Capillary Freaks

The romance of hair

By far the greatest absurdity, however, that has ever been perpetrated in the way of a wig, is the pert little grizzly horsehair one worn by the British barrister while in court. It sits upon the top of the head like a cat upon a townpump, and the contrast frequently made by it with whiskers that are very red or very black is often ludicrous in the extreme. In the last century, and until toward the close of it, I believe, a curious fashion prevailed among the Irish peasantry of wearing a small red scratch wig over the natural hair. These were called "bay wigs," a term which was fastened as a nickname on the wearers; and it was a common thing then for an Irish peasant to whip off his wig when a distinguished visitor entered his cabin, and, having dusted a chair with it for the arrival, to replace it upon his head. I remember, when a boy, how we had a tradition among us of a certain parrot then long passed away, who had been taught to pronounce the word "baywig" in a very loud and distinct voice, and whose delight it was to vociferate it from his cage near some high window, to the great discomfiture and scandal of the honest farmers as they passed to and fro on their business in the old markettown.

Throughout the past centuries, France appears to have set the fashion in beards for the neighboring nations, gen­erally. Frequent changes took place in the form of the beard, sometimes mustaches only being worn, and sometimes clean shaving being the order of the day; while, anon, conceits the most fantastic were devised with all the hair that could be grown upon the cheeks and chin. Perhaps it will be interesting to the ladies to know that, eight centuries ago, the "waterfall" was absolutely a masculine appendage, and quite the thing among men of fashion in France. The mode was known as le visage en cascade, and the hair, mustache, and beard were combined to produce the effect. To represent the upper fall, the hair was cut evenly all round the head. The mustaches, worn very heavy and drooping, formed the second fall, and the third was ably simulated by the long, pointed beard. It was in this wonderful guise that Hugues, Count of Chalons, appeared when conquered by Richard of Normandy, before whom be went on allfours with a saddle on his back, in token of submission. Even the grave old chronicler who relates this appears to have been touched by the ludicrous points of the scene, for he dryly remarks that Hugues, in spite of the saddle, might better have passed for a goat than for a horse, bearded en cascade as he was. About this time, too, the beard was so highly honored that epithets were taken from it. There was Geoffroi be Barbu, for instance, and Baudoin a la belle Barbe. Likewise the atrocious Gilles de Laval, Marchal de Retz, who was called BarbeBleu, and was undoubtedly the original Bluebeard of the old nursery tale. The history of this diabolical wretch and his crimes has been written in compendious form by Paul Lacroix (Bibliophile Jacob). His beard is described as having been of a light color, shot with tinges of blue when seen in certain lights. Whether this be true or otherwise, there is no doubt attaching to the records of his horrible crimes, which he expiated by being hanged on a gallows, after which his body was burnt to ashes, and the ashes scattered to the four winds.

Toward the close of the fourteenth century, a very remarkable beard made its appearance in France. It was worn by an impostor calling himself the Patriarch of Constantinople, who came to Paris in 1392. There was much excitement about it at the time, and some of the chroniclers hint that it might have been an artificial beard; for these appendages had then been lately invented by a Spaniard, whose name has not survived him, and it is said that they came into very general fashion in Spain, — so much so, indeed, that nearly every person who had any beard used to shave it off and replace it with a false one. These sham beards were as various in form and color as are the chignons and “coils” now worn by women; and it was customary to change the beard two or three times a day, just as the old gentleman already introduced to the reader used to change his wig. So absurd was the excess to which this whim was pushed, that Don Pedro, king of Aragon, issued an edict in the year 1351 against wearing false beards.

It seems to have been easy, in the old times, to get up a fashion for beards in France. We read that, in 1599, as the Marchal de Beaumanoir was hunting in the forests of Maine, some of his chasseurs brought to him a man whom they had found sleeping in a thicket. This singular being had two horns like those of a ram growing upon his forehead. His head was quite destitute of hair, but he had a large red beard, which grew in tufts or flakes, like that of a satyr; and the Parisians, who were much excited by the accounts that came in about him, immediately took to dressing their beards en flocons, a mode which prevailed for some time.

At various periods beards were regulated by law. In 1533, Francis I. issued an edict ordaining that Bohemians, Egyptians, and other persons of that sort should be arrested, shaved, and committed to the galleys. It is said that the Parliament of Toulouse forbade the wearing of beards, and that, when a certain gentleman, furnished with a very long one, brought some claims before that body, he was told that they could not be entertained until he had shaven his face clean. Indeed, so much controversy took place at this time regarding the beard, that the learned doctor Gentien Hervet wrote a discourse upon the subject, which was printed at Orleans in 1536. He divided his discourse into three sections. The first maintained that all men ought to allow their beards to grow; the second, that all men ought to shave their beards off; and the third, that every man should do just as he pleases about his beard. Twenty years later, beards were again much in vogue. They were worn in the swallow-tail cut now, and there were fan-tail beards to be seen also, as well as many other strange and grotesque devices in the arrangement of the facial hair. A great variety of unguents for the beard were also brought into use at this time, all of different colors and perfumes. The beard, at this period, was generally made up at night, and placed in a bag to prevent it from getting out of form. It became the proper thing now, in France, to carry a small brush for the purpose of arranging the mustache, an office which ladies would sometimes perform for their beaux, and great value was attached to a mustache that had been put in form for the wearer by some fair hand.

In those periods in which the mustache alone was worn, it varied in form at least as much as it does at the present day. Charlemagne, who was opposed to full beards, restored mustaches to favor; and the style then was to wear them very long, twisted to a point at either end, and drooping down to the chest. Charles le Chauve is represented with mustaches of this cut, and his reign has sometimes been called the reign of Moustaches a la Chinoise. Later still, the inconvenience of the long mustache gave rise to the fashion of cutting it short and trimming it to a square form; and in the reign of Louis le Jeune, about the year 149, it began to be worn short and bristly, somewhat like a brush. Thus it was that the Normans, at the beginning of the tenth century, used to dress their upper lips, the stubbly, brush-like mustache being considered by them a symbol of courage, as it also seems to be by the “roughs” of modern times.

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