Beards and Moustaches

Male fashions in facial hair vary in time and space, by class, by occupation... in so many dimensions that it's perilous to generalize. When I was a lad in the late 1940s, a moustache meant a Canadian, eh? ...and beards were very rare. The corpus of Nova Scotia photographs has many wonderful examples, but it's a challenge to derive anything very definitive from analyzing the set. It's just too much fun to think of snarky things to say. Consider, for example, this gentleman:

moustache ineffectual, Milquetoasty, Pooteresque sort of fellow. The moustache is clearly an effort to escape a mousy persona.


Others are cases of youthful bravado, generally outgrown in a few years, but sometimes inadvertently expressing something ineffable. The line of the ears is nicely complemented by the curl at the end of the moustache in this case:

...and this one shows that even a luxuriant moustache can't make a neck seem shorter:

There's something in this one that says "self-important twit" to me:

...and for some like this narrow-shouldered chump there is simply no hope:
minimal moustache

Raise pomposity and pomade quotients, add foxing:

...and one can see pride in the curl at the end of this one:

...and the gimlet-eyed Teutonic pose:

...and a steely-eyed North American variant:


The archetype to which all of the above aspire is the Lord Kitchener I-Want-You, backed up by eyes that bore into you:


It's in the world beyond the simple moustache that things get really interesting. Booth Tarkington captures the essence in The Magnificent Ambersons

It was a hairier day than this. Beards were to the wearers’ fancy, and things as strange as the Kaiserliche boar-tusk moustache were commonplace. "Side-burns" found nourishment upon childlike profiles; great Dundreary whiskers blew like tippets over young shoulders; moustaches were trained as lambrequins over forgotten mouths; and it was possible for a Senator of the United States to wear a mist of white whisker upon his throat only, not a newspaper in the land finding the ornament distinguished enough to warrant a lampoon. Surely no more is needed to prove that so short a time ago we were living in another age!

Each of these fashions surely has a name. I had 'Dundreary' tucked away as the name for one style, but I had some of the details wrong. Still, the fashion is worth summarizing. The essence of the Dundreary: long sideburns with a clean-shaven chin (a.k.a "Piccadilly Weepers"). The link is to "Speech of Lord Dundreary in Section D, on Friday Last, On the Great Hippocampus Question" by Charles Kingsley (1861).

The origin of the character of Lord Dundreary is the long-running and wildly popular "Our American Cousin", incidentally the play Lincoln was watching when he was shot. Lord Dundreary was made famous by E.A. Sothern

A remarkably versatile actor, E. A. Sothern is nonetheless remembered primarily for the character he created and played for decades in Tom Taylor's Our American Cousin. Lord Dundreary, the prototypical "silly-ass" English gentry, made Sothern world famous.

Generally the venture into sideburns is risky, but it's where one must begin on the way to the full flourishment of the Dundreary:

...and the absence of the moustache may or may not be a good choice:

carte de visite

...but this gentleman seems to have grown gracefully into his sideburns:

When someone of more mature years sports shrubbery, it may reflect (or reinforce) Dickensian proclivities. This one looks flint-hearted:

We imagine this one about to pull a gun, but he doubtless had a different view of himself:

This one's version of the style works pretty well:

and this one manages to convey an air of probity:

This one is not unaware of the effect:

This one reaches for the heroic but falls a mite short:

...and this is nothing if not luxuriant:

...but this one is merely pitiful:

The Imperial is difficult to carry off, and is a better fit for high cheekbones:

mustachioed Risser

This form seems to be relatively rare:
Dickens-style beard

...and is easily taken to excess:
the Rasputin effect

The agèd can sometimes get away with scraggly:
truly scraggly

Leaving off the moustache is another of the logical possibilities:
beard6b.jpg (more detail)

The full beard suits a nautical gentleman:
full beard

...but a landlubber may look more like one of the plotters against President Lincoln:
over-full beard

Some beards are clearly improvements to the neighbo(u)rhood:
sometimes a beard is an obvious improvement

This one isn't entirely successful:

...but here's one to which I can relate:

...and this one has Bryan Alexander proportions:
A real beaver