To beard or not to beard

skäggBeards in the 18:th Century is a bit of a conundrum.

The fashion of the time was to be clean-shaven. But does that mean that everyone was?

Especially in the early part of the century the practise of shaving yourself had not quite caught on. The shaving was done by a barber, or possibly someone else that was skilled in the art. In the later part of 18:th century you start to see adverts for razors for the home. In 1770 French barber Jean-Jacques Perret (1730-1784) published a treatise called Pogonotomy, or The Art of Learning to Shave Oneself.

In civilised areas this was no big problem, in more remote areas, it could become one. Soldiers had the regimental barber that kept them up to reglemented standard.

The swedsih farmerclass

Carl von Linné remarks on his travels that ‘most farmers was bearded’, even noting some differences in different parts of the land. In the province of Scania they had no beard on the lip and throat, but on the cheeks and chin, indicating the shaving was indeed practised but that they choose to have a beard, even a fashioned one.

In early 18th century a book to show sweden and its history was printed. It is called “suecia antiqua et hodierna” and it has pictures of Castles, towns, interesting places and also of men. What is noticable is that almost all farmers are depicted with beards on these pictures. I choose three below, but it is easy to google up several more.

In later 18th century the farmers class representant to the king was painted in court with his magnificent beard (I have no picture of this painting alas…)

The same is true in Norway, who has a similar tradition to sweden.


Norwegian farmer


Swedish cartographers


The Guide of the Swedish Army in the baltic

Norwegians. Bergen

Swedish Farmers, Uppland

Swedish Farmers, Uppland

In 1764 the Danish king started a park with statues of his Norwegian subjects. It shows simple folks, Fishers, hunters, farmers as well as some more fashionable types. What is noticeable is the beards on many of them…..

11707851_905655969506170_6057920880095430023_n 11229898_905655312839569_7960143694536642321_n 11855762_905656142839486_88087110619784066_n 11836778_905654546172979_7747240414357662680_n 11825117_905655362839564_8676515887287708336_n norwegian early-18th-cent

The lack of beards in paintings from 18th Century only goes so far. Those that painted simple folks, did paint some beards. It is frequently pictured on poor or old, or poor and old people. There are some few examples of respectable men with facial hair, but I guess those could have been thought rather eccentric in their time.
Thomas Gent 1733) the-departure-of-the-poacher Nicolas-Bernard Lépicié the old beggar 18thc. pitocchetto

Now, on to myself and my reenacting.

Sometimes i sport a beard.. sometimes I dont.

Soldiers and beards

Soldiers in the Carolean army was to be cleanshaved or have a moustache in some cases (cavalry and possibly grenadiers). My Friend Dennis found that a Regiment of about 6000 men had three journeyman barbers and one master. They say a good barber lifts his knife four times during a shave. A very good one three. So, lets say these barbers take ten minutes per soldier (that allows time to sit and maybe chat abit) and them 5 soldiers an hour (it never goes smooth anyway). That is 35 soldiers on a 7 hour work, times four barbers. 140 soldiers a day. Now, many soldiers might be so young that they don’t even have a proper beard to shave. Lets say a third of the regiment is that young. That gives us 4000 soldiers to shave. But a regiment is seldom full, people die and get sick get lost and all sorts of things… lets say 1000 is not in current state to get shaved. 3000 beardos to get into regimental orders. That will get the barbers a turnaround of 21 days. But they cant work on Sundays so we add three extra days for the Sundays work lost. And lets round it up to 25 for a good measure. That will mean that a soldier might get a shave every 25 days if lucky.

But then we have not counted on the barbers that most probably have joined up in the baggagetrain. The Carolean army when marching out on the Russian campaign of 1707 manned about 44.000 to 60.000 men. All of which where bound by the regs to be shaved. My guess is that few ambitious barbers would not try and get a piece of that action.

Not a Regular soldier…

1896745_10151909416307765_1173711342_nI reenact a Footdragoon. A irregular soldier often fighting behind enemy lines. Many of these where little more then highway robbers even before they got recruited but it was certainly so that they where operating far from civilized areas.

The Army commander once complained in a letter to the king that he had sent captain Långströms footdragoons out on a mission and had since then not heard from them for six months. I Think that being this far out and in a society where beards for peasants was not uncommon, shaving would have been far down the necessity list. They are described as dirty and ragged in ripped clothes. Quite possibly they shaved when in the vicinity of the army headquarters, but out in the field, bearing in mind that self shaving was not the norm, one could expect them to be quite shaggy.

