Book Project


The Bearded Age:
The Rise and Fall of Victorian America’s Most Infamous Fashion

The Bearded Age chronicles the rise and fall of the great American “beard movement”: that picturesque period, spanning roughly 1850 to 1890, when millions of American, as well as European men, donned enormous, bushy, and often elaborately-groomed beards.

The book tells this story by following the lives of two little-known but infectiously-charismatic figures whose lives intersected with the history of the beard-movement: a razor-strop peddler and anti-alcohol lecturer named Henry Smith and a barber turned real-estate magnate named James Thomas.

Beginning with Smith’s birth in 1815 and ending with Thomas’s death a century later, The Bearded Age traces the many influential figures in the history of facial hair whose paths (literally or figuratively) crossed those of the peddler and the barber: from the murderous fictional barber Sweeney Todd to the renowned dandy Alfred d’Orsay; from abolitionist Frederick Douglass to president Abraham Lincoln; from financier Jay Gould to industrialist (and razor innovator) King Camp Gillette.

Taken as a whole, the book describes how white Americans began growing beards as a result of racist fears of black barbers and sexist anxieties about women’s suffrage; how Americans’ quest for territorial expansion and the upheavals of the Civil War helped cement the style in popular culture; and how a combination of changing razor technology and racist fears of bearded immigrants ultimately led to the fashion’s demise.

Manuscript revisions are currently in progress; for updates on the project’s progress, please see my blog.