A study in four parts

Groomed for Power is divided into four chapters, each dealing with a community of workers who played an instrumental role in shaping the American facial hair fashion and the meanings with which it was associated.

  • Chapter 1 focuses on the African American men who dominated the antebellum barbering trade. It shows how white customers’ racialized fears of their barbers — embodied in the trope of the murderous tonsor — caused many shavers to abandon the shop. It was a decision, the chapter argues, with painful consequences for the history of men’s grooming.

  • Chapter 2 focuses on British razor makers. More specifically, it shows how American economic nationalism — embodied in the so-called ‘Black Tariff’ of 1842 — caused razors to decline in quality and increased in price. As such, it contributed to the increased painfulness of shaving, as inexperienced home shavers took up the tonsorial arts with sub-standard tools.

  • Chapter 3 focuses on the makers of hair tonics, dyes, and restoratives — designated, collectively, as ‘patent hair product’ producers — and the role their advertisements played in shaping public attitudes toward facial hair. Widely linked with dandies and dandyism, the proliferation of patent hair product ads in American print had the effect of ‘feminizing’ facial hair.

  • Chapter 4 chronicles hirsute American men’s efforts to rebut the ‘feminization of facial hair’ described in Chapter 3. Focusing on a vast public outpouring of pro-beard sentiment — which borrowed arguments from women’s fashion writings — Groomed for Power‘s final chapter shows how a motley collection of journalist transformed ‘feminized’ facial hair into the ‘manly’ beard.

For detailed descriptions of each chapter, click the links above.