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Of Beards, Mustaches and Sideburns: The Ascent, Descent – and Ascent of Facial Hair

Man from Midvale with Beard and MustacheIn 1976, an economist from the University of Washington named Dwight E. Robinson conducted a research on men’s fashion trends, particularly when it comes to “facial barbering.” He went through a famous magazine for photos and drawings, and discovered the fascinating evolution of facial hair as a style throughout the years. This rich history is the very foundation of many barber schools across the country.

The American Journal of Sociology published his findings.

The Hairy Process

Analyzing pages of the weekly publication Illustrated London News from 1842 until 1972, Robinson said he chose this paper as his only source because it is recognized as the “world’s most venerable pictorial magazine.” He was able to collect around a hundred images every year.

Robinson did acknowledge that these “gentlemen of the News” only represented the high-profile members of the community. He also excluded photos of non-Europeans, models, and royalty. He went on to count the regularity wherein the five various facial hair trends appeared, ranging from mustache alone, sideburns alone, both sideburns and mustache, beard, and clean-shaven.

The Stubbly Findings

In the 1800s, only a few people chose to be clean-shaven, but almost everyone was by the1970s. On the other hand, sideburns and beards became a dormant style in the mid to late 1800s. Even though mustaches were the trending style during the early 20th century, it slowly lost its luster. The pièce de résistance of men’s style occurred in 1877 when sporting both mustaches and sideburns peaked, which was probably where the present-day Brooklyn beard originated.

Robinson theorized that the fashion trends usually come from the younger generation who try to avoid the style of their elders. As time passes, they unknowingly develop more liking into the older trends by giving it their own twist. This is why the majority of men were against beards from the 1940s until 1976, but that preference seemed to have changed today.

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