An article in the Telegraph on Thursday 17th April commented on the current fashion for full beards. A pognologist or beard scientist (you can get a degree in anything these days) has pointed to the whiskers sported by bearded tamarins to explain the recent trend, exemplified by The Hairy Bikers and what the journalist Christopher Howse has dubbed ‘The Hairy Allotment Holders’, for facial fur.
According to ‘negative frequency-dependent selection’, women find the beards of a few men sexy, so other men also grow beards. The popularity of beards not unexpectedly waned once all the men were growing them. In his article Howse writes that in the 20th century the beard disappeared, surviving in such out-of-the way bastions of conservatism as the royal family and the navy.
Of course there is absolutely nothing new in the changing fashion in beards. The Emperor Hadrian (AD 117-138) made beards popular at the Roman imperial court. Previously the Romans were clean shaven. The fashion can also be seen in the Emperor Gallienus’ rather uncomfortable looking ‘below the jawline’ beard in the 3rd century AD and the Emperor Julian’s full beard in the 4th century AD.
As something of an American Civil War fan, I am not against beards per se – see the impressive beards worn by Jeff Daniels or Tom Berenger in the film Gettysburg for instance, which surely set the gold standard in facial hirsuteness – but I agree with Howse in wishing that the beard fashion would peak. I am grateful to Keith for making the coins available from the Museum’s Numismatic collection. A very Happy Easter to all the readers of this blog.