Why do men grow beards?

Can't decide whether to grow a beard?

Can’t decide whether to grow a beard?
Image source: George Rudy

Roald Dahl hated beards. He thought they were unsightly and scruffy, and his character, Mr Twit, was the literary embodiment of this sentiment. Still, men all around the world disagree with this marvel of literature and there are beards aplenty. But why?

The simple answer is that some men just like beards, in the same way that I like football. But is there a deeper root to the love of facial fuzz?

Let’s start with the science.

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Movember style inspirations

It’s Movember – the month of moustache growing for men’s health awareness.

If you’re a ‘Mo bro’ – a member of the brethren, adorning your top lip for charity, you’ll probably be going through the itchy stage by now. So here’s a little food for thought to take your mind of that top lip tickle. What are you going to wear with your burgeoning tea strainer?

To give you some ideas, here we take a look at the men’s fashions that have followed the evolution of the mo’.

19th Century Renegade

hristo botev

A high collar and bow are must have pieces for this look
Source: Unknown author / Public domain

If you’re partial to a bit of steampunkery, you’ll no doubt relish the prospect of cultivating a spectacular Victorian style moustache, beard combo. But did you know that in the early days of Queen Victoria’s reign, moustaches and beards were frowned upon as the indulgence of revolutionaries? It wasn’t until the 1860s that facial hair became the must have accessory for the self respecting gent.

Pictured above is the Bulgarian rebel and national hero, Hristo Botev. To emulate the great man, you’ll have to practise beetling your brow and glaring with revolutionary zeal. Being throttled by your high starched collar and bow tie will probably help. This is a good look for those with luxuriant hair.

First World War Officer

Poppy field

Team with a poppy and wear with pride
Source: John Beniston (Palmiped) / CC BY

From 1860 to 1916 it was compulsory for British army officers to wear a moustache. The facial hair was seen then as a symbol of maturity, virility and manliness. The rule was relaxed in 1916 due to the difficulty hair causes in getting a good seal on a gas mask.

Other sources suggest the rule was dropped because it was so roundly ignored in the muddy misery of the trenches.

More poignantly it’s been suggested that as the war progressed, the age of young officers fell significantly. Eventually, those leading their men over the top were only capable of growing a smudge of down on their top lips. Perhaps it’s worth considering wearing a poppy with your mo’.


Sammy Davis Jr

Sammy Davis Jr and his pencil moustache
Source: Allan warren / CC BY-SA 

If you’re partial to swing, you could do worse than emulate the moustachioed look of 1960s brat pack member, Sammy Davis Junior.  Along with fellow entertainers, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford, he was the very epitome of chic. Well known for their excesses, members of the brat pack nevertheless took their work as professional entertainers extremely seriously – an assertion borne out by their impressive output of records, films and live shows.

And with those smooth sounds, razor sharp suits and quality shoes, boy have the rat pack stood the test of time. To stand any chance of emulating Sammy Davis Jnr – the so called ‘Mister Show Business’ – you’ll have to walk the walk as well as talk the talk, which means keeping your pencil moustache trimmed to perfection.

All Action Hero

Moving onto the 1970s and moustaches got considerably bushier. With his rugged good looks and trademark ‘chevron’ moustache, Burt Reynolds is probably the world’s finest exponent of the 70s ‘tache. Showing his age these days, the 77 year old actor has recently suffered failing health and a somewhat ‘iffy’ facelift.

But in his heyday, films like Deliverance, Gator and Smokey and the Bandit, made Reynolds a household name. If you want to ape his look opt for denim shirt and stetson, or as seen here, a button down shirt and leather jacket. Now that’s 70s cool.

Wear with Pride

Tom Selleck’s moustache is famous
Image: photo by Alan Light / CC BY

Fashions come and go – and we’re still waiting for the renaissance of the moustache in popular fashion. Perhaps the last time the ‘face ferret’ was in vogue was the 1980s. Freddie Mercury was never without one and Eddie Murphy frequently sported one. But perhaps the era’s most glorious soup strainer belonged to the American actor, Tom Selleck, star of the smash hit TV series, Magnum PI.

Set in Hawaii, the star of the series is Selleck’s beach bum private investigator, Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV. He’s a sleuth with a penchant for aloha shirts and deck shoes – a good look but perhaps suitable only for Mo Bro’s planning a late autumn sun holiday.

Fancy joining in? Head over to the Movember website and find out more.