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Saturday, 17 November 2012

Remember remember hairy Movember.

Do you remember when November was just November? For the last few years we have spent a wonderful month growing facial hair (or supporting those who do) in the aid of prostate cancer. I myself have been roped into being a 'mo-girlfriend' where I give 'encouragement for facial hair growth.' This can range from a few positive words or beard massages and of course helping my 'mo bro' to raise money.

So when I found our about the Gallery Talk on the History of Facial Hair at the National Portrait Gallery I was quite excited! Combining my new found hobby of cheerleading beards and my old favourite of studying history was bound to be interesting.

So last friday evening I set off to the NPG with my beard where Historian Lucinda Hawksley gave a wonderful tour that explored the facial hair trends and their meanings from Queen Elizabeth I to Charles Darwin through the collection displays.

We began with Henry the Eighth and his implementation of beard tax! Those who grew their beard had a massive price to pay to ensure that only the rich and elite were able to afford it! this was an policy the Queen Elizabeth I also implemented the only exception to the rule was of course if you had a doctors note that allowed growth only for medical reasons.

The social status of the beard owner continued into the regency period, here side burns were the fashion but only allowed if you were a 'Dandy' or had 'Continental connections.'

The Victorians of course were the real facial hair show stoppers! Prince Albert bought us the Christmas tree (thanks!) and brought the mo back into fashion. And did they go for it!

The Victorian periods interest in facial hair was part of a complex social change going on in Britain at the times. The Crimean War was the first time journalists had visited the front line and the reports back left Britain appalled by the conditions of war, men who survived were thus seen as heroes, and all heroes have facial hair.

It also saw the beginning of the women's movement, stories of female nurses on the frontline, saving lives, emphasised the necessary role of women in society.
Lucinda theorised the women's movement had a knock on effect in the fashion of facial hair. Not only were they trying to prove their masculinity as heroes of a horrific war but also used their beards as a form of protest against the initial stages of the women's rights movement.

The popularity of beards had some pretty interesting knock on effects. Most notably barbers lost a lot of trade, and thus began to invest their time and money into men's hair products. Macasa oil and bear grease were two of the most popular products on the shelf. Macasa oil promised that hair would never go grey or fall out if you used this slick product, but the side effects were pretty nasty and resulting in a lot of dirtied furniture. Bear grease however appeared to be a bit if a myth occasionally rumour would go round that a dancing bear was to be killed and his fat to be used in barbers surrounding the event. However it appears that the majority of the time no bears were harmed and instead pigs were used to produce this grease, bet that smelt rotten!

The tour finished on a high discussing the numerous beards of the infamous Victorians and the collection on display reflects the trend. I came away thinking how wonderful beards really are, as a tool for social change, a mechanism for fundraising and make men look handsome :p.

You can donate to Movember here:

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