Facial Hair

June 22, 2004 | 27 comments
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Dan Burke speculated, tongue in cheek, on the purpose of the church’s policies against facial hair stemming from a desire to protect members against archetypal authority figures, but the most likely reason for the policy is fashion cycles: the church’s historical acceptance of facial hair perfectly tracks the American fashion trend.

Facial hair was popular for American elite society only between the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century. The clean-shaven look was popular at the time of America’s founding — none of the founders wore facial hair — and continued until around 1850. Until Abraham Lincoln in 1860, no major candidate for president had facial hair. Of the eight presidents who served between Lincoln and Wilson, only two were clean shaven. The last major candidate for president who had facial hair was Thomas Dewey, in 1948. This same fashion cycle is evident from Supreme Court justices, too: beards reined from 1860 to 1940.

Looking at the presidents of the church, they reflect this same fashion cycle. Joseph Smith didn’t wear facial hair, and Brigham Young didn’t either until about 1860. Every prophet kept facial hair through George Albert Smith. No prophet has worn facial hair since the mustached Dewey narrowly lost to clean-shaven Truman.

If you want advance notice of the church’s policy regarding beards, look to the major political figures. They are the bellwethers of the American fashion consciousness the church adheres to.

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27 Responses to Facial Hair

  1. Ron Landry on June 22, 2004 at 12:29 pm

    When did the church institute a dress code for missionaries and GAs? And has the code always been to dress like American businessmen/politicians?

  2. Matt Evans on June 22, 2004 at 12:52 pm

    I don’t know the history of the dress code either, but I would like to read the story. Anyone else?

  3. lyle on June 22, 2004 at 1:08 pm

    Mayhap it has to do with Burk’s ‘freudian’ comment? If authority/respectability is set by businessmen/politicians (esp. the latter who try to curry favor with the public)…then it seems natural for the LDS Church to mimic this. When in Rome…

  4. Nathan on June 22, 2004 at 1:44 pm

    I think at least one clear reason for cleanshaven bishops, stake presidents, etc., can be seen in police officers. Why do they tend to grow moustaches (at least, at a higher rate than the general populace)? Because, for many in our culture, moustaches and such are intimidating. That’s a very good reason for local leaders, with whom members are supposed to feel comfortable, to NOT grow moustaches etc. (Or to wear mirror shades in interviews, I suppose.)

  5. Carlton on June 22, 2004 at 1:57 pm

    How do bald heads, especially those that are shaven to appear that way, fit in to the authority/respectability idea? I know for me, my last stake president seemed to exude more authority from his bulbous-shining cranium. It was so smooth and reflective that I could see my reflection when speaking in close vicinity with the man. Temple recommend interviews had a more authoritative atmosphere because I was literally looking at myself via a fleshy mirror.

  6. Davis Bell on June 22, 2004 at 7:28 pm

    I had lunch today with my uncle, who is a stake president. Out of curiosity, I asked him if he would request someone he was calling to a position of authority to shave his (her?) beard; he responded emphatically in the affirmative. I asked him if there was any official basis for this, and he said no, that’s it’s basis was on one of maintaining appearances of respectability, as currently defined in society.

  7. Dan Burk on June 22, 2004 at 7:44 pm

    This is the kind of thing that concerns me, especially in a world-wide Church. I don’t suppose you asked him which “society” he was making reference to, or his metric for what defined respectability in whatever society it was?

  8. Kingsley on June 22, 2004 at 7:44 pm

    Gosh, it just seems like there’s a way to grow a beard respectably (see Dan Burk’s bio page, for example), i.e. not look like Orson Pratt or one of them hippies. I really wonder how long this taboo can last: the 60′s were a long time ago, & the guys on Queer as Folk look just like the guys on The RM, facial-hair and haircut-wise.

  9. lyle on June 22, 2004 at 7:47 pm

    Great idea Kingsley! all we have to do is convince the 15 that gay guys are all clean shaven with short hair cuts & how it makes the missionaries look gay & how it hurts our PR & soon…

    gilette stocks will plummet!

    :)

  10. Davis Bell on June 22, 2004 at 8:00 pm

    Dan, no, I didn’t ask him those questions, nor was I necessarily endorsing his opinion. To be honest, I’m more sympathetic to your viewpoint than his. That said, I think it’s possible that although I find his logic uncompelling he could still be in the right.

  11. Kingsley on June 22, 2004 at 8:09 pm

    Lyle: It does seem like the beard rules at (e.g.) BYU are a little arbitrary. Neatly-trimmed mustaches & sideburns are fine: would a neatly-trimmed beard really push us down a slippery slope?

