Beard History | Growing/Grooming Techniques

A beard is more than just the expanse of hair that grows on the face of an adult male: it is an expression of identity.

Men have grown their facial hair and groomed their beards since ancient times and in subsequent years wearing a beard has slipped in and out of fashion countless times. Across history a beard has variously been seen as a fashion statement, a display of male virility, an expression of religious or social conformity and as a symbol of rebellion. Whatever his reason for growing a beard, the canny beard-wearer knows that it’s about more than simply giving up on shaving; by putting just a little effort into caring for your beard you can create the kind of well-groomed, stylish look that gets you noticed.

Beards in History:

Prehistoric and Early Civilisations – Anthropologists are aware that men in many prehistoric societies had beards. They speculate that this was not just because of difficulty in accessing the means to shave, but that a beard was seen to have great practical utility among these ancient peoples. Wearing a beard strengthens one’s jaw-line and makes one’s appearance more intimidating to opponents, it cushions the effect of blows to the face during combat and, not least for people who spent much of their time outdoors, it provides some degree of warmth and protection from the elements.

In many ancient societies beards were regarded as a symbol of a man’s honour; prisoners and others who had transgressed societal rules often had their beards cut off. Although warriors in ancient times usually sported beards as a symbol of strength and ferocity, Alexander the Great, in around 345 B.C., decreed that all of his soldiers should be clean-shaven. He feared that, in battle, an enemy could grab his men by the beard and overpower them.

Amongst the ancient Egyptians beards were a symbol of power and they were worn by all ruling class males. From three-thousand B.C. onwards Egyptian kings habitually wore a metal ‘beard’ known as a postiche; these were worn by female rulers too. The symbolic beard was usually held in place by a ribbon and a golden chin strap.

The Assyrians of the same period also wore beards. It was the fashion amongst their upper echelons to dye their beards, as well as their hair and eyebrows, with black colouring. The Persians followed the same fashion, but tended to use red henna dye. Amongst the wealthier people of the region at this time gold dust, gold threads and spices were used to decorate the hair and beard on festive occasions.

For the ancient Indians and Turks the presence of a long beard on a man indicated great wisdom and dignity. To have to shave off one’s beard was regarded as humiliating: when the Turks took men into slavery they were ritually shaved to indicate their subservience.

The early days of the Greek and Roman Empires were marked by a fashion for beard-wearing amongst the men. The Greeks sported luxuriant, curled beards, while the Romans preferred neat, trimmed beards, regarding those worn by the Greeks as effeminate. Later, however, beards were discouraged in both nations, although the eminent philosophers continued to wear long beards as an indicator of their wisdom. The Roman Emperor Lucius Tarquinius Priscus encouraged shaving in the name of hygiene.

Later Times – Among the Celtic tribes of Europe in the first millennium the beard was seen as so fundamental to a man’s identity that it was regarded as making a solemn oath if he swore by his beard. Legend has it that King Otto the Great of Saxony instigated this practice. By the Middle Ages one’s beard was thought to be such an important symbol of one’s manliness that it was a gross insult for another man to touch it. Often the only honourable way to expunge the offence was to challenge the offender to a duel.

Until the spread of Christianity into the British Isles in the seventh-century the Anglo-Saxons were all bearded. Priests and monks of the early church were compelled to shave and the fashion spread to others as they adopted the Christian faith. Up until the Norman Conquest all English princes wore moustaches. The new king, William, outlawed this practice.

The Crusades marked the return of a fashion for beards amongst European men, perhaps because there were so few opportunities to shave for men who were away on military campaigns. For the best part of four centuries after the Crusades there was a widespread diversity of shaving fashions in Europe, with beards, moustaches and the clean-shaven look all being socially acceptable. This situation continued throughout the Renaissance but, by the mid-sixteenth century, beards became extremely fashionable again in England at the instigation of King Henry VIII.

Later, in sixteenth century Europe, fashionable men began to groom their beards more carefully. Styles such as the stiletto beard and forked beard became very popular at this time. In the United States in the mid to late nineteenth century, such was the popularity of President Abraham Lincoln that having a full-beard in his style became the norm amongst American men.

