divided on the hairy face as men and women are today. Yet for those who do choose to be bearded, we can see that there are hundreds of different looks that allow individuality – or eccentricity – to show through. The 10 images here are examples of how men are just as able as women to make a statement with their hair, albeit follicles of the facial kind.