Facial hair history has deep roots.
Through the ages, the decision to grow, or not to grow facial hair has run the gamut on reasons -- from functional (keeping warm), religious, cultural, social, military dictates, superstition, or health reasons, to a belief that an abundance of facial hair communicated masculinity, authority, power, rank, dignity, heroism, or protest.
Whether growing facial hair is imposed, or a free will decision, men have been influenced by multiple factors relative to the era and culture they were born into and the location where they reside. A timeline for facial hair styles often demonstrates a cyclical swing back and forth form popularity to obscurity.
Our Manatee forefathers followed the styles of the day.
It just so happens that in the 19th century during which our Village of Manatee settlers lived, the desire to grow beards and facial hair was at an all-time high. Photos of local doctors, John Crews Pelot and J. B. Leffingwell, show that they followed the trend.
The Victorian era lasted from 1837-1901, and Britain helped inspired the fashion trend here. Some men stopped shaving since it was not unusual to hear of a man dying from lockjaw from his unclean, rusty shaver. Others listened to medical experts who encouraged men to grow a beard, believing that it could stop germs from reaching the nose and throat.
That century brought profound social, economic, industrial and political changes in this country. After the Civil War, women became more vocal and involved in civil rights. Many men reacted to this social change by taking on what they thought was a manlier appearance.
By the 1850s, a majority of American men wore beards and mustaches. A whole new industry sprung up, selling everything from waxes and oils, to wooden frames to wear at night to preserve the shape of a mustache. During the Civil War, there were some extraordinary and bizarre facial hair styles worn by commanders on both sides.
Two new words evolved from this era: "sideburns" -- patches of facial hair grown on the sides of the face, extending from the hairline to below the ears; and "mutton chops" -- side whiskers thin at the top, broad and trimmed short at the jaw line shaved to resemble a chop of meat. One of the most famous people to cultivate "mutton chops" look was General Ambrose Burnside.
In the latter part of the 19th century, some younger men began returning to barbers because they thought that wearing a beard meant you were a conservative thinker, or from the "older" generation. The invention by King Camp Gillette in 1895 of the first disposable razor was also a factor, making shaving a more hygienic, more economical and safer "do-it-yourself" procedure. By the turn of the century, the pendulum had swung back the other way, with most men preferring the clean-shaven look. A clean-shaven face had become associated with someone from the upper class, or a wealthy and successful businessman.
Fast forward to the new millennium, and wearing a beard is increasingly trendy.
If you're one of the many now sporting facial hair and have even the slightest inclination of returning to the ranks of the clean-shaven, you may want to postpone that impulse a few more weeks. The Manatee County Historical Commission is holding its First Annual HAIRitage Days Beard and Mustache Competition during the Heritage Days Open House festival on March 5. All are welcome to participate.
There are six categories, one of which is the freestyle (anything goes) that may interest those for whom their beard is a canvas to decorate and express individuality. There are even categories for unisex "fake beards" open to youth and adults. This hair-raising competition is a fundraiser to support public programs and historic preservation projects at Manatee Village Historical Park. But whether you enter for bragging rights, are a pogonophile (one who loves beards) or just want to come to watch, this "hair"-brained idea should prove a lot of fun! For more information please visit: www.manateevillage.org.
Christine Brown, special events and marketing coordinator for the Manatee Village Historical Park, thinks Dr. Leffingwell's mustache makes him a dashing character in his day; "A man without a mustache is like a cup of tea without sugar." - English proverb. She can be reached at email@example.com or call at 941-741-4076