Topics in this study will appear over time.

Friday, October 19, 2012

That Fiend in Hell: Soapy Smith's beard

The beard ... in 1898 ... was seriously old-fashioned. Dandies had not worn full beards since Rutherford B. Hayes left the White House in 1881; by the turn of the twentieth century, the clean-shaven look was all the rage. ...[V]ery few allowed a full beard to grow. It only raised the question of a city man's suspicious character that he would grow a beard in 1898.

That Fiend in Hell, p. 31


The author is correct that beards were on their way out of style, but they were hardly missing from society, nor were they objects of questionable suspicion. For some years previous to growing a beard, Soapy Smith sported a mustache. It is believed he grew his beard in 1890 and kept it until his death in 1898.

A beardless Soapy Smith
Rocky Mountain News
March 20, 1890

With his beard, Soapy was in good company historically. After President Lincoln in the 1860s, every president except Andrew Johnson (1865-1869) and William McKinley (1897-1901) had either a beard or a heavy moustache, and after McKinley, two more presidents had facial hair.

  • Rutherford B. Hayes had a full beard, 1877-1881.
  • James A. Garfield had a full beard, 1881.
  • Chester A. Arthur had a huge mustache and sideburns, 1881-1885.
  • Grover Cleveland had a large mustache, 1885-1889.
  • Benjamin Harrison had a full beard, 1889-1893.
  • Grover Cleveland had a large mustache, 1893-1897.
  • William McKinley had no facial hair, 1897-1901.
  • Theodore Roosevelt had a prominent mustache, 1901-1909.
  • William Howard Taft had a huge mustache, 1909-1913.

An online search produced numerous sources documenting how the "clean-shaven look" was not "all the rage" and how facial hair was a prominent fashion choice. The following are two examples.

Male hair was cut fairly short during the 1890s, however facial hair was fashionable. Moustaches were common and beards ranged from bushy, to pointed, to rounded, to goatees. In spite of this, the clean-shaven look was also gaining popularity for younger men during this decade.
(1890s Costume, "Here you are able to find detail on 1890s fashion." Nunn, Joan. Fashion in Costume 1200~2000. 2nd ed. Chicago: New Amsterdam Books, 2000.)

After 1860, and until the end of the century, hair was used shorter, but beards and moustaches were constantly used. (The History of the World of Hair, "The Nineteenth Century." ).