An Intricate History of Shaving

Shaving today is one of the cornerstones of a man’s hygiene routine. Not only is it culturally enforced, but it’s socially necessary. An untrimmed beard – or sprouts of something that might be able to pass for a beard – is simply not acceptable. Time and technology has afforded men the ability to look after themselves, and when we neglect this responsibility, we neglect our own character. But the history of shaving wasn’t always this way.

Shaving, as it is today, is a luxury; a luxury that certainly was not afforded to our forefathers. Whether you’re using 2-blade throwaways or a range of intimate creams and electric shavers, it’s your duty to look sharp. This is the history of shaving.

Pre-History (30,000 B.C.)

Beards were all the rage during cavemen days.

What’s the point of shaving when you’re chasing a rabbit and being chased by a sabre-tooth tiger? Correct, there is no point. The history of shaving is an evolution of necessity. However, archaeological finds have confirmed that some of the finer cavemen removed any unwanted hair with anything they can find. An ancient shaving tool of choice was the clamshell, which could act as a sort of primal pair of tweezers.

Dawn of Civilisation (4000 B.C. – 500 B.C.)

Sargon of Akkad, ruler of the Akkadians.

Razors began to evolve alongside weaponry. Just like swords and spears used in the act of war – the sharper the blade, the more useful the razor. Ancient shaving tools fell to the wayside. The most plentiful material for the short blades at the time was copper and these made their rounds among the aristocracy of the time.

Most notably, Egyptians began to prioritise boyish beauty over bravado masculinity and less hair began to equate to more ruling power. Alternatively, cultures such as the Mesopotamians valued the bearded man as an archetype of strength and warrior-like leadership. Still, even these warchiefs understood the value of a well-trimmed, well-shaped beard.

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Greco-Roman (800 B.C. – 450 A.D.)

Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome

The Greeks, in their philosophical wisdom, prioritised beards as symbols of learning and intellectual ability. To cut one’s beard was shameful and was only done so in mourning. However, the Greek states differed culturally and the Macedonian Alexander the Great was in favour of being clean-shaven due to the fear that a Persian enemy may grab it in battle. By this time, steel was the favoured instrument of use.

RELATED: History’s Finest: The Legacy Of Marcus Aurelius

In Rome, a boys’ first shaving was seen as the initial step to manhood and was celebrated among his family and peers. In comparison to their Greek forefathers, the Romans grew their beards when in mourning. Being clean-shaven in Ancient Rome may have been viewed as their cultural responsibility as the Barbarians at their northern borders were notorious for shaggy, unkempt beards. This was until roughly 100 A.D. when Emperor Hadrian made beards all the rage throughout the empire once again.

Middle Ages (700 A.D. – 1400 A.D.)

Along with a clean-shaven face, Catholic priests were expected to have clean-shaven crowns, too.

As for most innovation of the time, this period was considerably stagnant for beard trends and shaving. Styles waxed and waned depending on the powerful at the time. Viking invaders into Britain and Normandy preferred their large beards while the more traditional local rulers often opted for a clean-shaven look. Peasants, on the other hand, had very little access to culture. Beard styles would have most likely been the last thing on their mind.

With the rise of Protestantism throughout Europe, many influential players began to don beards in open revolt against the Catholic Church, who encouraged their holy men to be clean-shaven.

Renaissance/Enlightenment/Many Revolutions (1400 A.D. – 1850 A.D)

Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States.

Once again, clean-shaven was the choice of the ruler, classier elite. This can be seen from the Venetian upper bourgeoisie to the growing British and American political class. In 1770, a French Barber named Jean-Jacques Perret published a how-to titled The Art of Learning to Shave Oneself and keeping a well-trimmed beard (or clean-shaven face) became commonplace, even among the poor. In wake of this, the Perret razor was invented which added the wooden handle to each shaving blade and prevented deep cuts. This instrument would later evolve into the straight razor.

Straight razors were made increasingly popular and their operation slowly became easier. Men would rub the blade against a leather canvas to realign the blade’s edge and remove any corrosion before each new shave. With Victorian chivalry came a revival of the neat and well-trimmed beard. However, Britain’s American counterparts mainly kept clean-shaven, with the first 15 U.S. Presidents deciding against beards. That is until, very famously, Abraham Lincoln donned one of the finest beards of all time.

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Modernity (1850 A.D. – Present)

King C. Gillette, American innovator.

The entrepreneurship of early America influenced the history of shaving and nobody made more profit than Mr. King Gillette. This name is still synonymous with the history of shaving today, as Gillette made disposable shavers mainstream and took shaving out of the hands of saloons and servants and into the hands of the every-day man. Shaping a beard, or completely getting rid of it, had never been so simple.

Across the pond, the moustache was hitting its cultural height – so much so that with the advent of the First World War, British soldiers were expected to rock the mo as part of their military uniform.  A shocking fact, considering that many young men of today struggle to grow half a moustache.

In 1928, the electric shaver was invented and in 1930 the U.S. army banned beards as they prevented a tighter seal for gas masks.

Since these times, fashionable facial hair has ebbed and flowed with the popular culture of the day, especially in regard to music. The sharp, professional sound of the early Beatles demanded a clean-shave with a clean-suit until the Free Love movement of the ’60s and ’70s saw beards make a full comeback. Until today, at the peak of the history of shaving. Here are some of the best pictures of this facial hair and shaving evolution of the past half-century or so.

The Beatles. Obviously very pre-India trip.

Kurt Cobain lead the grunge era. Beards were the result of neglect more than anything else.

Jimi Hendrix, peak Woodstock.

If Post Malone’s ‘beard’ is leading style trends today, then we’re in trouble.


Jay is a writer and content producer for The Versatile Gent.

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