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During the Renaissance, the beard was the defining feature of a man (historytoday.com)
77 points by prismatic 51 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 121 comments

Safety razor was invented around WWII [0] and that is probably linked to the requirements of wearing a gas mask. Probably has something to do with the change in fashion.

Fun fact; often there is a general ban on beards in underground coal mines because the miners need to be able to wear gas masks.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Razor#History

It's the same way in chemical plants that handle H2S or other dangerous chemicals. I've always had a beard, but I'd have to shave it when installing or servicing our equipment in those plants.

Firefighters also aren't allowed to grow beards for the same reason.

WWI, not II

Beards went in and out of fashion a lot between the Renaissance and WWII.

Yeah, IIRC the Greeks were big into beards, while the Romans shave them most of the time.

I mean in between the renaissance and WWII the fashion has changed a lot.

They declined during the early modern period, took off after 1850, went out of fashion in the early 20th century, were common place in the 60's and 70's, and declined again until the recent revival this century.

The idea of "four great beard movements" seems like an odd framing.

Another way to look at it is that periodically the somewhat-unnatural act of shaving becomes fashionable.

This article has the Renaissance in its title, but then continues to discuss the Elizabethan period. Shakespeare != Renaissance.

With a picture from 1881 at the top to boot.

Also, what about the rest of the world. This is just specific European history. Seems pretty exclusionary.

Do we have a lot of records about the Inuit Renaissance?

We know they didn't have large bushy European beards.

I've typically had a beard, because I hate shaving. Or rather, because I have both a bristly beard and sensitive skin. And no, shaving every day for years didn't "toughen up" my face.

Safety razors tend to be quite rough, and the canned foam offers little protection. Consider using a double edged razor and better cream (my personal usage is a merkur handle w/ feather blade, and cremo cream; a fairly cheap and effective set)

I think safety razors and double edged are the same thing.

But yeah those multi blade cartridges are rather bad, not to mention expensive. I've seen a pack of cartridges with 6 or 8 blades each for $7 a piece recently. Not sure how much they last, but my DE blade lasts for months and costs $0.10 a piece... That "investment" in a $15 DE razor will keep paying off forever...

EDIT: that life time estimate is on the basis that I shave like one a week though, if you shave daily you'll go through a few $0.10 blades in a month maybe :)

How frequently do you shave? Months from a blade seems pretty atypical.

I get about the same lifespan from a good safety/double edge blade as I used to from a Mach III blade, but with less irritation and lower cost (though my safety razor was unnecessarily expensive so it took a while to actually pay off). I would guess I get 5ish shaves out of a blade before it’s worth it to me to replace it.

I get more than five per blade, but it is hard to keep track, since I shave once a week or so. Probably depends a lot on hair type and tolerance for dull blades.

Another point for DE, they don't clog on a week's stubble, I had to whack the cartridge I used before on every move. I actually broke the handle eventually.

My uncle shaves twice a day and gets a single day per $0.10 Feather blade. That said, only the Feather gets 2 shaves in before it gives up, so it's worth the slightly higher cost.

Thanks. But that ship has sailed.

I do not want to see what my face looks like, now.

You'd be surprised. I've seen tons of men shave beards and instantly look 10-20 years younger. And my personal experience is that the years spent shaving my face and then applying balm means I was getting carded well into my late 20s until last year.

If you ever did want to shave your beard, have a professional do it first and then maintain it with your own razor. And try different blades if you go with a double-edge safety razor. GP uses Feather, but Feather blades cut the crap out of my face. I've also used Gillette Silver Blue, which irritate my neck but work pretty well otherwise. And I've settled on Gillette Platinum which work really well for my face even dull.

Another tip is getting the water hot enough to make a good lather. A lot of modern apartment buildings set the water heaters low enough that I can't get a good lather, so I usually have to boil water in an electric kettle and then mix it down to a good shaving temperature.

It's totally worth it.

+1 on the hot water. Also, use it on your face. Wash your face thoroughly to get rid of the dirt that can cause the razor to slide unevenly. Then try to wait to let that warm water soften the skin. Drag the razor gently across the face. A sharp razor blade should be able to cut without you applying pressure. A 30 degree angle is best for safety razors.