Modern Times – As we have observed, the beard tends to move in and out of fashion in the same way that trends in hairstyles and clothing tend to come and go. At the moment the beard is definitely on one of its upward curves in the fashion cycle. In Europe and the United States the beard is popular among musicians, actors and sportsmen and the trend has been taken up by those of us who wish to imitate the look favoured by our heroes. The urban hipster movement, in particular, has popularised the full-beard look.

History shows us that at regular intervals prominent individuals, or groups of individuals, have set the trend for other men to have a particular type of beard. Prominent amongst these historical figures are:

Anthony van Dyck – Van Dyck was one of the leading artists in the Flemish school of the seventeenth-century. He is said to have popularised the style of goatee beard and moustache combination known now as the Van Dyke;

Abraham Lincoln – As discussed earlier, President Lincoln helped to popularise the beard in nineteenth century America. In particular many men took up his style of ‘chinstrap’ bearded;

Giuseppe Garibaldi – Garibaldi was an Italian military leader of the nineteenth-century who helped to unite Italy into one kingdom. Such was his fame that many men in Italy and beyond wanted to emulate his full, bushy beard look.

Giuseppe Verdi – Verdi was another nineteenth-century Italian trendsetter. He was a prolific composer, best known for his opera scores. He also helped to popularise the Verdi beard, which is a full beard with shaven cheeks and prominent moustache.

The Beats – The Beats were a loosely-connected movement of writers, artists and poets in the United States during the nineteen-fifties. At a time when most American men were clean-shaven, prominent Beats, such as the poet Alan Ginsberg, helped to make the beard a cool, trendy fashion statement.

Psychedelia and the Beatles – Through the early to mid-nineteen sixties musicians and pop icons were clean-shaven, and this was the trend that most young men followed. However, by 1967 and the growth of the ‘flower power’ movement in California, the fashion for facial hair began to return. In the United Kingdom the Beatles released their iconic Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album during the same year. Once they appeared on the album cover sporting their newly-grown moustaches, the trend rapidly spread among their fans. Soon after this the Beatles and other bands were prominent in the return of the full beard as a fashion statement. The long-hair and full-beard look was popular well into the nineteen-seventies.

Growing Your Beard – A Beginners Guide

Whether you decide to grow a beard because you believe it will look very stylish, as an experiment to see what it looks like or just because you think shaving every morning is a bit of a chore, the process will always start at the same point: you put away your razor and wait.

The first couple of weeks, when your nascent beard looks a bit patchy and the stubble irritates your skin like mad, will be a bit of a trial. But soon, as your facial hair softens and your beard fills out, you will be glad that you were patient.

Seasoned beard wearers will know that a beard is measured by the period of time you have been growing it, not by its physical length. Thus, you will hear about beards being referred to by ‘one month’, ‘three month’ and ‘yeard’ categories, the latter being a year-long growth. The ultimate beard-grower achievement is the ‘terminal growth’; this is the genetic maximum length your beard can grow before it stops.

Your beard will be itchy during the first few weeks because the hairs on your face, having been shaved every day, will be sharp and spear-like. This will soon pass, but if your skin is particularly irritated, try using a little beard oil to moisturise it. Avoid using alcohol-based skin products, as these will dry your skin.

At this stage there is no need to use shampoo on your beard: wash your face with a gentle soap that does not contain any harsh, skin-irritating additives.

Beard Styles – You should by now have settled on a beard style and have in mind the type of beard you are trying to achieve. An infographic such this one will show you the various styles of beard that can be grown: The first piece of basic advice is to work with what you have. For instance, if the beard on your cheeks is very sparse, then go for a goatee or Van Dyke style. The second piece of basic advice is to decide what shape of face you have and choose the style of beard that suits it best:

A square face needs a beard style that lengthens your face and makes it less box-shaped;

For the round face it is best to go for a style that makes it more oval-shaped and does not overwhelm your features;

If you have a rectangular face you should go for a rounder-style beard so as to gives you face a shorter, rounder appearance;

With a triangular face it is likely you will have a pointed chin. This look can be softened by using a full-beard to bulk-out your jawline and chin;

In a similar way, those with a pear or diamond-shaped face will have a noticeably prominent chin. Again, this appearance can be softened with a full-beard. Long sideburns can have the appearance of lengthening your face and reducing the prominence of your chin.

