The custom of preserving or removing facial hair , more than indicating a common habit, it opens the way for us to understand traits of different cultures spread around the globe. Around 30,000 years ago, our ancestors discovered that it was possible to remove beards using sharp stone chips. In fact, since the Paleolithic period, several evidences prove that prehistoric man lived surrounded by certain habits of hygiene and vanity.
In Ancient Egypt, body hair was customarily used to differentiate the members of Egyptian society. The wealthier members of the nobility, for example, cultivated a beard as a sign of their status. However, the lack of it did not necessarily indicate some kind of demerit. The priestly class opted for a total hair removal. According to scholars, the priestly habit indicated detachment from the world and animals.
Among the Greeks the use of the beard was quite common. Proof of this is that many of the images that represented the famous Greek philosophers were always accompanied by an abundant bunch of hair. However, during Macedonian rule this Greek tradition was severely banned by King Alexander the Great. According to the famous political and military leader, keeping a beard could disadvantage his soldiers during a direct confrontation.
In Roman civilization the beard was an important rite of passage. All boys, before reaching puberty, could not cut a hair or a beard. When they reached the moment of transition between childhood and youth, they shaved off all the hairs on their bodies and offered them to the gods. Senators used to preserve the beard as a symbol of their political status. In this same society, the first shaving creams appeared, produced using olive oil.
During the Middle Ages, the beard signaled the separation that took place in the Christian Church with the realization of the Eastern Schism. Many of the Catholic clergy were advised to shave their beards so they would not look like members of the Orthodox Church or even the usually bearded Jews or Muslims. In addition, the use of mustaches generated a lot of controversy among medieval Christians, as they were displayed by waves of Germans who invaded the decadent Roman Empire.
With commercial development and the large number of inventions that marked the modern world, the beard began to indicate a trait of male vanity. Perhaps as a result of this phenomenon, the Frenchman Jean-Jacques Perret, in 1770, created a safer razor model for shaving. In the following century the famous “T” razor was invented by the American brothers Kampfe.
The big leap in “fluffy technology” was made by a salesman named King Camp Gillette. Using sharp inventiveness, the then traveling salesman realized the possibility of adopting disposable razors for shavers. With the help of William Nickerson (an engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), he created a new brand of razors and shavers that are still widely used by men and women around the world.
During the 20th century, the smooth face became synonymous with civility and hygiene. Many companies and government institutions did not admit the presence of bearded men on their staff. However, between the 1970s and 1980s, goatee and mustaches began to become a rage among American homosexuals. This new data was established in the gay culture of the late 20th century and had as one of its greatest representatives the singer Freddie Mercury.
Nowadays, the beard is associated with the fearsome terrorists of Islam or people with a more alternative look. Even not necessarily indicating a certain behavior or option, the beard reveals how different cultures emphasize their values of unity and difference through the most “insignificant” data. The body (and the beard) becomes a true means of expression for the individual.