beard, hair on the lower portion of the face. The term mustache refers to hair worn above the upper lip. Attitudes toward facial hair have varied in different cultures. In ancient Egypt, as well as Turkey and India, the beard was regarded as a sign of dignity and wisdom. Beards continued into the Greek civilization until the 4th cent. B.C., when Alexander the Great ordered his soldiers shaved. The Romans, however, actually introduced the practice of regular shaving. The belief that the beard denotes wisdom was widespread in ancient China, and the cult of the beard has been dominant in Middle Eastern cultures from ancient times to the recent past. As a symbol of virility and status, the beard has often acquired religious significance. Muhammad enjoined his followers to grow beards; the Sikhs of India are not permitted to remove a single hair from their bodies; and the patriarchs of the tribes of Israel were bearded. Hindus, on the other hand, have traditionally been clean-shaven. Prior to the 7th cent., most Anglo-Saxons wore beards, but with the spread of Christianity, beards were discouraged. However, since that time beards of all sizes and shapes have appeared and disappeared with the cycles of fashion. The guardsman's mustache of the 18th and early 19th cent. was the sign of an army man, and after 1830 the beard became the emblem of the French radicals. In the 20th cent. beards and mustaches were generally out of fashion until the 1960s when, together with long hair, they became popular with young people.
See R. Reynolds, Beards (1950).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.