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American Facial Hair Throughout History

Men show the progression of popular facial hair in the USA.

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This video shows the history of popular facial hair styles in the USA.

View this video on YouTube

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Early 1800s - Clean-Shaven

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In the early 1800s, American men typically wore their faces clean-shaven. Barbers were commonly black men, who could become independently wealthy and were privy to secrets shared in the barbershop. As racial tensions in the U.S. grew towards the Civil War, white men became less comfortable with the black barbers’ position of power.

The black barber’s fall from favor coincided with increased popularity for white men to have less groomed looks. Men who shaved their own faces at this time risked tetanus and even death if their razor was not properly sterilized, and so facial hair came into fashion.

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1860s - Sideburns and Chin Curtain

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During the Civil War era, heavy sideburns (named after Civil War general Ambrose E. Burnside) and Abraham Lincoln-esque chin curtain beards were popular. However, it wasn’t just these two styles which were in fashion. In general, all facial hair was extremely popular for men in the late 1800s.

1900s - Handlebar Mustache

In the early 1900s, men began to prefer a more clean-shaven look again, this time with the occasional mustache. This trend has been linked with the fact that bacteria was first discovered around this time, and beards were thought to carry germs. Additionally, in 1910, the Gillette Company began encouraging men to shave daily, citing women’s appreciation for clean-shaven faces.

The 27th President, William Howard Taft (1909-1913), was the last president to embrace the mustache, rocking an iconic handlebar ‘stache. In fact, no presidents since Taft have worn any facial hair!

1930s - Toothbrush Mustache

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Prior to World War II, toothbrush mustaches were prominent. Charlie Chaplin was an iconic wearer of this mustache in the United States, showcasing it in well-known classic films like City Lights and Modern Times. However, this fashion was out of style by the end of the war, perhaps for obvious reasons.

1930s-40s - Pencil Mustache

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The pencil mustache, called that because it was “pencil-thin,” stretched across the upper lip with a space between the top of the mustache and the nose. Many dashing classic Hollywood stars wore the pencil mustache, including Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, and William Powell. Today’s most famous pencil mustache rests on the face of director John Waters.

1950s - The Goatee

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The goatee came into prominence in the 1950s. It was introduced into mainstream culture via counterculture movements like the beatniks, as well as soul and jazz musicians like Dizzy Gillespie, who had been around since the 1940s.

1980s - The Chevron

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The mustache came back into mainstream fashion during the 1980s, thanks to Tom Selleck’s mustache on the popular TV show Magnum, P.I. Tom Selleck’s mustache is called the chevron.

2010s - "Lumbersexuals"

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Today, various styles of facial hair are common throughout the world. Associated with “hipster” culture, the beard trend grew in the late 2000s. In recent years, the bearded, plaid shirt-wearing look has become so popular among American men that they have earned the nickname “lumbersexual.” A 2013 study by the Official Journal of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society found that men with full beards are seen as more attractive, healthier, better at parenting. and more masculine.

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