A hairy story

Beards have long been associated with fighting men and warriors. Besides signifying wisdom (!), the beard has also been associated with male dominance – even aggression. So it was quite surprising to us here at Men Rock when, last November, Prince Harry, a former serving soldier, was berated for wearing a beard to the Cenotaph Remembrance Ceremony. It was seen by some as a sign of disrespect. In fact, beards are usually banned among those serving in the British Army.

Beards are only grudgingly allowed in a few circumstances, such as when a soldier is suffering from a skin complaint, or has strong religious reasons for retaining facial hair. While Special Forces or those on covert operations are also allowed to grow beards when behind enemy lines, they are not allowed to keep them on parade.

Something to hold onto

Going back in history, there was a very good reason evinced for the banning of beards among fighting men in close combat situations: the beard gave your swordsman something to hold onto while he attempted to lop off your head. Can’t see that as having much relevance today…

But not all arms of the services have a downer on facial hair. The good old Royal Navy, famed for its bearded sailors, is currently celebrating the beard as a naval tradition via the Forces Network. Is this just coincidental timing, or are the mariners springing to the defence of their cherished facial hair?

In a heartfelt piece, the Navy points out that for over three millennia sailors have been depicted ‘wearing the full set’.  And do we detect a grudging admiration for the facial furniture of one Captain Blackbeard, a notorious pirate who terrorised the Caribbean in the early 18th century? They quote a report from the time which ran thus: ’So our Heroe, Captain Teach, assumed the Cognomen of Black-beard, from that large Quantity of Hair, which, like a frightful Meteor, covered his whole Face, and frightened America more than any Comet that has appeared there a long Time. This Beard was black, which he suffered to grow of an extravagant Length; as to Breadth, it came up to his Eyes; he was accustomed to twist it with Ribbons, in small Tails.’

Thankfully, we don’t think the look has reached Hoxton yet.

The ‘tash backlash

One of the beards greatest supporters was Queen Victoria. According to the Navy: ‘She ordered the First Lord of the Admiralty that in the case of sailors only “an entire beard… kept short and very clean” would suffice, adding that “on no account should moustaches be allowed without beards. That must be clearly understood.”’

To this day, the rules for growing beards are set out in The Queen’s Regulations for the Royal Navy, paragraph 3818.

First, permission to grow a beard must be given by the Commanding Officer and it must be ‘kept neatly trimmed especially, at the lower neck and cheekbones.’

Not so fast, though: ‘It is within the subjective judgement of the Command to define an acceptable appearance of a beard, as much depends on the features of the individual.’

No aspiring hipsters

Designer stubble’, defined as hair shorter in length than 2.5mm, is no-no. And aspiring hipsters are out of luck: ‘Extended or Hipster Beards’ are banned if more than 25.5mm in length.

Trim is definitely the order of the day: ‘A beard should be of a length that does not extend beyond the top part of the collar front of a service shirt. More specifically, if the Naval serviceman was wearing a shirt and tie, the beard would not obscure the knot of the tie. The breadth of the beard should not exceed the maximum width of the line between the Naval serviceman’s ears.’

Also out are ‘Beards taking an excessive time to grow’, so bad news if your facial hair is less than fecund.

They end their enlightening piece on a heavy note:  ‘So, Britain may have a shrinking Royal Navy, down to just 77 ships from a peak of 1,400 at the outbreak of the Second World War, but at least when it comes to beards, Britannia still rules the waves.’

Note to self: Must find out what the situation is vis-à-vis internet order delivery to ocean-going destroyers. How do we get supplies of Men Rock men’s quality grooming products out to our brave sailors? (Ed: Aren’t we stretching the credibility of the plug for Men Rock here?)