It’s no secret that we at The Rugged Bros think that facial hair truly makes the man. That’s not just vanity or chest beating – it’s backed up by history and research.
A man’s beard defines him and determines how other people see him. That’s been a pattern throughout human history as biology has combined with different cultures and religions to shape what beards signify.
Today’s resurgence of beard growing is not just some fad. And it’s definitely not just modern laziness. It’s rooted in history, showing us that we bearded bros are really no different than our illustrious bearded forebears throughout history.
If you have a beard yourself, as you read this you’ll no doubt feel strong kinship with the dudes who’ve gone before you. You may also gain some good knowledge to push back against people who say your beard is just a shallow, copycat fashion fad.
If you’re thinking of growing a beard, be inspired by a long history of rugged greatness.
Beards have been around since homo sapiens first walked the planet. And they’ll continue to exist as long as humans do.
From culture to culture and century to century, attitudes towards beards have varied as much as beard styles have. Cultural and religious beliefs have definitely been major factors from ancient times to this day. In many cultures, beards signify strength, sexual prowess, maturity, wisdom, dominance, status and character. Beards have also been influenced by wars, fashion, economic circumstances – even pandemics.
Simple biology dictates that facial hair shows off masculinity and virility. Just about every boy who playfully puts on a fake beard feels more like a man. It’s still the same today as grown men want to reconnect with their basic masculinity.
Since WWII, beards have become less about any faith or allegiance and more about individual expression, but still based on many of the same factors that have driven beards for millennia.
The views in some circles that beards are unhygienic and uncivilized have been disproven by science and are thankfully dying out. Studies like this 2014 one show bearded men are seen as more trustworthy. Furthermore, the late 20th century myth about a clean-shaved face being more “professional” has gone the way of the Dodo.
A beard also builds confidence for a guy who wants to hide or enhance certain features.
There’s even a huge element of male bonding!
From Egypt to Israel, Rome to Greece, China to Japan, ancient history bristles with beards.
Many religions like Judaism are filled with scripture prohibiting shaving/trimming. Some civilizations, like the Israelites, also used beards to make themselves easier to recognize in battle against clean-shaven enemies. Go Team Beard!
The great ancient Mesopotamians oiled and nourished their beards, much like we do today. Legends!
In ancient Egypt, leader figures grew beards as a sign of rank and even colored them.
In India, a long beard showed wisdom and was revered. Cutting off a man’s beard was a shameful punishment for breaking rules.
In China, the wise Confucius said the body was a precious gift that shouldn’t be messed with, which included not shaving facial hair. Even the amazing Terracotta Army, dating from 200 BC and rediscovered in 1974, features masses of beards and mustaches.
The ancient Greeks saw a clean-shaven face as effeminate and a beard as virile and wise. Meanwhile, the nearby Spartans used cutting off beards as a punishment for cowardice.
As for ancient Rome, they didn’t even know about shaving for a looooong time until Scipio Africanus changed that around 200 BC, making clean-shaven the norm. It’s no wonder the Roman Empire fell!
And it’s impossible to deny that many bros today grow beards for reasons that are strikingly similar to their ancient ancestors.
In medieval times, knights wore beards as a sign of honor, nobility and battle-hardened power. Most of the nobles and many kings sported beards as well. Meanwhile, the celibate clergy shaved their faces.
Into the 1700s, beards essentially disappeared for reasons made up by dictatorial rulers and power-brokers. They started spreading it around that beards were uncivilized, rough and associated with lower working classes.
It wasn’t until about the 1830s that men pushed back against this bogus myth and resprouted. (Much like today’s beard movement that has pushed back the “professionalism” myths of the late 20th century.) Sideburns bushed out and mustaches became the thing for tough soldiers.
1850 onwards was a golden age for facial hair. The pictures are spectacular as every noble gentleman sported the most astounding thick beards, sideburns and mos.
Once again, masculinity and virility drove the beard revolution. There was a deliberate push to associate a beard with manliness, especially in Britain as it faced war threats from France. British military beards contrasted with the clean-shaven French, boosting confidence and enthusiasm. Military officers, politicians and Lords with beards were seen as strong, fatherly, and even beautiful. What’s more, the ability to grow a beard wasn’t confined to the ruling class – it was open to all men. Just like it is today!
During the industrial revolution, as manufacturing exploded, the beard was seen as a filter or “respirator” against damaging dust, soot and germs. It was a safeguard against extreme cold and sunshine. It was even claimed by some to prevent toothache.
Plus many dudes just didn’t trust barbers with their cut-throat razors. (Did somebody mention Sweeney Todd?)
If you look at guys in the late 1800s, almost everyone had facial hair. By the 1970s, clean-shaven was the norm. But as they say, every fashion comes around again eventually. And beards did just that!
The 20th century saw a lot more mustaches than beards. In the first half of the 1900s, handlebars of all shapes and sizes were hugely popular, along with pencil ‘staches like Clark Gable’s. After Hitler, the toothbrush mustache fashion disappeared, for obvious reasons.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the beatniks and hippies pushed back against conformity and beards became popular in artistic circles. Thank you, guys!
The ‘70s saw the awesome handlebar (“horseshoe”) mustache become popular, while the ‘80s were about the chevron mustache. (Think Tom Selleck.)
In the early 2000s, full facial hair began emerging again as 5 o’clock shadow stubble developed and became manicured. This paved the way for the welcomed return of full beards.
The beard resurgence of today is about much more than just fashion. As people have pushed individualism and cultural traditions, “rules” have crumbled (like the workplace collar and tie) and the beard has re-emerged as the bold symbol of leadership and freedom of expression.
The quest to be “me” has broken down many norms and allowed guys to openly embrace their masculinity. Beards have provided an outlet to explore being a man again in ways that go far beyond stereotypical chest beating and beer swilling. Even the Canadian military now allows beards, and not just for religious reasons.
Today we see beards in every aspect of life. And we see so many shapes, sizes and styles as dudes express their individual ruggedness. Yet still the reasons for growing a beard remain strongly connected to many of the same biological and cultural reasons that guided beards of history.
Beard growing during COVID restrictions has exploded. The reasons for this go beyond laziness and not being around other people. Believe us, a quarantine beard is so much more than just the face’s “sweatpants”.
Long gone is the myth that a beard is magnet for germs and disease, which guided a mass movement of shaving during the 1919 influenza pandemic and influenced thinking for decades, as if being clean shaven meant being responsible, professional, even youthful and healthy.
While some dudes during COVID have definitely given up shaving/trimming out of curiosity or lack of interaction, there’s also the “quest beard” phenomenon at work. Sometimes men grow beards to bond, especially during challenges. Look at the playoff beards among hockey teams, for instance. Such a beard is about coming together with commitment and strong will.
There’s even the basic idea that a man growing a pandemic beard feels more manly and better equipped for challenges that lie ahead.
So, whatever your reason for growing a beard, embrace it proudly. Whether you want to honor your heritage, attract a mate, express your individualism or just change your look, history backs you to the hilt.
Just whatever you do, we beg you… please care for your beard regularly and thoroughly. Rugged doesn’t have to mean careless or gross.
Beard on proudly, bro!