I posted last week about Levi P. Morton, and frankly, no one cared.
But there was one question I feel I must address!
Levi had some serious sideburns, and one of my faithful readers queried, “So should we credit him as a stylista for the mutton chop look?”
And though Levi’s were epic, he was not the first, and as to nomenclature, the term mutton chops goes way back, so far back that most folks aren’t sure.
Men have had facial hair since the beginning of time and until about 4,000 BC, most guys just went with the bearded look.
Most historians suppose shaving started in the Stone Age since there are cave paintings showing Neanderthals using seashells and make-shift tweezers to remove unwanted hair.
Some say flint blades found in archaeological digs date back to 30,000 BC, and flint would provide an edge sharp enough to shave, but alas, would dull rapidly.
Egyptians shaved for religious reasons at first, but are credited with introducing shaving as a daily routine for hygienic reasons.
They also invented make-UP and high heels.
In Egyptian culture, facial hair was indicative of neglect in the hygiene area, and the really rich kept a servant whose whole job was to shave the males of the family!
Alexander the Great some say, brought shaving to Europe. Some also say, that Al didn’t need to shave, and insisted everyone else do so to keep him from looking like a teenager when he was the king and all. Some dispute this as there is a mosaic in Pompeii supposedly depicting Alexander with side burns.
But, who knows? I wasn’t there, so I can’t unequivocally say yea or nay.
Another theory is that in battle, beards were easily grabbed and held on to, so Al had them shave to make the battle go better.
So when did it stop?
Well, in most European cultures it never did.
It just got fancier and more complicated.
Beards were passé in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries, but facial hair was not.
Mustaches and side burns were the style de jour.
Prince Albert had sideburns as did most of the royals of 19th Century Europe. And as royals are known to do, it got out of hand.
In some cases, way out of hand.
Kaiser Wilhelm I had side-whiskers to go along with his mustache.
Once the 19th Century rolled around, most European men were clean shaven, especially in Poland and Eastern Europe – it had to do with that battle thing.
But, nonetheless, military men brought facial hair back. The Hussars all had sideburns, and as the European nations became Imperial nations, the fashion flowed to the Western Hemisphere.
Vice President and duelist Aaron Burr had sideburns…
…as did President Martin Van Buren. They were buds, BTW.
Young Van Buren
Old Van Buren
Robert E. Lee, US Grant and all the young Turks at West Point had them.
And when the Civil War broke out, those who didn’t have beards had side burns.
But they weren’t called that until Ambrose Burside, a not so great Union general, gained more celebrity for his over the top mutton chops than for his prowess in battle.
Burnside was a popular guy well liked in the army and later in politics. He made friends easily, was known to smile most of the time, and had an uncanny ability to remember names
Professionally – not so much! He was referred to as “unimaginative”, “obstinate” – he was a General after all – and Grant called him “unfitted” for command.
Nevertheless, he was popular enough to leave his mark on American Culture when his name was reversed and used to christen the side whiskers that made him stand out in a crowd.
Burn Sides became Side Burns, and voila! we have a style, a fashion, a trend, and nomenclature.
They’ve come and gone over the years; the 1950s brought the greaser look as Brando was the Wild One and Elvis Presley was all the rage.
In the 1960s they were part of the counter-culture. Beards were popular too, but side burns, while making a statement didn’t terrify the establishment so much!
I gradually let mine sneak down the side of my face all through high school, and by the time I graduated, they were long enough to make a statement, annoy the powers that be, and tell the world I was a grown UP.
Or so I thought!