Capillary Freaks

The romance of hair
More

At last, as the centuries rolled on, beards went out of fashion altogether in France. The extreme youth of Louis XI II., when he came to the throne, was a staggering blow to them; and even when his beard did begin to grow, he always had it shaved clean off. When Sully, who wore a flowing beard, came to the court of Louis, he was an object for the sneers and derision of the young courtiers, nettled at which, the old man said to the king, “When your father did me the honor to consult me upon important affairs of state, he always used to dismiss the merry-andrews and jack-puddings from the chamber.” But, to make amends for the loss of beards in this reign, fashion ordained that wonderful structures should be erected upon the human head. Hair-powder came into use now, and numerous topdressings arose in the way of periwigs and perukes of extravagant size. Thackeray, in his “Paris Sketch-Book,” I think, had a caricature showing the make-up of little Louis in one of these awful hair towers, which he wore to give him height. By and by, when Louis XIV. mounted the throne, beards fell into disrepute, the introduction of snuff tending to hasten their decline; and so, when the eighteenth century dawned, very few persons were to be seen with beards, — the last to wear them being the Capuchin friars.

Then a new era beamed out for the fashions in human hair. All through this century, and well on into the present one, hair-powder continued to be used by both sexes, its origin being traceable, probably, to the desire for concealing gray hair. Queues became the fashion among men. Sometimes these were made up in the form called “clubs,” which bore some resemblance to the chignons of to-day. There was a vast deal of time and trouble wasted upon these absurd appendages. Soldiers, in particular, had a hard time of it with their queues, which they were obliged to arrange with the greatest accuracy for every parade; and there still exists a reminiscence of the barbarism in one of the English fusileer regiments, the officers of which, when in full uniform, wear between their shoulders the broad black ribbon on which the queue of bygone days was wont to rest. Early in the present century all these fashions went gradually out of vogue. Women began to wear their hair in a simple coil behind, confining it with a high tortoise-shell comb, such as the “Yankee female” of the stage wears at the present day. Corkscrew ringlets were also in favor now. Men took to wearing their hair closely cropped, except on the top of the forehead, from which it was brushed up into a high peak called a “topping,”— a style which would be rather inconvenient with the low hats now so generally worn. The beard was tolerated on the cheeks only. In England, especially, the whiskers were trimmed to a form not unaptly likened to that of a mutton-chop; and there was a military regulation in force within a few years past, that the soldier, in shaving, was to draw his razor on an imaginary line running from the corner of the mouth to the but of the ear, and so downwards over the maxillary tracts to the chin and throat. In some of the armies of Continental Europe, at this period, cavalry soldiers wore heavy mustaches; but it was not until after the close of the Peninsular war that the style was adopted by English hussars. 
  
Among the peasantry, mustaches were then looked upon with an awe that almost verged on superstition. It is related of the eldest son of Sir Walter Scott, then a gallant dragoon officer quartered with his regiment in Ireland, that the mail- coach, on the top of which he once happened to be traveling, was beset, in some small town, by a ragged host of beggars. One old harridan was so importunate for alms that Major Scott at last threw her a half-crown, a donation so unusually liberal for those parts that the beggarwoman exclaimed with effusion, “Ya, th’n, may Heaven bless yer honer, for it ‘s betther to us ye are nor the Christians!” The Major wore a tremendous mustache, twisted up at the ends nearly to the cheek-bones, and the woman probably took him for a Turk, or some other heretical monster from foreign parts.

Thirty or forty years ago, beards again began to be revived in France. For some time they were of revolutionary import, and, when associated with closely cropped heads, were apt to subject the wearer to the delicate attentions of the police. In England, at this time, civilians but seldom ventured on the mustache. It is wonderful how strong was the prejudice maintained against this accessory among the staid elderly gentlemen of the period. A man wearing a mustache was regarded by them as an adventurer at best, and possibly a swindler. Representative gentlemen of the Regency school, with high black stocks—over which their cheeks hung in jowls — and no shirt-collars, would tap their foreheads significantly when some young innovator with mustaches hove in sight, and say, with a wink, “Lodgings to let yonder,” —meaning that hair on the upper lip is a sign of unfurnished apartments in the head. To the young ladies, however, there has ever been something sweetly wicked in the twirl of a mustache, and that it was thus even in Tom Moore’s time is shown by that letter in the “Twopenny Post-Bag” wherein a young lady tells her bosom friend about a certain fascinating gentleman in Paris, — “With mustachios that give what we read of so oft,/ The dear corsair expression half savage, half soft.” 

