Synopses & Reviews
Beardsandmdash;theyandrsquo;re all the rage these days. Take a look around: from hip urbanites to rustic outdoorsmen, well-groomed metrosexuals to post-season hockey players, facial hair is everywhere. The New York Times
traces this hairy trend to Big Apple hipsters circa 2005 and reports that today some New Yorkers pay thousands of dollars for facial hair transplants to disguise patchy, juvenile beards. And in 2014, blogger Nicki Daniels excoriated bearded hipsters for turning a symbol of manliness and power into a flimsy fashion statement. The beard, she said, has turned into the padded bra of masculinity.
Of Beards and Men makes the case that todayandrsquo;s bearded renaissance is part of a centuries-long cycle in which facial hairstyles have varied in response to changing ideals of masculinity. Christopher Oldstone-Moore explains that the clean-shaven face has been the default style throughout Western historyandmdash;see Alexander the Greatandrsquo;s beardless face, for example, as the Greek heroic ideal. But the primacy of razors has been challenged over the years by four great bearded movements, beginning with Hadrian in the second century and stretching to todayandrsquo;s bristled resurgence. The clean-shaven face today, Oldstone-Moore says, has come to signify a virtuous and sociable man, whereas the beard marks someone as self-reliant and unconventional. History, then, has established specific meanings for facial hair, which both inspire and constrain a manandrsquo;s choices in how he presents himself to the world.
This fascinating and erudite history of facial hair cracks the masculine hair code, shedding light on the choices men make as they shape the hair on their faces. Oldstone-Moore adeptly lays to rest common misperceptions about beards and vividly illustrates the connection between grooming, identity, culture, and masculinity. To a surprising degree, we find, the history of men is written on their faces.
andldquo;Written in a very lively, witty, and accessible manner, Of Beards and Men is ambitious and compelling, surveying an impressive amount of material across a broad sweep of time. It wears its learning lightly, and Oldstone-Mooreandrsquo;s fluid and witty prose makes the book eminently readable. A real page-turner!andrdquo;
andldquo;To shave or not to shave, that is the question. Oldstone-Mooreandrsquo;s crackling collage of historical beard-abilia gave me new found respect for my scruff.andrdquo;
andldquo;Beards have always been about power, politics and how men perform notions of masculinity in a given era. Oldstone-Moore fills in some of the missing history with a scholarly and entertaining pogonological romp from pre-history to the post-modern.andrdquo;
Faces are said to be an index of character, the most public part of us.and#160; Christopher Oldstone-Moore proposes that the history of men is literally written on their faces, and his book makes it easy to see how historical eras can be identified by facial hairandmdash;think of Hadrianandrsquo;s Rome, or the kings and aristocrats of the high Middle Ages, or Tudor period andldquo;spade beards,andrdquo; or the Victorian period in England (and also the U.S. at the same timeandmdash;Walt Whitman sneered that andldquo;washes and razors for foo-foos . . . for me, freckles and a bristling beardandrdquo;).and#160; The result, here, is a consistently fascinating andldquo;male-pattern history.andrdquo;and#160;and#160; We witness a long-running battle by men (and a few women) to eradicate or shape the hair on their faces.and#160; Shaving plays as prominent a role in this history as beards do since the basic language of facial hair is built on the contrasts of shaved and unshaved hair; Oldstone-Moore insists we must take the long view to understand the underlying influences working on the male face.and#160; We are treated to a most sweeping history indeed, from the beards of Mesopotamia and Egypt to contemporary metrosexuals, Brooklyn-style hipsters, athletic teams (Red Sox, for sure, but also, this year, both Kansas City and San Francisco).and#160; Beard movements (instituted to combat what some men saw as a world of andldquo;woman-faced menandrdquo;) alternate with shaven faces, notably the period ushered in by Alexander the Great or the medieval Church ideal of clean-shaven clergy. Is it a sign of loss of control over the self to be bearded (cf. Enlightenment views), or, contrarily, is a huge beard a signal of authority, health, an ultimate symbol of masculinity (cf. Victorian presumptions).and#160; Nowadays, the fear of beards is receding, facial hair is taken to be a token of entrepreneurial daring, and beards are becoming acceptable in the boardroom.and#160; Want more signs?and#160; New York trendoids are paying $8000 and up for facial hair transplants (to fill out their patchy beards).and#160; Beards are back in business.and#160;
About the Author
Christopher Oldstone-Moore is a senior lecturer in history at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.