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  • Writer's pictureSimone Skopek

19th-century Beards - Emblem of Heroes

Beards have held a significant cultural and religious significance throughout history. They often embody notions of masculinity, wisdom, and spirituality. In ancient Egypt, for example, pharaohs and high-ranking officials sported carefully groomed beards as a sign of divine power and prestige. In ancient Greece, beards were a symbol of virility, wisdom, and authority, the mark of philosophers and scholars. In the Sikh faith, maintaining a full beard is a religious mandate, representing a commitment to spiritual values and the teachings of Sikh gurus.

Stepping into the 19th century, hair and beards were also seen as emblems of virility and heroism, ingrained in the belief that a man's hairiness directly correlated with his strength and prowess. This perception was profoundly influenced by the military landscape of the time.

Eugene Pertuiset: A lion hnter's legacy and mane-like sideburns

My fascination with this period was inspired by my ancestor, Eugene Pertuiset, who gained renown as a lion hunter and became immortalized through an Edouard Manet portrait. His legendary bushy sideburns, paired with immense strength (he was also a professional wrestler and strongman), were often compared to a lion. As I was writing the book, the theme of hair fashion and its cultural symbolism began to emerge throughout the story, especially since Pertuiset wasn't just a ‘great white hunter.’ He was also the inventor of a popular baldness remedy marketed under the brand name La Pertuisine.

Although he personally had no need for it, Pertuiset diligently used this marvel, a concoction of rosewater, glycerine, beeswax, and bear fat, as a preventive measure. Remarkably, his flair for marketing propelled La Pertuisine into a thriving business venture, earning acclaim from a science journal as 'one of the most notable inventions of the century.' (Move aside steam engines and telegraph.)

Beards - The emblem of heroes in the military: Once forbidden; now symbolic of valor

However, it is the transformation of perceptions in England during this time that particularly captured my attention. Initially forbidden in the army, beards gained a heroic connotation during the Crimean War where they provided warmth to soldiers in freezing winters and avoided the need to shave in challenging conditions. This shift marked beards as symbols of heroism, extending their allure even to men who hadn't experienced the battlefield. In England during this era, there was hardly a man who didn't sport a beard.

World War 1 marked the decline of beards

Yet, as history unfolded with the advent of World War I and gas masks, beards faced a decline. A clean-shaven face became essential to ensure a proper seal, marking the end of the glorious era of beards on the battlefield and as a fashion statement. Once again, the shift reflected the influence of the military concluding a captivating chapter in 19th-century masculine hair fashions.

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