Egyptians: Inventors of Barbers, Razors and Fake Beards
Updated: Mar 17
Beards have always been sexy. Even when beards were uncomfortable to the ancient Egyptians because of the hot and humid climate and they were considered unclean, these ancient men would not forgo their beards.
If they had the means, wealthy and royal men would don fake beards- made from human hair and jewels. The average man would use other materials including sheep's hair.
The shapes of these beards varied to indicate social status. Gods had beards that turned up at the end, and so many kings were buried with their fake beards fashioned after the gods. In life, kings typically wore their fake beards long and squared at the bottom or in a long braid. Regular men, if they could afford grooming, wore their fake beards short.
Women pharaohs also wore beards as it was a sign of divinity and power.
Egyptians are recorded as having been the first people to create shaving tools. These were stone blades set in a wooden handle. Eventually they replaced those stones with copper blades. With these tools, the Egyptians were able to create the barber profession, visiting the homes of aristocrats. For the common man, the first barber shops were outside under a sycamore.
Eventually around the 4th century BC, Europeans caught on and began to shave. Alexander the Great was a huge proponent of shaving because of cleanliness, but also he believed that it gave his men an edge in war. During battles the Persians were pulling men down by their beards and killing them. Alexander the Great gave orders, and barbers were in great demand!
Grooming was important to these cultures, as it is today. And this importance led to biases then as well as now.
Today we see bias in professional settings against those with beards or poorly trimmed beards, but this is not new; the Greeks also showed this bias, hiring well groomed men over unkempt men. In fact, the word barbarian means unshaven.
By 1100 AD, barbers often did more than cut hair. They would often tend to wounds and perform surgeries leading to the title of surgeon-barber. This field opened up because it became unholy to deal with blood, and priests were no longer permitted to perform such duties.
In fact, today people can visit the Surgeons-barber Hall in London. It houses experimental procedures performed by barbers. It was not until 1747, that these professions became separate. This led to a decline in the status of the barber until around the 19th century when A.B. Moler opened the first barber school.
The prominence of the barber is thriving today as men’s grooming has become less taboo and more and more men are looking for styles and products that keep them sharp.
Beards Through the Ages
4th Century AD Ammianus Marcellinus, a Roman Soldier
“Do you suppose that your beard creates brains …? Take my advice and shave it off at once; for that beard is a creator of lice and not of brains.’”
1612 William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing
“He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man. He that is more than a youth is not for me, and he that is less than a man, I am not for him.”
Early 1800s A Salem, Massachusetts, barber. Salem Gazette
A barber is “the essence of good-nature … [His] conversation consists of what Wordsworth calls ‘personal talk.’ He deals with men, not principles. Every flying bit of news, every anecdote, and in fact, every good thing said by the leading wits of the day, seems to come right through his shop window, and to stick to him, like burs to a boy’s jacket.”
1853 Frederick Douglass Frederick Douglass’ Paper
“To shave half a dozen faces in the morning and sleep or play the guitar in the afternoon – all this may be easy, but is it noble, is it manly, and does it improve and elevate us?”
1945: John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row
“A man with a beard was always a little suspect anyway. You couldn't say you wore a beard because you liked a beard. People didn't like you for telling the truth. You had to say you had a scar so you couldn't shave.”
Sometime nowish- Ashton Kutcher
The scruffier your beard, the sharper you need to dress.