Friday, March 17, 2017

Beards, Fashion, and Fiction

Today I spent some time...frankly, guy-watching, as these thoughts on beards, fashion, age, art, and literature outgrew the Link Log. I had thought about putting a brief comment on the beard fashion, and my Duck Dynasty-watching Nephews, and the fact that I've not yet read Si-Cology (although I've wanted to) and now there's even a sequel, Si-Renity, all under "Fashion." Or "Fashion & Fiction"? Or, as Ozarque's thoughts on beards, and the way they logically must have led to thoughts on lacy shawls for women but she must have been too modest to blog about those, leaped to mind..."Fashion, Fiction, and Age"? Oh, why not just make a separate post out of these thoughts? Right. Here's the post:

These days a beard is a major fashion statement for some men. A long, full beard is not absolute proof of Whiteness, since some non-White men can grow one, but the gene for luxuriant beard growth does tend to be correlated with genes for fair skin and body hair and so on. So, what do women think about men with beards? Sexy or scruffy? Survey says..."sexy," if the beards have a clean, well groomed look. Beards literally separate men from boys; a thick gray or white beard all but literally says "patriarch," which is why almost all Bible heroes (and, regrettably, God) are often drawn with luxuriant white beards.

Without the beard, how would you recognize Moses?

(Would Moses really have had a beard? Probably. Beards were an important fashion statement in the courts of the Pharaohs. While historians believe many Egyptians actually shaved their entire heads, for comfort and hygiene, and strapped on both beards and wigs, the idea of a beardless Pharaoh was so unthinkable that the female Pharaoh Hatshepsut is known to have strapped on a fake goatee.)

Photo of official sculpture of Hatshepsut: By Keith Schengili-Roberts - Own Work (photo), CC BY-SA 2.5,

Beards can be very kind to aging faces. The writer known as Ozarque rather famously lamented that women couldn't cover up wrinkles with beards, too. (I was and remain sure that she was waiting for people to say, "But women can knit or crochet lovely white shawls"; she was a crocheter and, in the few photos she allowed publishers to add to her book covers, she wore lacy white crocheted shawls.) Here are her most memorable observations on this topic:

[On August 7, 2004, at :]

You have to wonder.... Suppose that Ursula K. Le Guin (or any other elderwoman of your choice) looked like Gandalf. The mane of glorious thick white hair. The superb white beard that covers the raddled neck and the jowls and the lines around the nose and mouth. The tall straight body in its beautiful robes. The strong white teeth and the wonderful hands. Even if you modernized the robes and eliminated the white horse, when she walked into a room she wouldn't be invisible. 

But she'd have to keep the beard, I'm afraid, or it wouldn't work. It is men's great good fortune, and a mark of unfair Divine Favoritism, that men are able to grow beards and moustaches that cover up almost all their lines and wrinkles -- leaving visible only the ones around the eyes that signal laughter, and wisdom, and hunting and fishing and sailing and warrioring.

[On September 11, 2006, at :]

It was very unfair of God to give only men the ability to grow beards. An old man can grow a magnificent full beard, so that all that's on public view is his twinkling eyes with their lovely crinkly lines at the outside corners, and everything else -- including his neck, be it ever so raddled -- is hidden away. Let his hair grow a bit long in the back, he's all set; no neck to be seen, and he's gorgeous. Not fair. You can tell that all the Psalms were written by men because there isn't a single one in which someone is railing and ranting at the Almighty about how unjust it is that only men can grow beards.

I object.

At Etsy most of the knitted and crocheted shawls shown on models, live or not, are draped to call attention to a young woman's sleek young neck...but the thing about these lacy shawls is that they give women a choice. They can be drawn up tight and cover as much as a beard; they can be draped around the shoulders to add a dramatic alternative neck line to whatever is worn under them; they can be tossed over one shoulder to wave in the wind like a flag. One thing that's hard to do with a hand-knitted or crocheted lace shawl, though, is ignore it. Lace shawls are prettier than the blanket-weight shawls I wear instead of overcoats in winter, girlier, but if anything more dramatic.

The back issue knitters fight over...

Good luck getting that pattern magazine at any price...the shawl shown isn't on the front cover, but the pattern is reprinted inside this book, along with about twenty more:

Instead of being reprinted, the much-coveted Knitter's Issue #9 was expanded into a book, with even more patterns for knitted shawls. The shawl shown on the front cover, for instance, was not in the magazine.

For the men...well, that's why neckties and collars were invented, but which way do you think President Lincoln looked his personal best? (He wasn't considered handsome either way, and being 6'4" was only part of his fashion problems in his contemporaries' opinions.)

Abraham Lincoln 1860 Photo U.S. Historical Posters Photos 11x14
A. Lincoln, 1860

New 11x14 Photo: Last Photo of President Abraham Lincoln
A. Lincoln, 1865

There's also much to be said for a Cherokee-type grandfather with just a sprinkling of random white hairs among the thick black hair on his head and a few stray hairs, white and black, on his smooth copper-toned face, but since even Cherokee men can't count on getting that gene...repeated surveys of women who can't have my Significant Other suggest that they like men with clean, well groomed, full beards. Here is a cool commercial-type web site for men with beards and women who like looking at them:

For men like most of my relatives, who could give up shaving for six months and at the end of that time have only the stubbly-looking "three-day beard" that seems to be typical of White/Red crossbreed types, I particularly recommend scrolling down to the "Dad Hats" link at the bottom of the page. Very cool hats to go with either bearded or beardless faces. Women can wear them too; readers in Kingsport may be surprised to find out what they can wear this particular style in aid of:

No, they're not just Grandma Bonnie Peters' trademark style! She looks good in hers, and I've been known to borrow one when walking with her, but...according to the link at , this is the official hat for ovarian cancer fundraisers. Buy yours in aid of the cause!

The Ozarque posts cited above, plus the appearance of a French edition, prompted me to reread Lord of the Rings as an adult. As a child I hadn't noticed,'s radically different from your standard fantasy story where restless young men are proving themselves worthy of pretty princesses, or vice versa. The difference? In Middle Earth, all the main characters are old. Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin are all would now be called middle-aged, though well enough preserved that letting them be played by dark-haired actors doesn't ruin the story. Aragorn is old enough to regret things that went wrong in the past. Gandalf "the Gray" is "aged, grey-haired and grey-clad." The evil characters are so old they can only be explained as undead. Bilbo, and of course Gollum, are so old that even people who know what's keeping them alive still find them uncanny. Tom Bombadil brags of being older than any human or hobbit can imagine. Glamorous, romantic Galadriel has beautiful long silver-white hair! Tolkien was middle-aged, and he was writing for middle-aged people.

Wikipedia and posthumous Tolkien collections offer tons of additional material about the Rings story...

For men of Tolkien's type, aging does have perils (consider the stuff that happens to Gandalf!) but loss of visual appeal is not among them. Men who look good with a full beard can keep that dramatic look going from age 20 to age 90...

Beards for all ages in real life...