  12. lyle on June 22, 2004 at 8:11 pm

    while I wear a beard, (when not on duty), seems pretty easy to tell that the ‘society’ that this particular stake president was referring to was the society that his particular stake happens to live within.

    Dan’s concerns would have more gravitas if we were hearing statements like the one above from stake presidents in other countries, other societies…esp. if they were one’s were beard wearing was the norm instead of clean-shaven.

    Are there any middle-eastern stake presidents in the house?

  13. John Mansfield on June 23, 2004 at 11:47 am

    From 1986 to 1989 Agricol Lozano Herrera, a Mexican, presided the Argentina Bahia Blanca Mission. (I was a missionary there.) He had a mustache.

    At one zone conference, Elder Ted Brewerton of the First Quorum of the Seventy let the missionaries know that Agricol Lozano was known by basically every general authority of the church. For the last four or five years of his life, he presided the Mexico City Temple. My understanding of Brother Lozano is that he would have shaved if the church leaders had wanted him to.

  14. John Mansfield on June 23, 2004 at 11:48 am

    From 1986 to 1989 Agricol Lozano Herrera, a Mexican, presided the Argentina Bahia Blanca Mission. (I was a missionary there.) He had a mustache.

    At one zone conference, Elder Ted Brewerton of the First Quorum of the Seventy let the missionaries know that Agricol Lozano was known by basically every general authority of the church. For the last four or five years of his life, he presided the Mexico City Temple. My understanding of Brother Lozano is that he would have shaved if the church leaders had wanted him to.

  15. John Mansfield on June 23, 2004 at 11:49 am

    From 1986 to 1989 Agricol Lozano Herrera, a Mexican, presided the Argentina Bahia Blanca Mission. (I was a missionary there.) He had a mustache.

    At one zone conference, Elder Ted Brewerton of the First Quorum of the Seventy let the missionaries know that Agricol Lozano was known by basically every general authority of the church. For the last four or five years of his life, he presided the Mexico City Temple. My understanding of Brother Lozano is that he would have shaved if the church leaders had wanted him to.

  16. Julie in Austin on June 23, 2004 at 12:59 pm

    This may be apocryphal, but I am told that elders in San Francisco in the 80s had to wear *longish* hair so they wouldn’t be mistaken for gay couples. When in Rome . . .

    . . . (try not to look like a pagan?)

  17. Carlton on June 23, 2004 at 1:59 pm

    At what point do these “unwritten laws” become stumbling blocks? I have an open-minded friend who is vigorously investigating the Church; he’s even reading, pondering, and praying about the BoM and Joseph Smith. Sadly, he sports a nicely groomed goatee, not an acceptable practice for the stake-callings brethren in our part of the vineyard (Norman, OK). He and his wife have expressed usual concerns regarding our understanding of grace, works, atonement, etc., and other not-so usual concerns. I believe some headway addressing his concerns, thus far, has been made. However, I find myself tiptoeing around “the unwritten rules.” The no-facial-hair-for-stake-callings rule is especially problematic because it seems so minuscule to some but I have a sneaking suspicion this will be just one more example (negative, of course) that he will cite for Mormons “missing the point of the Gospel” (his words not mine). Keep in mind, he’s getting a lot of anti input because his other associates are mostly Baptist, and feel it their duty to warn him. On a positive note, he recently admitted that many of our non-traditional views do make a lot of sense.

  18. Carlton on June 23, 2004 at 2:21 pm

    Sorry folks, I accidentally posted this same (similar) paragraph under the Tonsorial Jihad post, oops. Dang newbie! ;)

  19. lyle on June 23, 2004 at 2:56 pm

    julie: hm…your apocryphal & my apocolyptic account mirror each other. :)

  20. danithew on June 24, 2004 at 10:58 am

    I know this thread should probably be dead, but this morning while I was shaving a thought occurred to me on the beard question.

    On copyrights of church materials and the like I think I’ve seen the church’s name as “The Corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” or something similar to that.

    I wonder if it could be argued that the beard policy has more to do with the “corporation” portion of the organization than the “Church” portion of the organization. As a corporation, the church and its representatives (particularly those who have callings of some stature or those who attend a Church-owned university) must maintain a professional appearance.

    This would also allow for some cultural exceptions in different parts of the world. Perhaps a Mexican or Middle Eastern LDS leader could be professional and have his moustache/beard … in that region of the world it would not effect their professional standing in the community to have facial hair.

    I don’t think I’ve read this possibility anywhere. If it’s been said already, my apologies (I admit I was too lazy to re-read everything this morning).

  21. danithew on June 24, 2004 at 11:16 am

    Though my name is showing up in recent comments on this post, I believe that somehow my entry was lost. If it shows up again, my apologies.

