Book Project


Groomed for Power:
A Cultural Economy of the
Male Body in Nineteenth-Century America

Groomed for Power tells the story of how men’s bodies are made: whose labor produces them, and how meanings are inscribed upon them.

It tells this story by focusing on one of the most dynamic moments in the history of men’s fashion: the nineteenth-century American ‘beard movement,’ in which tens of millions of men adopted elaborate facial hair for the first time in centuries.

Based on a doctoral dissertation of the same name, Groomed for Power shows how four communities of workers — including African-American barbers, British razor makers, patent hair product advertisers, and women’s fashion writers — helped shape and lend meaning to this movement.

A cultural history from the bottom up, Groomed for Power asks readers to reconsider both fashion and body care in light of the work that makes them possible.

What emerges is an ‘accidental’ history of the most important development in men’s fashion between the decline of knee breeches and the rise of blue jeans: a history that none of its participants set out to make, but which proved enormously consequential nonetheless.

Intimately linked to many of the ‘big stories’ of nineteenth-century American history — the hardening of white supremacy, the rise of American economic nationalism, and the emergence of a ‘natural’ ideal of manhood — the story of the ‘beard movement’ offers a body’s-eye-view on the American past.

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