The upside of creating Beardrevered.com is that I receive all the very latest beard news and gossip en avant-première! Sometimes I’m even invited to beard events, competitions and parties! Yes, the beard world is SOCIAL – get with the act, people.
So, yesterday night I attended the launch party for Moustaches, Whiskers & Beards, a book by Lucinda Hawksley, renowned writer and art historian who also happens to be the great-great-great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens – the greatest novelist of the Victorian period and the originator of the ‘door knocker’ beard. In collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery, the book charts the growth and popularity of facial hair throughout the ages.
With references from the National Portrait Gallery’s own archives and collections, Moustaches, Whiskers & Beards gives us a comprehensive guide to how facial hair has evolved through the ages. From the Tudor beard tax and why Regency beaus grew whiskers to the rules on facial hair in the army, navy and air-force. Lucinda also explains the subject of ‘Women and Facial Hair’, as well as explorations of how medical advances and the rise of advertising have affected male grooming.
The publication of the book coincides rather perfectly with two other important events in the facial hair calender, Movember and Decembeard so we were delighted Lucinda was able to spare us a few moments of her time to discuss the book and shed some light on the history of facial hair.
It came about as we were looking for ways to bring more people into the Victorian galleries at the NPG. I’m a freelance lecturer at the gallery and we were looking for themes that would draw people in. As we were walking through all the rooms the theme became strikingly obvious!
I first did a talk (a lunchtime lecture) at the gallery about 5 years ago, on the history of facial hair in the 19th Century. It proved astonishingly popular and, what surprised us most, was it attracted a much younger audience than usual, with lots of fashion students showing up. I was then asked to do a gallery tour on moustaches, whiskers and beards, and again it was really well attended. As there was such a resurgence of popularity in beards during the Crimean War I was asked to do a talk at the Florence Nightingale Museum, so my research was ongoing for all those projects before I even started on the book.
Getting to spend time researching in the archives at the National Portrait Gallery, there’s so much in there that I had no idea about.
Usually I write about subjects and people that fascinate me – this time it was about a subject that repels me! Big bushy beards, that is, well-kept moustaches and whiskers I have a fondness for. When I was asked to do the initial lecture I was told I had to “face my fear” and research it. I was surprised by how interesting the social history surrounding men’s facial hair is – and I was asked so frequently when I was writing the book if women’s facial hair would also be in there, that we realised it needed to be covered as well. The Conchita Wurst Eurovision happened just after I’d submitted the manuscript, so I had to add in some extra pages.
Quite often, it is surprising how the subject seems to choose itself, by which I mean that I’ll be writing about or researching one topic and find that something else keeps cropping up in my research and I realise that’s my next subject.
I have genuinely loved all the books I’ve done, because when you’re interested in a subject (and you need to be to write about it), you can’t help but find it fascinating to work on. My overall favourite would have to be my biography of Kate Perugini, Charles Dickens’ artist daughter – because she is my great great great aunt and I discovered so much about my family in the process of writing it. I still miss her since I stopped writing the book and love it when I get asked to give talks about her and can re-engage with her again.
My favourite type of beard is one that has recently been removed in a perfect wet shave. My favourite style of moustache and whisker is one that is beautifully looked after, and shows a quirky side to a man’s personality.
I think it has gone full circle in London, but not elsewhere. I’ve noticed that in London there are far more clean-shaven young men around, and I’ve spoken to quite a few students in recent weeks who’ve mostly said they’re bored with it now, so it looks as though the fashion is starting to end here. I was at a wedding a few days ago and almost none of the men under 30 had beards – whereas until a few weeks ago if you’d gone to a party you could guarantee that pretty much every man in the room would have been bearded. Several friends who live elsewhere in the UK, however, have said it’s just starting to take off where they live, so I think it will be a fashion that remains around for a while longer. I was in Rome in September and there were very few heavily bearded men – we saw only 2 ‘Shoreditch beards’ in the time we were there – but a Roman friend said the fashion seems to just starting rather than ending.
It has to be Charles Dickens – mostly because I love his writing, partly because I’m related to him and largely because he was obsessed with hygiene so I hope his beard would have been much cleaner that the vast majority of scarily unhygienic Victorian beards.
Buy your copy at npg.org.uk/shop
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