It’s 5 September, the day back in 1698 when the good Tsar Peter the Great of Russia, in all his wisdom, decided the macho, fully bearded look sported by most of his fellow countrymen, was simply too out of touch with the times, and that Russian men really ought to follow the example of their European counterparts and cut their beards.
Rumour has it that, after returning from a trip to Europe where he was most impressed by the forward-thinking, clean-shaven Europeans, he personally cut off the beards of the men in his court. He obviously couldn’t take it upon himself to clear all the bearded Russians of their facial hair, so to make them take his request a little more seriously, he imposed a ‘beard tax’, announced on 5 September 1698, which meant that any man who opted to keep his beard would incur a hefty tax penalty. Luckily for the more rustic farmer-types, the tax was only imposed in the cities, so they could keep their beards while on the farm. If and when they needed to go to the city, however, they also had to shave, or pay a fine to keep their beards.
Bearded blokes actually had to carry with them a token showing that they had paid their beard tax. To further remind them of the silliness of their facial hair, the token was inscripted with the message “A beard is a useless burden”, or something to that effect.
Turning to modern times, I recently came across the results of a study conducted by a team from Canada and New Zealand, investigating the reactions of men and women to bearded and beardless men. Nineteen men from New Zealand and Samoa were first photographed with 6-week old beards, in two sets of photographs – one where they looked serious, and another where they were asked to make an angry face. Their beards were then shaved off, and they were again photographed in the same poses. According to the feedback from respondents, women were more drawn to the beardless men, while men considered the bearded men to appear more important and imposing. So, it seems you have a choice – do you want to impress the guys, or charm the ladies?
Further in the same article, however, there’s mention of a study where the reactions of women to bearded men was extended to also include chaps with 5 o’clock stubble. It appears that this may be the magic option from the attraction point of view – as the article notes, it seems women like men who can grow beards, but don’t quite do. Perhaps these men are seen as suitably masculine, yet not quite out of touch with their feminine sides.
I have also found a report on a recent survey of more than 2,000 men and women conducted by Lynx, which gives some rather conclusive anti-beard statistics – while 63% of the men surveyed believed their facial hair improved their manliness and attractiveness, no less than 92% of the women preferred a clean-shaven man. In fact, 86% went so far as to say they found beards unattractive.
Perhaps that can be taken as some modern form of Peter the Great’s beard tax. In Tsar Peter’s case, men were allowed to keep their beards as long as they were willing to part with their money; nowadays you can keep your money, but you may well have to say goodbye to any romantic possibilities!