Finally, rub your stubble to get a sense of which direction your hair grows. Shave with the grain before shaving against it.

For me, it'd be the jowls. I know that they're there. But I just don't want to see them.

If I did shave, I'd probably go with an electric razor. For some years, I just used an electric clipper. I kept both head and face at 2-5 mm.

I had the same problem. A double edged razor is better than a safety razor, but still problematic. I finally said fuck it and keep it trimmed to about 1/8 inch. As an added bonus, several women have complimented me on it.

Yeah, that's the simplest solution. You can miss a few days, and not see the difference.

I've had a beard continuously since December of 2005, which is when I went on leave prior to separating from the military. Being required to shave (essentially) every single day, under the threat of the UCMJ, was sufficient motivation to forego shaving for the last ~14 years. I'll probably wear a beard for the rest of my life. I still say to people frequently, "No, it's less a beard and more that I just stopped shaving." Yes, indeed, I also genuinely hate shaving.

Have you tried an electric razor?

Yes. That was best for me. Although I had to replace the blades every few months.

You don't need to read much ancient literature to know that beards have always been associated with manliness. Going out on a limb here, but my guess is that's because typically only adult men can grow them. Shocking I know.

Anyway, it's not particular to the Renaissance at all.

And the foregone conclusion in the article:

"The dramatic uses of the sign of Renaissance masculinity par excellence – the beard – reveal how precarious, provisional and potentially groundless the ideology of early modern masculinity was, the very ideology upon which the sign-system of the stage relied. As we look at today’s hipsters – beards, man-buns and tattoos aplenty – we may also wonder what lies beneath the surface of the identities that they construct."

Appears the writer confuses criticism with competence. It's the conceit of modern academia. Yawn.

I'm sure this is a misunderstanding. I believe the author means to remind us that fashion and gender norms are arbitrary and performed, not to say that the hipsters chose theirs' _wrong_. Societal standards of masculinity are of particular interest here because they capricious, mutable, and especially likely to result in ass-kickings.

In conclusion the author encourages us to reflect on the difference between the person and the performance, and hold our assumptions lightly. You are not your beard.

It seems a little clinical and dehumanizing. I wonder how people would react to similar writing about women:

"The dramatic uses of the sign of Renaissance femininity par excellence – the hairdo – reveal how precarious, provisional and potentially groundless the ideology of early modern femininity was, the very ideology upon which the sign-system of the stage relied. As we look at today’s hipsters – hairdos, cardigans and makeup aplenty – we may also wonder what lies beneath the surface of the identities that they construct."

That sounds like an equally valid criticism to me, but if you're sense of prudence suggests that some people might not want to hear it from a dude, so does mine. It's understandable that people sometimes feel like their being attacked en masse by outsiders when we talk about this, but I think we're better off if we're able to talk about it civilly.

Looking and dressing "right" is hard for some people. Approaching our expectations with a more removed perspective helps, but does tend to sound clinical. For what it's worth my gf complains about this kind of stuff in a way that sounds similar to me, but using somewhat less high-brow language. :)

EDIT: I asked gf what she thought of that paragraph: "meh i don't give shit it's fine." Then I asked if she thought a man could get away with saying it: "probably not on the internet LOL". n=1.

They'd say it's "tone-deaf", to borrow the lexicon.

In case my comment was ambiguous, this article was a pretext for a critic to repeat a trope wrapped in trivia, and an attempt to conflate their opinion with insight. It begged mockery.

To address it directly, the article was a vehicle for a criticism of the legitimacy of masculine traits without demonstrating any competence in embodying them, making it a petty complaint wrapped in academ-ese.

If gender norms were arbitrary, anyone could be a good man, even a great one, and yet even though this is allegedly arbitrary, there are still so few of them. What the author views critically as "performance" is the effect of their embodiment, just as music is not arbitrary and merely performed, but the effect of the skill of the performer. This trope that masculinity is merely performitive is like saying Rachmaninoff or Arthur Rubinstein were just actors. It's the artifact of a dissociated hall of mirrors worldview that has seized intellectuals who have no grounding in physicality and competence. All I can add is, sure, totally performitive.

