Of Beards and Men
The Revealing History of Facial Hair
Of Beards and Men makes the case that today’s bearded renaissance is part of a centuries-long cycle in which facial hairstyles have varied in response to changing ideals of masculinity. Christopher Oldstone-Moore explains that the clean-shaven face has been the default style throughout Western history—see Alexander the Great’s beardless face, for example, as the Greek heroic ideal. But the primacy of razors has been challenged over the years by four great bearded movements, beginning with Hadrian in the second century and stretching to today’s bristled resurgence. The clean-shaven face today, Oldstone-Moore says, has come to signify a virtuous and sociable man, whereas the beard marks someone as self-reliant and unconventional. History, then, has established specific meanings for facial hair, which both inspire and constrain a man’s choices in how he presents himself to the world.
This fascinating and erudite history of facial hair cracks the masculine hair code, shedding light on the choices men make as they shape the hair on their faces. Oldstone-Moore adeptly lays to rest common misperceptions about beards and vividly illustrates the connection between grooming, identity, culture, and masculinity. To a surprising degree, we find, the history of men is written on their faces.
1 Why Do Men Have Beards?
2 In the Beginning
3 The Classic Shave
4 How Jesus Got His Beard
5 The Inner Beard
6 The Beard Renaissance
7 The Shave of Reason
8 Manliness in the Romantic Imagination
9 Patriarchs of the Industrial Age
10 Muscles and Mustaches
11 Corporate Men of the Twentieth Century
12 Hair on the Left
13 Postmodern Men
“A finely detailed, borderline obsessive history. . . . Oldstone-Moore is a sensitive observer, who dispenses ironies with a light hand; tonsorially enthralled as he may be, he also seems in on the joke. His style is clipping and spry, free from the haughty grandiloquence and leaden jargoneering that characterizes much academic writing. . . . His long view on our unshaven history is likely to stand unchallenged for some time.”
“Oldstone-Moore has a fantastic story to tell. . . He sees things other historians ignore and makes useful, even original connections. On Hitler and Stalin, he suggests that ‘an analysis of mustaches might have alerted the Western allies to the real possibility of German-Soviet agreement.’ Perhaps wary of being pigeonholed, he supplies two author photographs, one with a beard and one without. It’s typical of the care, attention and dry wit to be found throughout this wholly admirable book.”
“We tumble through a series of lively case studies that illustrate those changing conceptions of masculinity Oldstone-Moore supposes changing attitudes to facial hair to represent. Despite excursions into the ancient, and the contemporary, Middle East, the focus remains on Western culture: Jesus’s beard; Lincoln’s beard; Hitler’s mustache.”