Beards are as American as baseball and apple pie, right? Well, sort of. They’ve been an American pastime for about a century or so. Then they weren’t an American pastime for a while. Then they were again. Now, China? They were rocking facial hair for centuries before everyone else caught on. If you don’t believe me, take a look at Halcyon Maps’ new info graph “Facial Hair Throughout The Ages” and see for yourself.
Halycon’s Martin Vargic compiled a slew of facial hair information based on “historical imagery”, utilizing “the facial hair of prominent historical individuals and commoners on numerous visual depictions from various places.” Which essentially means that the chart is based on looking at a ton of pictures from various societies, from the ancient era to present day, and graphing how much of the general population was sporting facial hair at any given time.
The results are not at all what you might expect, either. According to Vargic’s graph, the US only had a hairy-faced population of around 5% until 1800 when we saw a 90% jump. China and the Arab realm boasted a facial haired population of over 80% for more than 19 centuries, until around 1800 when China’s numbers quickly declined at the same time the US and northwestern and southern Europe all saw sharp upticks in their percentages of facial hair clad folks. The Arab realm, on the other hand, has stayed at higher than 80% from 200 BC to present day. Southern and northwestern Europe’s journey looks like a roller coaster track – southern Europe has experienced sharp spikes and drop-offs in facial hair prevalence over the ages, eventually lining up almost identically and matching peaks and valleys with northwestern Europe from 1500 to present day.
So what gives? Why such drastic changes in these numbers, especially around the 19th and early 20th century?
Slate.com published an article in 2012 entitled “Lincoln Had One. So Did Uncle Sam.” in which the topic of beards throughout the ages was examined. In the search for an answer, Slate touches on shifting grooming trends through the centuries that may explain why historical US figures, and by extension prominent individuals and citizens in other parts of the world, started opting for a completely shaven look over beards and various facial hair styles.
Slate explains that while beards and facial hair were quite popular during the 1800’s, things started to shift considerably in the early 1900's, “likely due to the advent of the Gillette safety razor, which debuted in 1903 and eased the performance of what had long been a hated and bloody chore.”
This was a major development for personal grooming. As pointed out by moderngent.com’s article “History of Shaving” the first hoe blade razor wasn’t invented until the mid-1800’s. Until that time, straight razors were the only choice for a man looking for a shave, and because of the nature of the straight blade, it wasn’t uncommon to be nicked or deeply cut. A hoe blade was the first design that placed the blade perpendicular to the handle, allowing for more control, and a safer shave. This model would slowly start to gain popularity through the latter half of the 1800’s, and by the end of the century, Gillette designed his new type of disposable safety razor that would eventually become the industry standard.
So if you fellow beardsmen read this graph and want to pin the blame for declining numbers of bearded figures on someone, it looks like you might be able to point the finger at shaving companies. As you can see, beards were never a trend, shaving is, and it’s hopefully a trend that will fade away.