– Once you’re through the initial itchy stage and you’ve settled on the kind of beard you’re trying to achieve, you can begin to trim it to the style you require. Generally you will need to wait a month or so for there to be sufficient growth before you begin to trim.

If you are trying to achieve the full, bushy ‘yeard’ look you need not trim at all but, for other styles, a little judicious trimming will improve the appearance of your beard. You can use your razor to take away the stray hairs on your neck and upper cheeks, but take care not to shave the neckline too high. You can trim your moustache too, but this is best done with scissors, as is the case with any stray, straggly hairs which are spoiling the overall look of your beard.

If you are trying to achieve a stubble look, then you can regularly trim your facial hair to the desired length with clippers. For a neat, slightly longer finish to your beard you should trim it with scissors as that gives you more control and avoids accidentally removing too much hair with the wrong clipper setting. It’s far better to trim off too little and remove a little more the next day than to trim off too much and have to start the beard-growing process all over again.

In terms of general care you can clean your beard with beard wash one to three times a week. Your daily routine, however, should be to rinse your beard when you shower and apply beard oil to it afterwards.

Once you have reached the three-month stage with your beard you can generally reduce the full washing, but you should keep up the daily rinsing in the shower routine and continue applying beard oil each day. Any annoying stray hairs can be removed with scissors.

Having invested time and effort into growing your beard you should think twice before removing it. In other words you should avoid making an impulsive decision you might regret later. In particular, do not make a rash decision to shave it off in a fit of pique, when you’re feeling down in the dumps or when you are under the influence of drink.

For men with longer beards taking a hair-dryer to your beard after washing or showering is a good idea as this can help you comb it to the style you want. Also a styling product, such as beard balm, will work best if applied to a slightly damp beard before blow-drying.

One of the frustrations you may face when attempting to grow a beard is how to deal with those areas where the hair will not grow as well as on the rest of your face: these can be small gaps, or very extensive bald patches. There can be a variety of factors causing this:

Hormonal imbalance – the hormonal balance within your body affects the rate and extent of your hair growth, including that of your beard. A patchy pattern of growth can be age-related; often the hormonal balance and the consequent beard growth will settle down by the time one is thirty. Paying attention to ensuring you have a good, well-balanced diet may help too;

Ringworm – despite the name, ringworm is actually a fungus which can affect your skin and cause bald patches within you beard growth. The infection can be treated with antifungal medication;

Stress – there is extensive anecdotal evidence that stress can cause hair-loss, including that of beard hair. However, medical opinion is still divided on the issue;

Dental infection – Spanish researchers have suggested there is a link between undiagnosed tooth infection and patchy beard growth;

Genetics – the genetic make-up each of us carries will ultimately determine the kind of beard growth we are capable of producing.

So what can we do to overcome these difficulties? Obviously we cannot change our genetics, but there are still a number of other steps we can take:

Contrary to popular belief, shaving off you beard does not stimulate more luxuriant growth next time;

You can, however, try trimming the sides of your beard. In the same way that cutting some of the hair on your head very short can make the rest appear fuller, so it is the case with your beard;

You can try shaping your beard by some judicial trimming on your neck and cheeks. This can help give you a more defined jaw line;

If your beard continues to grow out in a very patchy fashion, it may be best to keep it trimmed to stubble length;

Those annoying straggly areas of your beard can be kept neat by using a leave-in conditioner or beard balm;

An occasional visit to your barber can help you work out the best beard shape for your face: ask him or her to trim your beard when they cut your hair;

If all else fails, maybe you should just accept that the fresh-faced look is the best one for you!

How to Care for Your Beard

Washing and conditioning your beard – you should wash your beard two or three times a week. This helps keep it clean, fresh and in good condition. If you have particularly oily skin and hair, however, this can be increased to three or four times a week.

