Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

PrintPrintEmailEmail

But how does it go over with the ladies? The testimony is conflicting. For the negative we have Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing : “Lord! I could not endure a husband with a beard on his face: I had rather lie in the woollen.” On the other hand stands the regal, beauteous Miss Julia Gardiner, of the pedigreed New York Gardiners, the celebrated “Rose of Long Island” and future bride of President John Tyler. Julia promenaded at a White House reception on the arm of Colonel Thomas Sumpter, whom she described as being “sumptuously equipped— whiskers brushed to a turn—[in] a dashing vest of black velvet.”

Faced with conflicting views, let us turn to a scientist, Havelock Ellis. He said that the beard is a prominent indication of virility and sexual allure. (The same idea was expressed in a more casual idiom by a bearded man of literature, the late Ernest Boyd, who declared of whiskers: “Blondes go for them.”) Yet despite the undeniably wide appeal of fascinating, bearded Peter Ustinov, Mitch Miller, and the littérateur Rex Stout, most men, when tempted to lay down their razors, think of Fidel Castro, of the ordeal of dining out while growing a beard, of cornball jokes, of fleas and fire hazards—and decide to pass up the oriflamme. Even Ustinov, who has worn a beard since 1956, concedes that risks are involved. “A man who eats carelessly should not grow a beard,” he has said, “as he may find himself pursued by pigeons.” In non-bohemian circles, a feathered face remains a social and economic liability. Beards may be dandy for actors, artists, folk-singers, or protest-marchers, but if a bank teller appeared for work wearing one, his boss would undoubtedly start looking into his accounts.

Institutions of higher learning currently take a dim view of whiskers. In South Orange, New Jersey, not long ago, a Selon Hall University senior was given the choice of keeping his scholarship or his beard, which was ruled by the authorities to be incompatible with “university dignity.” He chose the scholarship. A University of Pennsylvania student, Bruce Bern, proved to be made of sterner stuff. Dern, a promising runner on the Penn two-mile relay team, and grandson of the Secretary of War in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first Cabinet, turned in his suit rather than obey an order to shave off his sideburns, which the coach regarded as non-Ivy. “It doesn’t make you a hoodlum,” Dern said earnestly, “just by wearing sideburns.” Obviously, he had never taken Sherwin Cody’s course.

In 1963 a teacher at John Muir High School in Pasadena, California, made headlines when he went to court to preserve his Vandyke and sideburns. Told to shave both chin and cheeks in compliance with a regulation requiring teachers to “practice the common social amenities,” Paul S. Finot pointed in vain to a bust of the bearded naturalist and explorer in the building named in his honor.

Those who scan the horizon for signs of social change are always announcing that the beard is about to return. So far, they seem premature. Yet of one thing we may be sure. There are deep subterranean currents in human affairs which produce the beard cycles. Eighty years have now passed since bearded James G. Blaine went down to defeat. Who wear the beards today? Young men. It may be later than we think.