Having a critical theory of music does not make one a musician, and playing some show tunes doesn't make you a great one. While the listener is free to like or dislike it, the author's opinion carries about as much weight as any other complaint.

I do agree that a man is certainly not his beard, in fact to have one is a statement that he is more magnificent than his beard, which, given modern grooming concoctions, is a very bold statement to make indeed.

What makes hipsterdom so laughable is that their beards are more remarkable than their achievements. What makes this article laughable is the author can't tell the difference.

I would regret if my views were not presented clearly.

I think tactical nihilism fits this well: https://pics.me.me/the-legendary-blade-of-tactical-nihilism-...

I don't see criticism [of bearded hipsters, I suppose you mean] in that last paragraph. But it was disappointing because it hints at something but says nothing.

So what does that mean for that famous picture of the non bearded "Honeyed Cat" (a famous Condota / Mercenary then)

It honestly comes off as thinly-veiled misandry (wouldn't be surprising as the author is a woman). Would this be appropriate to say about cultural things around celebrating a young girl being a full-grown woman?

The byline does indeed indicate it was written by a woman, but I've seen similar misandristic critical writing from men too.


Wikipedia defines misandry as "the hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against men or boys". You don't think anyone has ever felt hateful, contemptuous, or prejudiced against men or boys?



Since Asians are the global majority, discrimination against them is impossible?

I find it interesting that the power + prejudice view is selectively enforced only at certain scales of power. Global? No. National? Depends upon the nation. Local? No. It is almost like the application of the definition assumes the power structure in the average US college town was representative world wide.

That's not possible. Reverse racism isn't real because it's just 'racism' and there's no reverse about it. Misandry is specific.


This is not a scientific apology for racism, it's not even an apology.

The reason I linked it is because it argues that if you think reverse racism doesn't exist, you're probably right, but only because you're using a definition of racism which is biased or functionally useless.

I think this thread shows the argument extends to sexism. Does that mean misandry is a systemic issue on the scale of misogyny? Probably not. Does it exist and does it hurt people? Yes. Does denying that trivialize other people's experiences, exacerbate groupthink, and make you look like an ass? Yes.

"Reverse racism" is often worth an eye-roll in the same way rich people complaining about anti-wealth discrimination is, but not because the phenomena can't be real or even genuinely threatening on occasion. Because while no privilege makes you invulnerable, some burdens are chronic/systemic. Situational racism is different in degree than systemic racism.

Binary gender roles are a bit different IMO. Without making a judgment about who has it "worse," it's probably fair to say that there are systemic privileges and burdens members of each experience. Misandry might be one way of referring to one side of one side of that.


If for some reason the word "misandry" hacks your brain, consider the term "intersectionality." If you understand it, then you understand it's possible to hold some privileges and be systemically burdened at the same time. You understand that holding power and suffering prejudice aren't single dimension matters, nor are they exclusive. You might even understand that they're a function of more than various identity markers.

Or... maybe you're just in this to lol at windmills with one-sentence drive-by insulting comments. How would anyone here know?

How is an article about the role of beards in history “thinly-veiled misandry”? What’s with the MGTOW/redpill language?

Well, talking about "the ideology of early modern masculinity" as "precarious, provisional and potentially groundless" could be taken as misandry. But I suppose that one could say similar things about femininity and various aspects of female anatomy.

I think that it's mostly about people altering their appearance to influence others.

>What’s with the MGTOW/redpill language?

I don't think it helps to jump to conclusions and start slinging labels. Doesn't advance the conversation. Like if someone expressed some innocuous belief held by republicans and was accused of being a white supremacist because some white supremacists are republicans. That's the death of civil discourse.

Anyone have any luck growing a beard after a lifetime of not being able to? My dad could grow one after 40 but no such luck for me. Also I had a few bad sunburns under my chin snowboarding and I wonder if I triggered something like an electrolysis effect. I've noticed that some things like drinking alcohol seem to stimulate brief growth but it's not a permanent fix hah. Also I've read that testosterone levels today are much lower than what the baby boomers had, but I don't know how scientific that is. I haven't been to a doctor to get my T level checked, just curious.

