The great Victorian beard craze

Crimean War 1854-56
Crimean War 1854-56. Image credit: Robertson James, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In the mid-19th Century, men throughout North America and Europe began doing something most had never done before. They abandoned their barbers, left patented safety razors rusting on bathroom shelves and began growing facial hair.

They were not merely growing the well-coiffed whiskers and neat moustaches hitherto deemed acceptable, but cultivating enormous whiskers that connected to huge, bushy beards and left just about enough space between them and the ever-expanding moustache to allow the owner to eat and speak.

In Britain the return of the beard (the full beard had last been in vogue in Tudor times) was thanks to the Crimean War of 1854-56. Beards had been banned in the British army until this time, but the freezing temperatures of Crimean winters, and the impossibility of getting shaving soap, led to a necessary change.

By the time the last troops returned home, beards were the mark of a hero. Men who had never seen any military action began to grow beards. Within a few years, it was almost impossible to see a beard-free male face in Victorian Britain – except in Buckingham Palace, as Prince Albert refused to conform to the fashion. […]

First published on 17th November 2014. Read full article on BBC News Magazine.