Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 73, Tuesday, June 23, 2009


In your face!

Whisker fashion has been a trend inspired by men of science, art and religion. The metrosexual man may be a recent hype but its origin can arguably be traced to the advent of the razor. When men learnt to shave off facial hair, they came in touch with their feminine side. In our culture, few favour whisker trends; most men opt for a clean shave. But experimentation with beards, moustaches and sideburns is a popular culture amongst the youth.

This week Star Lifestyle treads on the path of whisker history. Our journey would take you from ancient Egypt to modern day fashion scenario. Whether you prefer to keep well-trimmed beards, a waxed handlebar, English muttonchops for sideburns or just be clean shaved, this would undoubtedly be a walk to remember.

Although the human child is normally born with hair, the male does not develop his body hair until reaching puberty. Facial hair, in the guise of a beard and moustache, then develop as a secondary sexual characteristic, and father's razor now probably gets tampered with! This facial growth indicates onset of maturity for the youth, and has been fondly quoted as 'that noble distinction of 'manhood'.

Artistic reproduction of early man, either in Biblical terms or under Darwinian theory, frequently depicts him bearded. Artists tended to portray the maleness of both God and Adam by including both with beards. Depiction of Greek gods and their Roman counterparts are also found adorned with a beard symbolising wisdom, strength and omnipotence.

The men of Mesopotamia - the Sumerians, later Assyrians and Persians- all devoted intense care to oiling, dyeing and dressing their beards. Heated tongs were applied to create elaborate tiers and cascades of curls, ringlets and frizzles. Beard length was a definite indicator of status.

In medieval hierarchy, bishops ranked with knights both being subservient to the king. All played major roles in establishing beard styles for their subject, but none more so than the monarch who established laws and determined social standards customs and rules.

By the late 18th century, previously clean shaven men commenced to re-grow whiskers. A new fad developed for the vertical extension of the hairline in front of the ears and along the lower cheeks. Such whiskers were termed sideburns, sidebars or sidebroads and leeboards in the British Navy.

European vogue was for sideburns to be worn longer and thicker. It was not uncommon for the cheeks to be fully whiskered, without a moustache and fully clean-shaven chin. Such distinctive whiskers were similar to the portion of meat and hence referred to as mutton-chops.

Throughout history whisker fashion has undergone strict measures like taxation and sometimes endured a ban. But trends adapted to the laws of the land and evolved new trends. Sometimes, keeping whiskers were made compulsory. During the 1880's, the British Army imposed a ban on shaving the upper lip, and as a consequence the walrus moustache came into prominence. This tended to droop over the upper lip and hence was vulgarly nicknamed soup strainer. Today its popularity is universal, and it is widely worn throughout all continents.

However, by far the most widely worn whiskers which have endured over the centuries, is the medium length beard now termed bushy- derived from the slang term “bush” meaning general beard growth. It still graces men's visages at the close of 20th century.

The current trend in whisker fashion has evolved over almost two millennia. The familiar goatee, the Elvis sideburns or the walrus moustache- although the current vogue- have been observed in whisker fashion dating back centuries. With utmost certainty, more styles will evolve. That's for sure.

By Mannan Mashhur Zarif
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Model: Md. Tasyn Javed Rahim, Umar Ali Khan, Adil Ali Khan
Special Thanks to Talat and Fariha for arranging the photoshoot


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