Some men apply the same shampoo they use on their head onto their beard. The problem with using that kind of generic shampoo on your beard is that it is too harsh for your face, which means it dries out your skin and causes itchiness and flaking in your beard. It also strips out the natural oils in your beard hair leaving it dry, coarse and in poor condition.

Experienced beard-men prefer to use a beard wash; one which has been specially formulated for use on your facial hair. A beard wash has the advantage of producing a clean, fresh beard without removing the natural oils in your facial hair and drying out the skin beneath. If you take care of your facial skin you can avoid ‘beard ruff’ and its related itchiness and flaking in your beard.

A clean beard will help you not just feel better and look better, but you’ll actually be nicer to be up close to as well.

For clean, fresh facial hair, a good beard wash full of natural, gentle cleansing agents, such as that produced is the perfect answer. A good beard wash will contain natural, organic oils that help maintain your beard’s normal balance of oils. Sesame oil, coconut oil and shea butter help keep your beard in tip-top condition, while the fragrance of cedar-wood and lime essential oils keeps it smelling fresh too.

Beard conditioning oil – everyone’s facial hair is coarser than that on their head. Our modern lives, with central heating and air conditioning can dry out and coarsen your beard hair even more. Even if you use a specially-formulated beard wash to make sure it is clean, your beard may not be quite as well-conditioned as you would like it to be: which is where beard oil comes in. A beard conditioning oil is a carefully-formulated product made from natural ingredients that nourishes and revitalizes your beard.

Making a conditioning oil part of your daily grooming routine will leave your beard with that soft and lustrous look. Beard And Bates’ beard oils incorporates natural argan and jojoba oils to nourish and help your beard look and feel at its best. Start with just a few drops, you can always apply more later if you wish, and then style your beard to the look you want to achieve; one which will last all day.

Beard balm – as you beard becomes longer, say an inch and half in length, you’ll probably find that you need a product with a little more hold in order to be able to create style that you want and maintain it all day. This is the stage where you should consider adding a beard balm to your grooming routine.

Beard balm is similar in texture to a light hair wax or lip balm. To use it you scoop a little of the balm from its tub, warm it in the palms of your hand and apply to the outer layer of your beard.

So is beard balm a replacement for beard conditioning oil? The short answer is that it is not. Conditioning oil replaces your beard’s natural oils and keeps it soft and healthy-looking, so it is important to continue with that product each day. Beard balm becomes an additional necessity when your beard grows longer because it fulfills the function of the wax many of us apply to our hair: it gives you a light hold, while continuing to condition throughout your day.

Beard And Bates’ Old-Fashioned beard balm is made from mango butter, beeswax, argan oil, and jojoba oil and provides easy control and a light hold to your beard. It allows you to continue growing your beard without compromising on looking well-groomed.

Combing your beard – with anything more than a stubble beard it is important that you should comb your beard regularly to maintain a well-groomed appearance. It is best not to comb you beard when it is wet or if it is still warm from the shower or dryer; that will only weaken the hair roots and may cause some of them to be pulled out. The best time to comb your beard is after you have showered, dried and applied beard oil; the comb will then glide easily through your well-conditioned facial hair. Comb your beard gently and coax it into the style you require using the wider teeth first and then the narrower ones.

Of course your combing routine will only be as good as the comb you use, so it’s worth investing in one or two specifically for your beard, rather than making do with the one you use on your head. Many regular hair combs have teeth that are too fine for your beard and there is a risk of pulling out some of the hair. Using a hair brush can produce similar difficulties too.

There are a variety of combs on the market including ones in plastic, acetate, steel, horn and wood. Many beard enthusiasts swear by wooden combs, others by acetate, but really it’s down to trial and error and personal preference.

Beard & Moustache wax – Both these products have similar ingredients yet the main difference is the density of each wax. A moustache wax is very dense, and will need to be heated up prior to use. This is designed to set and style your moustache all day. 

So with a little time, a little effort and the discerning use of a few handy products, you too can create a beard that gives you a stylish look and makes a bold statement about you as an individual.

Thanks to Percy Nobleman for the resources and information provided.