To ease everyone back into the semester, Christopher Oldstone-Moore and the editors at Victorian Studies are bringing you some Friday fun. You can now read Oldstone-Moore's article "The Beard Movement in Victorian Britain" from Victorian Studies 48.1 for free. Since it's been a few years since the article was first published, Oldstone-Moore has provided us with on update on his latest beard scholarship. Check out "The Beard Movement in Victorian Britain" and then take a look at the latest issue of Victorian Studies for more fantastic scholarship!
By Christopher Oldstone-Moore, Wright State University
The article, “The Beard Movement in Victorian Britain,” was the first step in my plan to tell the story of beards in Western Civilization. I had a hunch that changing attitudes to facial hair over time reflected shifts in ideals of masculinity. My study of Victorian Britain demonstrated two things: that there was a surprising abundance of sources for such a history, and that my original hypothesis was correct. I could conclude that men were trying to redefine masculinity in the 1850s and 60s because men of that era were self-conscious enough to say so. It was, in other words, a true movement; that is, a deliberate effort to use facial hair to represent a more forthright and physical manliness.
Since the publication of the Victorian Studies article, I focused on the rest of Western history, finally completing Of Beards and Men: The Revealing History of Facial Hair. Here I chart four “beard movements” (2nd, 11th, 16th, 19th centuries) and try also to explain the prevalence of shaving for most of Western history. Shaving has been linked to the fundamental ideal of regulated masculinity properly linked to a social collective, while growing beards has been associated with periodic reorientation towards the a “natural” masculinity founded on the supposed moral and physical strengths of the male body.
All this is made more relevant by speculations about the dawn of a new bearded era in our own day. Facial hair is more in evidence, and has gained wider acceptance, than at any time in the past 120 years. A move towards hair in the sixties and seventies proved incomplete and temporary, and the questions now are whether our time is any different, and whether current anxieties about what it means to be a man in our gender-fluid era will provoke men to turn once again to hair to help them make a more impressive physical display.