Whiskers in the Regency

Regency British soldiersPat here:

Most of my research tends to be of the down-the-rabbit-hole variety. I mean, who knows in advance that they’ll need to know about whiskers in the Regency? So until the topic shows up in the manuscript, I got nada. But suddenly, I had a need to know if my ex-soldier might have side whiskers… The answer is, as always, it depends.

Basically, prior to the Regency era, a true gentleman was clean-shaven. Who knew that whiskers were symbols? But they are. In the 1700s, a clean shaven face exemplified authority and control over one’s body—remember, they had to go to a lot of work to shave back then, right down to heating the water and finding soap and using a scalpel, well, maybe that’s an exaggeration. In any case, a smooth chin symbolized clean shaven soldier on horserefinement—or the ability to afford a good valet or be in possession of fine motor skills, which wasn’t easy if the morning started with drinking ale.

By the 1850s, half a century later, the pendulum has swung in a completely opposite direction. All those clean-shaven soldiers who went to India were put to shame by the magnificent beards of their Indian counterparts. It was even suggested that those baby-faced Englishmen bearded sepoysweren’t even, ahem, men. Now, in my mind, wearing a fur coat on one’s face in tropical heat is the epitome of stupidity—but I’m not male.

The Victorians went wild with symbolism after that, all those gloriously shaped and oiled tributes to masculinity symbolized authority, strength, character… because, after all, only men could grow them. So, naturally, the more one could grow, the more manly one must be, right?

My Regency soldiers were caught between these two polar opposites. In 1815, they barely had words for the variety of whiskers, beards, and mustaches that came much man with large mustachelater. In 1802, mustache or mustachio was only becoming a term for the hair grown above the upper lip, previously referred to as whiskers.

At the same time, hair grown on the side of the face was also called whiskers and by 1813, they were differentiated from beards and mustaches. At this point, French fashion, as always, led stylish fops to “enormous whiskers” and “Jewish mustachios.” In the city, the lads had quite a fad of facial hair growing—much to the dismay of critics who still believed whiskers belonged on rural fellows or derelicts without razors or on men in insane asylums who didn’t know how to shave. My, how times haven’t changed.unshaven derelict

OK, so fine, there was a whisker fad happening, but would my soldiers wear enormous facial hair? Again, it depends.

In 1802, the prince’s regiment was ordered to let their whiskers grow when it assumed the Hussar uniforms. Apparently the Dragoons also wore whiskers to distinguish them from other regiments. As these were highly regarded military units, one assumes whiskers became a “heroic” symbol.

But it’s apparent in the early 1800s that whiskers were a contentious issue much as long hair on boys created domestic battlefields in the 1970s. Since my soldier is a secondary character, I have no idea of his regiment, and he’s retiring from the field anyway, thus he’s getting his side whiskers. Maybe he’s a rebel at heart…

modern young man with long beardSo, what do you think of today’s fashion for whiskers and beards? Do they belong on derelicts without razors? Are they a fashion statement? Or do men maybe get tired of shaving every day?

For more detailed information on whisker history, dig in here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9555278/

21 thoughts on “Whiskers in the Regency”

  1. It seems since the pandemic so many men have grown these big bushy long beards. I don’t really like it but I guess it was their way of dealing. My husband grew a nicely trimmed mustache & goatee and let his beautiful white hair grow. He looks great!

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  2. Neither my son nor son-in-law, 50ish, are clean shaven. Not sure what you called their facial hair, it looks like a 2-3 days growth and it takes about as much time to keep it the right length as it would to shave. Both have made this choice because they have sensitive skin and shaving everyday left their skin sore, no matter what cream or razors they used. I kinda like it, though I am not fond of full blown beards and I am so glad the bushy sideburns seem to be a thing of the past.

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    • The sensitive skin is why my guy started wearing a beard. Besides, it looks good. I’m not sure what they call it when they leave stubble. I’m sure there’s a name for it. It’s a very popular look.

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  3. Not particularly fond of facial hair, but really dislike the mountain man beards. My husband has cowlicks on his face so cannot grow stuff (yay) but both my sons (40 and 37) have short neatly trimmed beards and ‘stashes. My younger really needed to do this. Being carded after 30 is just lowering. Has not happened since he became bearded.

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    • oh thank you for that! These are hilarious! I need to spend more time naming facial hair should I return to the Vickies. The Victorians really knew how to grow a beard! A Charley under his nose, indeed!

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  4. I like stubble and very short well-trimmed beards are OK, but I agree with Yvonne – no mountain man beards please! And definitely not mustaches or sideburns/whiskers on their own, that seems so 70s now!

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  5. I love neatly trimmed facial hair, can’t say I’m in love with bible salesmen beards that have emerged recently! The regency mustachio and modern day goatee both require effort to look great and certainly eliminate a baby face! I always wondered about the long beards of Victorian gentleman, they seemed so out of place on the then newly settled prairies. I am enlighted!
    Thanks for the great post!

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  6. My Mayhem consultant started growing a beard shortly after we started dating; I wondered if he didn’t want his friends to recognize him when we went out. But he’s kept his beard and I definitely like it.

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  7. My husband has a beard since the mid 70’s so I’ve never actually seen him without one. I think he’d look weird now if he shaved it off. He has a twin brother who has a beard also. My son shaved twice when he reached the bearded age, said it was too much bother so has had a beard since age bout 18, about 15 years now. Sometimes I think it has a mind of it’s own!! It will be short and tidy for a while and then turns into, as you’ve called it here, a mountain man beard. That’s the stage it’s at right now!!
    Fun post!!

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