Beards on the Rise

Several alert Marksmen and Wonder Women have sent me the link to this article about the rise of the beard:

These days, the hirsute pursuit has evolved into a full-blown, full-grown trend. According to the marketing research company The NPD Group, sales of electric shavers and men’s facial trimmers have dipped 12 percent just in the last year while beard-related activities are, well, bristling. [...]

Why the sudden growth spurt? The blustery weather — and brutal job market — are certainly part of it. But Paul Roof, assistant professor of sociology at Charleston Southern University in South Carolina, says there are other issues at play.

“For some it’s a trend, but for others it’s a way of life and simply self-expression,” he says. “At the heart of the revival, I think, is the ‘reclaiming of masculinity.’ Beards are a direct backlash against metrosexuality and the feminization of modern man. But beards are also the only accessory route that men have — the only way men can change their looks.”

Let me repeat that: “The blustery weather — and brutal job market — are certainly part of it.”

What?

Are they trying to claim that people out-of-work no longer have to worry about looking respectable, so PPPFFTTT! Out pops a beard?

Or is it saying that beards are popular, at least in part, because people can’t afford razors?

I know this is not a central point of the article, which is mainly about the growing prevalence of chin-down in the culture, but that’s just the problem — it’s taken as a foregone conclusion that the economy has something to do with it, probably because OMG THE SKY IS FALLING ALL WE CAN THINK ABOUT IS THE ECONOMY.

I take a different view. I believe the problematic economy and the rise in beards are completely opposite phenomena.

The economy’s in the pooper because too many people got too greedy for imaginary money. It’s an ignoble period in our history, brought on by dishonest and unscrupulous dealings — perhaps unavoidably, as it all stemmed from base human nature.

But the best beards are noble — for truly remarkable cultivation, they require boldness, persistence, and a willful indifference to the status quo. Hipsters and bikers alike may grow beards as a form of subtle rebellion; engineers may let their faces sprout through uncaring (for conventional standards of grooming as well as for simple effort); weirdos at comic-conventions may simply want to hide weak chins. Beards are grown today for all these reasons and many others.

Yet one element links them all — they are grown in defiance of Big Razor’s omnipresent control of the mainstream media. The empire built by filthy-rich huckster King Gillette appeals constantly to our masculine instincts with commercials full of swooping fighter-jets and square-jawed, clean-shaven heroes. Virtually no romantic protagonist in the media wears a beard today, from loving husbands who buy their wives gaudy diamonds and Lexuses to aspirational Axe Body Spray and Miller Lite dude-bro meatheads.

We must look now to the example of Joseph Palmer, of Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Palmer has the distinction of being one of the only men in recent history, at least in the West, to be imprisoned for the crime of wearing a beard. The story comes down to us in the 1915 book Bronson Alcott’s Fruitlands, an account of an agrarian Utopian community of the same name.

You may read the whole account here — as it’s quite long I won’t reproduce it in its entirety, but it’s a fascinating read. However, here’s a summary as published in the 1965 book Fashions in Hair, by Richard Corson:

In 1830, at the age of forty-two, a quiet unobtrusive, God-fearing man named Joseph Palmer moved to Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Normally, such an event would have caused no great stir in the community, the newcomer would have settled down and been accepted, and life would have gone on as before. Only one thing prevented matters working out that way—Joseph Palmer wore a beard. And in 1830 beards were not worn in Fitchburg. Had he been merely passing through or stopping off for a few days, he would undoubtedly have been merely an object of curiosity and perhaps some thoughtless finger-pointing. But he had come to stay, to settle among these people, to become one of them; and this was intolerable. The unthinkable had happened—Fitchburg was harbouring a non-conformist.

Derision changed to outrage and outrage to anger. Palmer’s windows were repeatedly broken, and somehow the culprits were never found. Women crossed the street to avoid him, and their sons threw stones at him. Even the Reverend George Trask admonished him; and eventually, all else failing, the Church refused him communion.

Shortly afterward, Palmer was set upon in the street by four men, who threw him down, injuring his back, and attempted to shave him. Palmer managed to drive off the assailants with his pocket knife and was thereupon arrested, beard and all, for unprovoked assault. When he refused to pay the fine, he was imprisoned for a year in Worcester.

But this was not the end of his story. In prison he nourished his beard and wrote letters, which he managed, with the help of his son, to smuggle out. The letters protested that he had really been imprisoned not for assault, but for wearing a beard. They were published in various newspapers, the case was widely discussed, public opinion shifted to his side, and Joseph Palmer and his beard became a cause célèbre. After a time, he became such an embarrassment to the local constabulary that they suggested he forget the whole thing and go home. He refused as a matter of principle, saying that if they wanted him out, they’d have to carry him out. And that is what they finally had to do.

Before he died in 1875, Joseph Palmer had the satisfaction of seeing practically the entire male population bearded, including the local clergy.

Another excellent summary of the story, by Jon Dyer, includes the following picture of Palmer’s tombstone:

“Persecuted for wearing the beard.”

It’s not a stretch to look at Palmer’s adversaries — reactionary brutes intent on upholding conformist, truly arbitrary cultural standards who set upon a pacifist and locked him behind bars — and see reflected in their narrow minds today’s bumbling Wall Street greed-mongers.

It is not because of the misery those shallow wretches have wrought that we grow our beards; rather it is in defiance of their loud, glossy, waxy-cheeked corporate media (ironically, the components of which are created for pay by no doubt largely-hirsute creative types) that we proudly say:

“I am man! I grow hair! And you do not get to tell me I cannot.”


  • jsok

    Well said David, well said!

    Growing a beard is an emancipating feeling. I only wish I had the conviction of Mr Palmer to keep mine amidst the taunts and belittling. “You’re only 21, why do you want a beard for?”