During many years of the past, and for some fifty of the present century, it seems to have been customary for Americans to shave off all the beard. Even the men of the mountains and plains — bunters, trappers, and guides —wore no beards, as a general thing, until within a few years past. A departure from this fashion began to appear soon after the discovery of gold in California, and there is little doubt that the picturesque appearance presented by miners returning from the “diggings” had much to do with the general introduction of mustaches and beards. In England these did not become general until after the Crimean war, during which struggle the razor was abandoned by the army, — infantry as well as cavalry adopting the full beard, which, with certain modifications, is still worn by them. Then civilians — slowly, however, and with sheepish reserve—began to let their mustaches grow. Innovation is a hard card to play in England. Bankers, in many instances, actually threatened their clerks with dismissal if they showed the slightest appearance of an incipient mustache, — and this was hardly ten years ago! Much was written upon the subject at this time, and at last the medical faculty entered the lists, in defence of beards. Instances were adduced by them, showing the value of the appendage in a sanitary point of view. The stone-masons of Edinburgh and Glasgow had long been subject to pulmonary diseases induced by the fine dust inhaled by them during their work; but the doctors advised them to let their beards grow, and there were fewer complaints thereafter about their lungs. At last the fogies who objected to the beard began to think that there “must be something in it,” and some among them would pluck up sufficient moral courage to drop the razor for a day or two. These daring spirits kept well in the dark, however. They would retire to remote corners of the country for a week or a month, to conceal the mauvais honte experienced by them under the stigma of growing a mustache. If they chanced to be stumbled on by an acquaintance, then they would pretend to blow their noses, so that the pocket-handkerchief might screen their folly from his inquiring gaze. It was very slow work, to be sure, getting people to separate the idea of folly, or of criminality, from the fact of wearing hair upon the lip. Says one fogy to another, in my hearing, once, "Only think of an attorney with a mustache" to which says the other, “You did n't employ him, I hope!” But they all came to it, at last. I remember, not many years ago, a lawyer, of the priggish stamp, pointing to his mouth, and saying to an acquaintance whom he had not seen for some time previously, and who had grown a mustache in the interval, " 0, I see you have been weak enough!" About two years afterwards the lawyer, then wearing a very full mustache, and a very red one too, met the same acquaintance, who gave him the retort justifiable with, "0, I see you have been weak enough!" and a significant jerk of his thumb.

Nowadays no man is martyred for his heresy on the subject of the razor. The fruit of old Gentien Hervet's dis­course is fully ripe today, and every man does exactly as he pleases with regard to his beard. We have it of all sorts and sizes, now. Here we see a "swell" barbed after the drooping fashion known here as " English whiskers," but cherished by the London cockneys as " Piccadilly weepers." There goes a business person with beard as forked as the lightning, and almost as fiery; and by him there shoulders a professional bully, with short, blueblack mustaches nestling closely under his puggy nose. And lo! to crown all, here comes somebody's grandfather, looking like an arctic owl in the whiteness of his thick, puffy beard, a worthy old gentleman, who, twentyfive years ago, would have disinherited a son for letting twelve hairs have their wicked way upon his upper lip!

Jump to comments
Presented by
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Sad Desk Lunch: Is This How You Want to Die?

How to avoid working through lunch, and diseases related to social isolation.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Where Time Comes From

The clocks that coordinate your cellphone, GPS, and more

Video

Computer Vision Syndrome and You

Save your eyes. Take breaks.

Video

What Happens in 60 Seconds

Quantifying human activity around the world

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In