Historian Sean Trainor talks about beards in the 19th century on the NPR show “Backstory” . The distinction between beards and “whiskers” is new to me. And I wonder too if the popularity of beards now has similar roots to the popularity of beards in the 19th century — a response to an increasingly effiminiate culture and an emphasis on equality that undermines mens’ sense of their unique masculinity.
Click here to find the episode. Listen to the whole show (“American Apparel: A History of Fashion”) or down below you can just listen to the segment on beards.
2 thoughts on “Beards in 19th century America”
Interesting segment. The quotes that are read from the mid-19th century make me think that Neal Stephenson was not being entirely facetious when, in Cryptonomicon, he has a (ridiculous) character claim that beards are the white man’s way of flaunting privilege: “The ability to grow heavy, full beards as a matter of choice appears to be a privilege accorded by nature solely to white males [….] The boundary between Self and Environment is a social con[struct]. In Western cultures this boundary is supposed to be sharp and distinct. The beard is an outward symbol of that boundary, a distancing technique. To shave off the beard (or any body hair) is to symbolically annihilate the (essentially specious) boundary separating Self from Other….”
So are you suggesting that I grew a beard because in order to compensate for the squeegee in my shower? Guess Ill just cancel that mani-pedi…