  • joel

    There is a local band in Adelaide, Australia called “the beards”, their entire set is about beards, in particular I would recommend “I am going to start a beard revolution” from their self-titled album.
    yours (bearded hand in bearded hand),
    Joel

  • http://clubneko.net/ saintneko

    A large collection of facial hair can be seen in my flickr tagging expidition, Great Mustaches of the Library of Congress. Lincoln sadly is not featured because he wore a ‘stacheless beard, most other beards have fallen under my criterion. Please enjoy.

  • lgs

    Interesting timing… The other day the manager of the grocery store where I work posted a notice that all front-end employees – baggers and the like – have to shave before coming to work; beards/mustaches of any kind are no longer allowed. This sparked something of a mutiny among the mostly-high-school-age baggers, who have apparently spent considerable time cultivating their facial hair. Still, in this economy, keeping your job apparently trumps self-expression, so off went the beards…

    I’m female and didn’t have to worry about it, but I heard LOTS of complaints. A few guys claimed they couldn’t afford a razor and requested a raise, which didn’t work, and I think one felt strongly enough to quit. I must say, I don’t see what harm facial hair does, especially if it’s kept neat.

  • Timbo

    The new trend is beards on unemployed Wall Street executives. How the mighty have fallen.

    What’s next? Bare feet instead of italian shoes?

  • Gareth

    Vive la barba!

  • magicrobotmonkey

    hear hear!

  • http://logiston.com Barbara

    Speaking of beards in history, have you ever read the paper by WA Clouston “Beards of our Fathers” in his Flowers from a Persian Garden and Other Papers

  • Bryant

    Wow. Well, to each his own, of course – but do you think maybe you’re taking this whole beard thing just a touch too seriously? I mean, I see men both with and without beards all the time. I don’t imagine either side as being oppressed or brainwashed. It’s just a matter of personal choice these days, I think.

  • Chris

    This article was too long. It could have been written in three words: Facial hair February.

    Obviously a lot of people are participating.

  • James

    I don’t wear a beard because I am oppressed by my girlfriend.

  • http://www.dyers.org/blog/beard Jon

    Ok, I’m not sure that I knew there was a Big Razor conspiracy, but I’m definitely adding it to my list of insane ideas that I will claim to have believed in when they are proven true in the future.

    Well said.

  • A different James

    I love my beard as if it were a child.

  • Uncle Staple

    Up beards!!! Down with tyranny!!!

  • Zack

    Well stated – long live the beard!
    I would also like to point out that the article in question was written by a woman. While I have nothing but love for the other sex, I do not see how they could do justice to, or fully understand the growing of a beard (though many I know, have, what I refer to as, beard-envy). Furthermore, the article devolves from its presumed original intent (Hairy ECONOMIC Trend) into what amounts to a ‘romance’ column.
    ‘Dear Ms. Manners, My boyfriend has a beard – what should I do?!?’

    Brothers in Beards, I salute you.

  • http://cherisehawley.com/ LittleSnowFox

    You’re forgetting about one obvious influence- WONDERMARK! You’ve brought the beard back into fashion. How else could this have happened to suddenly?

  • Paul1963

    Back in 2000, I was on a week-long trip with friends and, as was my habit at the time, I opted not to shave because I was on vacation.
    By the fourth day, I thought I was looking kind of scruffy, but I didn’t want to shave clean. So I trimmed down to a goatee. It was pretty thin, but at least it looked like I was doing something other than just not shaving.
    Still got it nearly nine years later. It’s got a lot more gray in it (in fact, it’s the home of most of my gray), and I constantly have to trim it for symmetry, but it’s still there.

  • http://www.beardrevue.com mb

    Wow.

    A) Well stated. The argument for a correlation between beards and the economy is full of holes, to say the least. I like how you tied it into steadfast nobility and resistance.

    B) You would enjoy beardrevue.com, a site that has also reported on such matters — Palmer a bit ago and Matthew Saccoman (pictured at top) in the ensuing days.

    Cheers!

  • http://www.ohnocomics.com Vince LoGreco

    I am a big beard supporter. I wear one every year from October until April every year. Then it is a good stubble and a goatee the rest of the year.

  • sylvie

    You summed up perfectly how I’ve been feeling about the media and the economy with an essay on The Beard. I love you.

  • Sarge

    Down with the effeminate metrosexuals! Long live the bearded!

    Just like feminists fought for their rights, mens have to fight for their rights to have, grow and cultivate follicles!

  • Becka

    Although I personally don’t like beards (I’m female and I find them too scratchy to get close to) I totally support guys growing beards if they want to. Beards can make a pretty lame guy look more awesome and more power to you for rebelling against the Big Razor conspiracy. I can’t help but find some gender issues running rampant here though.
    Beards are becoming more and more prevalent for guys and it’s become more acceptable to sport a furry face but somehow it has still remained socially unacceptable for women to show similar disregard for hair trimming. Yes, I’ll admit that as a woman I probably have some sort of beard envy, mostly in that I wish I had the option to grow such hairs. But if I were to decide to stop say shaving my legs or waxing wherever, I’d be instantly branded as a hippie feminist who hates men. Guys have the ability to stop shaving and not instantly be branded as a lumberjack-mountain-man-hippie-guy.
    Basically to me it boils down to this: Women will continue to oppress beard wearing by men as long as men continue to oppress hairy legged women.
    I blame the media.

  • Katie

    Sing it sister!

    I might shave or maybe not that day and so what.
    Brothers, extend the bearded hand of friendship to your sisters! Let the hairy of the world unite!

    -And Blame ourselves if it’s not the way we like it.
    Television (and even the computer?) may be the new opiate of the masses, but the media has no power except that which we cede to it.