Your beard makes you look powerful, dominant and down right sexy. It wasn’t always this way. The majority of the 1800s was a clean shaven era. If you were a person of note you were smooth and clean shaven. Growing a beard during this time would have a been an explicit F U to the establishment and an indication of withdrawal from civilized society.
This all changed in the mid-Victorian period, which was dominated by exploration, hunting and climbing. These adventurers exploring the far reaches of the planet, often times spending weeks on end in the wilderness, let their man mane grow long and thick. As these adventurers grew more prominent in society, the beard became a symbol of prestige and represented ruggedness. It was quickly emulated by many men hoping to aspire to be more like their bearded elders.
However, around 1850 the beard starts to evolve into something more than a manliness indicator, it is perceived as a medical benefit. According to British medical historian Alun Withey from the University of Exeter, doctors would prescribe beards to cure or ward off alignments, such as sore throat. How one would ask? By acting as a natural air filter.
During this time, air quality was of paramount concern and a beard was thought to capture impurities before one inhaled them. One interesting anecdote from Dr. Withey’s fantastic essay, The Medical Case for Beards in the 19th Century, excerpt from a letter Mr. William Johnston to the Gloucester Chronicle of 23 January 1892:
I was induced by my medical man, the late Mr J.P. Hearne, about 42 years ago, to give up shaving and let my beard and moustache grow. I was just getting the better of a very severe attack when the old doctor remarked to me ” Johnston, I advise you to give up shaving and let your beard and moustache grow, which, if you do, I believe you will not suffer again with such bad sore throat.”
I took his advice, and have not had a sore throat since, and it was the opinion of many of my friends and acquaintances in Gloucester that the moustache and beard was a great improvement to my looks and added immensely to the dignity of my countenance, so much so that a great many of them began to cultivate the beard and moustache, and amongst them a very prominent druggist (Mr Tucker) and woolen draper (Mr F.C.Newman) and within a very few years beards and moustaches were cultivated by hundreds in Gloucester and neighbourhood, and are now almost universal.
To be fair, Germ Theory was emerging and that would be utterly terrifying to find out there are all these invisible things trying to kill me. There was a lot of crazy quack science being prescribed back then (and now). However, looking like a manly rugged adventurer with a built in air filter is a world I don’t mind living in. So if you want air filter on your face, grow a beard.