I thought I couldn't grow a beard for forever until I followed some advice to just give it three months to fill in natural bald spots. Looks great now that I gave it the chance to actually grow instead of just giving up after 3-4 weeks.

I’ve kept a beard since my late teens, and frankly it never occurred to me that some men may not be able to grow one. This has me curious. Do you mean it literally doesn’t grow, as in you don’t even need to shave - or just that it looks thin or uneven when you let it grow?

I know people that have the eternal babyface. At most, a few chin hairs but otherwise smooth. Some people just don't have the genetics for a beard.

Beards are linked to hair patterns, for some, beards don't really begin to sprout until you start losing some up top. A lot of european-descent men (and others) can't really grow a full beard until their 40s, that is very common.

I'm 42, and can only grow a mustache and a scragly looking goatee. I'm a small guy, due to health issues, but I also have my testosterone checked for the same health issues, and it is normal. Either it's a combination of more issues (digestion perhaps? I have issues there) or it could be genetic (I'm 1/8 Native American, for example)

I'm the same age, kind of a taller guy because I'm 1/2 Swedish. You bring up a good point about digestive issues, because I've definitely had them over the past few years and I think they were brought on by bodybuilding supplements and/or stress. At one point my eyebrows thinned pretty severely and I think it was due to anxiety/burnout at my job. I'm wondering if beards are held in such high esteem because they are an indicator of overall constitution like face symmetry or straight teeth.

it's probably something as basic as making your chin look bigger

I wasn't able to grow a beard until my late 20s.

By the time I hit 30, I was able to keep a decent goatee, but not a full beard. That didn't happen until a few years later.

Now my wife likes my full beard, and won't let me shave it off. Although she does like me to keep it shorter rather than longer.

You're not alone though I have never let it bother me. My father had a full beard and my brother can grow one too. I can't. My facial hair amounts to a rather crappy goatee. Though I've learned to work with it or use a clean shaven look.

I'm 27, and I can say my ability to grow a beard has slowly improved, though I don't have anything full. That said, I do have a twin brother who can. I have a few marks on my face, so maybe your theory is on to something!

If you are not afraid of a little experimentation check out /r/Minoxbeards on reddit.

Perhaps part of the increasing popularity of beards is to hide the weak chin and jawline that can be a result of low testosterone and is presumably more prevalent due to the secular generational testosterone decline?

I'm pretty sure that characterization of Aristotle is bullshit. Sadly, there is a great deal that Aristotle is slanderously impugned with and mischaracterized with, including his views of women. It's a game of historian telephone and shoddy scholarship, it seems. In this case, if there's even a whiff of authenticity to the claim, it would seem that Aristotle's thoughts on development may have been given an uneducated "normative reading", i.e., one in which the author attempts to once again reinforce the idea that Aristotle was a silly bigot that we, in all our modern wisdom, should scoff at and dismiss as an unsophisticated rube.

Anyway, what's the point of this article? All I see is some woman swinging a gender ideology axe around looking for something to hit with an hazy insinuation or superficial remark. I honestly couldn't care less about hipster beards and no one claims that beards make a man a man, only that beards are a male feature.

One of the pellets in this scattershot is basically, because sometimes beards are associated with being a man, and sometimes being clean-shaven is associated with being a man, there are surely no cross-cultural or cross-temporal ideals about masculinity at all and being a man can be completely redefined by lecturers in early modern masculinity or whoever.

That being said, as someone who can't grow a great beard, I'll always have the Romans; can't blame it on gas masks or TV ads back then.

> Anyway, what's the point of this article?

To sell the author's new book.

This article is trying to say that because the theatre used beards as a symbol of manliness, the entire male identity revolved around beards. This is ridiculous.

Hoopskirts were used to represent matronly women in early American theatre: therefore women gathered around these laughable garments as a symbol of their femininity.

Article makes it sound as if beardlessness is some kind of default? Not sure if true

Stop shaving and let us know how that turns out.

It's been a while since I've lived in a western city - is the bearded hipster still a thing? My gut tells me it must have passed its expiry date by now, but I'm not sure.