So, if you are reenacting a regular soldier, a townsman or a respected Citizen. Cleanshaved would be the most probable option. If you are something like me…. maybe a beard is actually more probable.

And here is a couple of other pictures of beards in the 18:th century:
pietro_bellotti_-_old_pilgrim Pietro_Bellotti_(attr)_Anaximander lepicie_nicolas_bernard John Worley, 1624-1721-1705 Jean-Etienne_Liotard_1741 Jan_Jozef_Horemans_Die_Schulklasse Giacomo_Ceruti_-_Encounter_in_the_Wood Giacomo_Ceruti_-_Beggar_Resting_-_WGA4661 Giacomo_Ceruti Giacomo Ceruti 2 E. Teach Ceruti_Autoritratto befdd8636f3de30bf8d2e2893edb30ca bearded man with a young girl  by Jacob Toorenvliet. 4345OP314AU7611 800px-Giacomo_Ceruti_-_Sleeping_Pilgrim_-_WGA04671

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12 Responses to To beard or not to beard

  1. Great write up Johan, thanks, I believe I will keep my beard also


  2. Pingback: To beard or not to beard | Gabe the Shootist

  3. Niels says:

    Interesting essay. However, I’d strongly encourage you to not speak so generally about the 18th century. You brush too quickly over the fact that you’re talking about a very narrow window within that large century, and only a very narrow geographic range – this leaves open a lot of sloppy misinterpretation by reenactors who are looking for any excuse to wear their beards in situations where it’s simply not supported.
    It’s like writing a blog :”Ties of the 20th century.”
    Which part of the 20th century, and where?
    Patterns of tie use (or complete lack thereof) in 1910s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, Paris, Mumbai, Tokyo, Kansas City, etc, etc… were simply not even remotely easily summed up.

    Likewise, you’ve posted some GREAT images of folks with beards, but haven’t given any of the citations (i.e. CONTEXT) for any of them.
    Here’s a catalog of beards with full context, presented in this facebook album:

    If you’re going to put this much effort into an otherwise interesting, and clearly well-intention, blog, please go the extra distance.
    Perhaps something like : “Beard use, as relates to income levels, consumer items, and cultures of civility among Baltic peasantry from 1690-1720” would be far more appropriate.


    • johankaell says:

      If this was indeed an essay that would be so. This is mearly a blogpost where I collected some thoughts around beards and why I am sporting one in some cases. I will take no responsibility for sloppy reenactors.

      The intention was never to make a indepth research as I have nor the time or the energy for that. The pictures are just to show that beards where around. I can say that it is both french and italian paintings though.

      its not really much effort.. this was written in a couple of hours. In my other blog it usually takes a couple of days per post.

      The kind of in depth article you want from me will probably not happen.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Mark Kreps says:

    Firing a flint lock musket < 1820 with beard is not only dangerous but was putting the entire company at risk. None of these pictures depict a military unit.


    • johankaell says:

      One depicts a poacher. But as most military units had a reglement saying beards was not allowed there would probably not be any beards in western military regular units.

      There are plenty of beards in Turkish and Russian military units though.


    • Very interesting I have never seen any one look at how often it would be practical for a man to be shaved. I do wish you would add dates and locations to the pictures.


    • I’ve nver heard or seen such an acident… and if it would be dangerous with a flit lock a match lock would have been more dangerous, and beards are not uncomon in the 15th-17th century when those weapons were in use.


    • Jim Glover says:

      Exactly how would be a beard be a danger in using a flintlock musket circa 1820 (or any other time)? Also, how would it put a single man, much less an entire company, at risk? I’ve fired flintlocks while being bearded for years; never had a problem. Now, if you’re talking something that would need to be braided and tucked into a waistbelt, that might be an issue (imagine tangling it in the lock!). Otherwise, I’d like a bit more information. Please note – I’m not trying to pick a fight or be obnoxious; really interested in what information you may have.


  5. Pingback: Swedish commoner of 18th Century. | A thing for the past

  6. Paul Overend says:

    Probably quite different than Swedish practise but British army regulations of the period required soldiers to be clean shaven which meant daily in camp and no more than two days growth in the field.


    • johankaell says:

      Swedish armyregulations stated the same. It is not probable that regular soldiers sported a beard unless its was extraordinary situations.


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