In our lifetime, all American presidents have been clean-shaven, but have you ever wondered if that’s a requirement to hold the office? The answer is no. Beards and facial hair used to be the norm for POTUS.
While there are no laws prohibiting the President of the United States from growing a beard or mustache, all of the presidents for the last century have been clean-shaven. William Taft was the last president to have facial hair. Beards and mustaches were popular and even preferred by presidents from the Civil War era until the Progressive era.
If you want to learn more about the evolution of facial hair in the Oval Office, read on!
Is the President of the United States allowed to have a beard?
Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama, George Bush, and Joe Biden may have had very different political views while in office, but one thing they had in common was being completely devoid of facial hair.
Technically, the President of the United States is allowed to have a beard, but the wearing of facial hair is avoided today due to psychological perceptions. Since the inception of the Presidential office, eleven Presidents have worn some type of facial hair during office. Five had full beards, four had mustaches, and two sported significant sideburns.
Abraham Lincoln’s facial hair has been immortalized on both the penny and the five-dollar bill and you can see Ulysses S. Grant’s beard on the fifty.
Did the founding fathers have beards?
Beard trends have ebbed and flowed throughout history. One minute they represent virility and demand respect, the next they make you question one’s hygiene.
The founding fathers of our country did not have beards. During this time, hygiene was a big problem so Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, and the other founders were committed to presenting a clean, groomed appearance at all times.
Lice, bedbugs, and other vermin ran rampant during Early America. Baths were scarce and shaves even scarcer. Being clean-shaven was a way to show one’s prominence, education, and class in society.
Who was the first President to have a beard?
The Civil War brought with it a new view on facial hair. All of the high-profile generals – including Robert E. Lee, William Sherman, and future president Ulysses Grant – had some hair on their faces. Some had beards, some had ‘staches and many had some epic sideburns. Facial hair at this time was synonymous with masculinity and power.
The first President to have a beard in office was number sixteen, President Abraham Lincoln. John Quincy Adams was the first President to have any facial hair; while he didn’t have a beard, he was well-known for his prominent sideburns.
We may consider Abraham Lincoln to be a trend-setter since he was the first President to go the whisker route. However, his choice to go bearded was actually a request from an unusual source.
Historical accounts say that 11-year old Grace Bedell sent Lincoln a letter telling him to grow a beard to improve his chances of getting elected. His initial response to her made no promises, but by the time he reached the White House, his beard was on full display.
Who was the last President to have a beard?
Facial hair went through its Presidential heyday and began to wane in the early 1900s.
The last President to have a beard in office was Benjamin Harrison. William H. Taft was the last to wear any facial hair while serving as president. He was often seen with a beard and goatee in other political offices, but he is most well-known for his iconic handlebar mustache while serving as President.
The last major party candidate to have facial hair was Thomas Dewey. His mustache was rumored to be part of the reason for his Republican losses in 1940 and 1944.
List of Presidents with facial hair
There was a period in history when facial hair on POTUS was accepted and even expected. Presidents sixteen through twenty-seven all had some degree of facial hair except for two: Andrew Johnson and William McKinley.
Abraham Lincoln (16), Ulysses S. Grant (18), Rutherford B. Hayes (19), James Garfield (20), and Benjamin Harrison (23) wore full beards while in office. Chester A. Arthur (21), Grover Cleveland (22), Theodore Roosevelt (26), and William Taft (27) wore mustaches. John Quincy Adams (6) and Martin Van Buren (8) wore sideburns.
Fun Fact: There’s a collector’s market for Presidential hair. Carrying locks of a president’s hair in a locket was a symbol of honor. It proved that you had actually been close enough to touch him; the precursor to modern day photography. Some of Lincoln’s hair has sold for as much as $40,000.
Why don’t presidents have beards anymore?
Since beards were so popular among the political set at one time, what happened to send candidates scrambling to the barber?
Presidents don’t have beards anymore because a clean-shaven face shows neutrality. Beards can alienate some people based on psychological perceptions of aggression and narrow-mindedness. Some people connect beards to communist rulers and anti-establishment protestors.
Think of some of the most controversial leaders in history and visions of Castro-ish beards and Hitler-esque mustaches come to mind. Facial hair is often associated with extremism and over-the-top domination.
Long hair and long beards also bring to mind the hippie protest era. While a bearded leader of the free world may not be first in line to a Vietnam protest or a member of the NRA, facial hair can mess with the psyche of those with deep-rooted opinions.
While it’s impossible to please everyone on every side, Presidential candidates try to avoid any kind of tyrannical or rebellious perception. Research shows this is a smart choice. Studies have shown that beards elicit thoughts of aggressiveness and low social maturity.
One interesting example of how appearance can affect perceptions is the first 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debate. Their presidential debates were the first ones to be televised. Those that only listened to the debate on the radio said Nixon should have won. Those that watched the debate on television said the win should have gone to Kennedy.
Nixon showed up to the debate looking pale and wearing a scruffy 5 o’clock shadow because he had been injured and spent the weeks prior in the hospital. In contrast, Kennedy showed up looking tanned, clean-shaven, and well-rested. Historians believe the outcome would have been different had television not been a factor.
Is the Presidential Hair Act real?
Did Congress really spend time passing a Presidential Hair Act in 1912, 1974, or 1994? No, this is fake news.
There also isn’t a law against the Pope having a beard.
The Presidential Hair Act is not real but makes for some entertaining conversations. When this question is asked on message boards, respondents have fun making up all kinds of ridiculous guidelines that are supposedly included.
One person’s explanation of the “act” stated that growing a beard was an impeachable offense. Another said it “prohibits shaving the head bald unless he is already 82.6% bald by nature.” Yet another clever soul shared that creative head shaving was banned unless it was a picture of an American flag or eagle.
This urban legend even warned that any presidential violators would see a 67% reduction in their post-President pension.