Yes it's still a thing. I don't even think it's decreased, society just seems to care less about them than before. Because hipsters are "growing up", and so are the people who criticised them in the first place, you don't hear about it as much anymore. ("criticised" seems like the wrong word, but I can't think of another that fits).

I have a theory that lazy/poor/busy modern men are the reason that beards are back in style. Economic factors contribute to trends pretty often.

It's much easier to keep clean shaven than it is to maintain a beard, so beards are not the ideal choice for the lazy man. It's also much less time consuming to shave, so neither are they the ideal choice for the busy man. Razors are the cheapest facial hair grooming tool, so not the ideal choice for the poor man either. They type of lazy/poor/busy man that would wear a beard would likely not be clean shaven on a daily basis regardless.

EDIT: To clarify, I'm talking about kempt facial hair, which is implied by the context of both the article in question and the comment that I'm responding to. Anyone can be unkempt, but that is never stylish.

I have worn a beard nearly continuously for approaching three decades, now.

I used to keep my beard neat enough with a pair of scissors, a mirror, and few minutes every few days. Then I got a wet-dry trimmer that I used periodically in the shower. Now I'm just growing it out (about 5 months in), and I work a dab of shampoo in occasionally.

Beard maintenance really isn't that onerous. I spend vastly more time grooming my untrimmed whiskers than I ever spent trimming them. Being clean-shaven takes significantly more frequent effort, and though I have no data points, given all the process involved in shaving, it probably takes a lot more time, all-in, too.

EDIT: Phrasing

I keep my beard clean. And I brush it occasionally during the day. I also trim split ends, as needed. Other than that, it does what it wants.

I have a beard precisely because it’s trivial for me to maintain. I trim it down to 3/8 inch maybe once every two weeks, and clean up my neck in 30 seconds with the trimmer about once a week.

Yeah sure it’s not a flowing 5 inch beard, but it’s still a beard. Point is, short beards require much less maintenance to consistently look well groomed than shaving every day in my experience.

Most beards that I see are not maintained in the slightest.

I would argue that depends very much on what you consider maintained...

Also, of course, the growth rate of the beard. I knew a man once who said he used to act in theatre and was often cast as the young lover type, and had to shave during intermission...

You might be talking about long beards taking some effort to maintain but keeping some 5-15 mm stubble is pretty convenient and fast with an electric trimmer and changeable blades.

What about hipster kind bearded guys ? I see a lot a of Barbershop popping up while it wasn't really part of the Parisian culture much (I may be wrong though) and people actually spending time and money on their beardss.

Isn't it almost a cliche that trends start in the underclasses and spread to the wealthy?

I see plenty of factors:

- fashion cycles, there was a need for a new one..

- vintage revival, fancy trimmed beards were a big thing in the previous 20s

- young people wanting to make their own shop, so they jump on the bandwagon

...generally its the opposite, no?

Hip-hop? Jeans? Even the little black dress (maids' uniforms)?

Historically, ordinary people copied bourgeoisie who copied aristocracy who copied the king. Only very recently the trend has changed.

I don't use these places but if you don't like shaving every morning, it's more convenient to pop in there time to time to correct it. When it's messy, you're still fashionable at least for now not unhygienic or lazy.

Just an additional data point, wanted to add that barbershops have also started to appear in considerable numbers in Bucharest, we definitely didn’t have them in the past.

Same in Poland... and everywhere, really. I think the culprit is gentrification, to be fair. These new eave of barber shops all look exactly the same, with the red/blue/white little column at the door and wooden forniture inside. It's just a standardized, international general trend, in my opinion.

Interesting, it's probably spreading large due to internet too, now trends are on instagram .. not only in one geographical place.

Based on the I know and hair dresser in my area, since ww2, it was mostly haircut shops in Paris, almost no barbershops if at all.

> wanted to add that barbershops have also started to appear in considerable numbers in Bucharest, we definitely didn’t have them in the past.

I'm a bit confused, do Romanians not typically have their hair cut by a professional or is there another term than "barber" / "barbershop."

> I'm a bit confused, do Romanians not typically have their hair cut by a professional or is there another term than "barber" / "barbershop."

