Dec 18, 2015

When Facial Hair Gets Political

“Any boy can become president — unless he’s got a mustache.” ~ Thomas A. Dewey

Yesterday The New York Times posted an article about how the new Speaker of the House Paul Ryan growing a beard has caused a stir.

The power of hair as a vehicle to assert oneself in the world and to convoy unspoken values of any given age is undeniable. But who holds the answers to unlock these hidden hirsute rules? According to Tammy Haddad, a Washington media consultant and former political director of MSNBC, even though Mr. Ryan’s job “is the center of the entire political system, the beard shows that he’s not of Washington, he’s not part of the system.”

Did the beard always hold such outsider status? Perhaps not, but sporting facial hair was often seen as a political act. Beards among clergy were once serious, symbolic matters that at various times Church leaders either required or banned! And let us not forget that even clergy were not immune to the whims of fashion in their day.

Beards were fraught with shifting meaning in lay culture as well, as this 2013 article from The Atlantic points out. Considering a beard? It might serve you well to know your history.

"A Barber's Shop at Richmond, Virginia," from The Illustrated London News, March 9, 1861

 An 1853 Punch magazine sketch satirizes the "beard movement," an old lady is approached by helpful railway guards and
"concludes she is attacked by Brigands."

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