Even a US history buff might be hard pressed to remember who was the last US president that had a beard or mustache. It certainly wasn’t anyone from the post-war television era. If you mentally run through our former leaders, you will eventually land upon president William Howard Taft, who served from 1909-1913. Even more surprising, every president before Taft for a 40 year stretch wore facial hair, with the exception of President McKinley. Why have beards and moustaches fallen out of favor with our political leaders?
While there are many probable causes for this, it is a fact of life today that men’s facial hair is frowned upon in many professional environments. Perhaps a reaction to the counter-culture clothing and hair of 60’s and 70’s, facial hair is still considered by many in industries like finance to be unprofessional and a possible an indicator of letting yourself go. Which brings us to the topic of US presidents.
Presidential candidate and former Vice President Al Gore created a whirlwind of chatter by growing a beard after his post-election defeat in 2000, prompting a New York Times’ piece to note that Mr. Gore’s advisors warned him that “facial fuzziness might lead to political suicide”. Despite the recent resurgence in beards and moustaches among millennials after the 2008 recession, a political candidate from either party might encounter some headwinds in today’s 24/7 news environment that is hungry for trivialities to fill air time.
That’s really unfortunate because just like a woman’s appearance, a man’s appearance has no bearing on their ability to do his job. It is perhaps time for the country and the business world to recognize that both males who are either cleanly shaven or sporting moustaches and beards can be gentlemen, leaders, and thoughtful citizens. This fact is perhaps highlighted by the recent Movember movement, where men all over the world grow moustaches during the month of November to raise awareness for prostate cancer and other men’s health issues. From college freshman to corporate offices, groups of men now compete with each other to see who can raise the most cash while simultaneously rocking awesome moustaches.
Perhaps then we’re at the dawn of a new trend, one where society is slowly accepting facial hair in more and more domains of life. And like any bottom-up movement, the customs of the people might crawl up to our political class. Beards in 2016? Maybe not, but the future has never looked brighter since president Taft left the White House. Time will tell.