He’s talking about hipster barbershops for men with the same decor as you would find in trendy neighborhoods of American cities. The hairdresser is likely to be a man and the price high. These barbershops are a new arrival in Romania (and most European countries). Of course in Romania we have always had our hair cut by a professional, but historically we have relied on unglamorous, hole-in-the-wall establishments where the hairdresser is a woman and the cost (at least for men) is minuscule.

Unlike hair (unless you opt for very straight forward buzz cuts) a beard is much easier to trim at home by yourself. I mean you can always go for profi-services but you don’t have to. I’ve been cutting my own hair (easy thanks to the fact that it’s basically close to shaved) and trimming my own beard for years.

Went to a barbershop once and despite clearly explaining and even showing pictures of what I want it ended up looking so horrendous (and impossible to fix since it looked like it was drawn with a thin pencil) that I decided to just do it myself. I’m very happy with the result and the whole thing takes 10, maybe 15 mins.

Downside: it’s not forgiving if you mess up :).

How quickly people forget.

Across most of Europe, haircut shops and barbershops used to be the same thing all the way to the late 80s.

An opposing theory would be that more and more people are breaking away from 9 to 5 office jobs, that mostly require short hair and shave.

Independent, rich and alike unemployed people can dress and style themselves however they like. So it's hard to tell.

Yeh, and of the ones that do work, employers have gotten much more permissive about appearance. When I first entered the workforce if you had an unkempt beard, visible tattoos, unnatural hair color, or piercings you were almost entirely unemployable. Nowadays I see people with all four not only employed, but employed in customer service positions!!!

My friend was the exception - when we were younger she was allowed to work with a lip piercing, but only because she worked at Spencer's!

I've always had a long beard, as did my father, grandfather, great grandfather, and all the men in my family. We're poor, but we're not lazy. (We are busy, though.)

My hypothesis is "compensatory excess". As men do less "manly" things then they used to, have less responsibilities, etc., they compensate on the outwards signals: beards, muscles, tattoos.

Beards are actually a lot of work to maintain. Yes, you get to avoid shaving while it grows in, but after that it takes a lot of work to keep it trimmed (looks scraggly unless you do) and keep it clean while eating.

The best middle ground I found for me was shave once per week. Keeps it short and tidy and shaving isn’t a huge chore because it doesn’t get that long in a week.

Hard disagree. I think there's more to it than those factors alone; which I must say portray your average bearded man as a drag on society (is that true? I don't think so).

Regulated labs that use facial respirators do not allow employees to have facial hair where the attachment seal rests...

The defining feature of a man? If so, why were codpieces in fashion?

Eagerly awaiting the next fashion trend:


Although codpieces aren't in fashion, tight jeans leave little to the imagination. And it's not uncommon for dress pants to be maybe a little tight in the crotch.

Well of course, this can be deduced scientifically: most characteristics of sexual dimorphism in humans are not polite to flaunt in public, but a beard is one of the few features of sexual dimorphism that is acceptably to show publicly, so it is only natural that men want to show off their beards.

It's quite acceptable to be tall and speak with a deep voice in society. Most male clothing is intended to highlight masculine features, such as broad shoulders, and present a generally "top heavy" look.

Likewise plenty of female clothing accentuates physical traits that happen to be fertility proxies.

Like Elizabeth Holmes tried to leverage, I just thought.

> this can be deduced scientifically

This does not mean what you seem to think it means.

If this theory were true, then beards wouldn't come and go into and out of fashion. Which they do.

Did beards go in/out of fashion, or did oppressing this particular form of masculinity go in/out of fashion?

I guess the Romans, who considered beards barbaric, were oppressors of masculinity?

They oppressed everything else; why would "masculinity" be any different?

Why is this here?

So basically like today.

No, now it's laptop stickers

That explains why a hipster would describe himself as a "Renaissance Man"

Beards are too hot for a global warming earth. I don’t see a fifth age of beards coming.

Beards are not actually as hot as they might seem. Think of how a shady forest buffers the temperature. Compared to the surrounding area, it is cooler in the heat of the day, and warmer in the cold of night

Lol I’ve had a beard I’ll trust my own assessment.

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