Meet the Whiskerandos: why today’s hipster beards are nothing new

Men donned fake sideburns to join in with a 19th century craze for extravagant whiskers, a historian has discovered.

The trendsetters were so keen to take part in this new fad in the early 1800s that they were prepared to suffer ridicule and abuse.

The fashion was so popular it was reported that even women were drawing on false whiskers and training their hair to grow down the side of their faces.

Historian Dr Alun Withey, who made the discovery, said: “Whiskers quickly became an essential accoutrement to any young man – or ‘young buck’ as they were described – with social pretensions.

“By 1812 the trend was apparently in full flow, and certainly appears to have been popular in London.”

One correspondent to the Tradesman, or Commercial Magazine, in July that year professed astonishment at the “spreading proportion of hair on the human face” he witnessed there, describing it as nothing less than a “whiskered mania” which had “very far overstepped its bounds”.

The new trend quickly spurred a market for various lotions and potions to help men care for their whiskers.

Products such as “Russia Oil” claimed to make hair “grow thick and long, even in bald places, whiskers, eyebrows”.

A contender for the fourth British Beard and Moustache Championships in Blackpool in 2018 (Danny Lawson/PA)

In 1807, perfumer John Chasson, of Cornhill, London, advertised his “Incomparable Fluid”, for changing hair, whiskers and eyebrows from grey or “red” to “beautiful and natural shades of brown and black”.

By 1815, the number of such preparations had proliferated.

Not only this, false whiskers could even be added to wigs via a system of springs attached to the head.

In 1802 London “peruke-maker” Robinson, of Portman Square, began to advertise his “Natural Spring Wigs”, which were available “with or without whiskers”.

Women were not left out.

Several fashion journals, such as the popular Le Belle Epoque, reported a trend for ladies to train their lovelocks down the side of their faces “in imitation of whiskers”.

Another advertisement by Chasson suggested that some women took to using pencils to draw whiskers on their cheeks.

The “Tricosian Fluid” was advertised as being useful for women who wanted to dye their eyebrows and whiskers.

Dr Withey, from the University of Exeter, said: “Whiskers were part of the recognised ‘uniform’ of the dandy, the young metropolitan elite.

“Like beards, those who sported them thought it added to their masculinity, making them seem stronger.

“But the variety of products on offer show that perhaps older men, and even some women, wanted to join the trend.”

Extravagant whiskers as sported by contestants in the British Beard and Moustache Championships in 2018 are not a new fashion (Danny Lawson/PA)

But just like the recent beard trend, whiskers also divided opinion.

Lovers of facial hair were accused not only of having suspect political affiliations or being of dubious moral character, but of appearing “monstrous”.

While some women did appear to embrace the fashion, others were not so sure.

In 1800, Lady Melesina Trench was unimpressed after seeing a French minister’s whiskers, noting in her diary they “contributed to the dinginess of his appearance”.

In 1811, Lady Sydney Owenson entreated her husband not to grow his whiskers too long, even including two caricatures of him with whiskers in the current style.

“Just as today’s hipsters are sometimes mocked for their extravagant beards, the ‘whiskerandos’ of early 19th century England also faced ridicule,” Dr Withey added.

“But they carried on regardless, slathering their precious facial hair with ointments and lotions until the fashion slowly diminished in the 1820s.”

- Press Association

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