    I recognize, first of all, that this thread should probably be dead. But a thought occurred to me while I was shaving this morning that I thought might be of interest to this topic.

    I have sometimes read Church materials that the copyrights are in the name of “The Corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” or something similar.

    My thought is that perhaps the no beard policy, unwritten or not, is more a part of the “Corporation” portion of the organization than it is a part of the “Church” part of the organization. Those who are leaders of some stature in the Church, as a result, are required to maintain a professional appearance — and in our culture a professional appearance usually means a strict limit on facial hair.

    This sort of approach to the question would also allow for some cultural differences in other parts of the world, such as Latin America or the Middle East, where facial hair is a more accepted part of the society, culture and norms.

    This would also, I might add, be consistant with Matt Evan’s idea that the Church leadership’s embrace of or rejection of facial hair has something to do with American fashion consciousness. At an earlier time in American history, facial hair would not have been considered as unprofessional as it is today. It isn’t hard to think of the nation’s political leaders during that time who wore beards and moustaches. Whereas today… I think most of us can kind of remember the snickers that accompanied Al Gore’s brief flirtation with “the beard look.”

  22. Mark Pickering on March 27, 2005 at 11:48 am

    I have a stake calling (Branch Clerk) and a beard. No one has asked me to shave it, and should they ask, I would refuse. I think if enough people were to resist the beard rule, then the Church would abandon it. Consider, for example, the fate of the oral sex question in the temple recommend interview of a decade or two ago.

  23. annegb on March 28, 2005 at 10:57 am

    When my husband was put into the high council, he had a shaving ceremony and shaved off his beard and mustache. I think he did the right thing. That was about 14 years ago and he never regretted it. Nobody asked him, nobody made him, but I respect that nobody had to.

  24. Scott Mansfield on August 15, 2005 at 9:51 pm

    I am a high school teacher, I own a small business, I am the Varsity Coach in the Young Men’s Organization of our ward in here in Utah and I am a returned missionary. I sport a dilligently trimmed goatee. I do so for many reasons. I have a boyish round head and sort of a weak chin. I’m not hideous or anything without my goatee but it does seem to give me a look of maturity, age and strength. It’s not that I worry excessively about my looks but ‘presence’ in a high school setting is important. I work at a very nice, conservative public school and many of my fellow teachers also wear facial hair.

    I heard a story today from a fellow teacher who had also sported a goatee for several years until last week. He looked fine without it and I neither congratulated nor harassed him for the change. Other poeple, however, did question his new clean shaven look and his story bothered me enough to look this page up on the internet.

    He said that he had attended an EFY or Youth Conference type event with his teen-aged son last week. He told me that the GA present at the meeting called him aside and asked if he were a returned missionary. When the GA heard that the answer was positive, he told my colleague that President Hinckley himself frowns upon facial hair and that he should shave it.

    I’m not aware that he received an explanation of why President Hinckley frowns upon facial hair and my friend did what he was told.

    I realize that portions of this story are simply hearsay but if the gist of it is true, then I think our chuch has a serious problem.

    Unwritten rules coming down the pike from President Hinckley or from a general authority seems like a very unwise way to run a world wide church. Generally, I don’t tend to ‘kick against the pricks’ and would probably shave my beloved goatee if President Hinckley were to ask me to despite the fact that I feel a nicely groomed goatee does not send any bad messages. Nonetheless, President Hinckley has not asked me or anyone else that I know to shave our goatees, at least openly. This is the kicker. Open information is much more useful than hidden information. Hidden information smacks of hypocrysy and rude, judgemental behavior. Look around our society. There are millions of respectable men wearing facial hair. There are also millions of criminals, perverts and atheists who are clean shaven. If the church has a policy about facial hair, then let it be opened to the light of day. (An explanation might be nice as well although I wouldn’t even expect that to happen.) If the church does not have a policy about facial hair, then men who sport facial hair should not be discriminated against. If I am less likely to be the next elder’s quorum president or bishop despite years of service in the elder’s quorum, scouting and young men’s programs because of a goatee that I have never publically heard a GA speak against, then I am depressed to think that our church might call people based more upon perception than upon inspiration.

    In a word, let’s all ignore unwritten rules unless the spirit says or unless a leader tells us that it is so, and I sinerely hope that a leader would never say anything unless the spirit or his leader told him that it is so. In other words, our lame, human opinions should be left out when running the church and micro-managing people’s lives. Let’s leave micro-management to the Talaban.

    Scott Mansfield

  25. Gavin McGraw on August 15, 2005 at 11:42 pm

    Funny how parts of this thread resemble a Beard-Wearers Anonymous meeting. “Hi, my name is Bill..” “Hello Bill” “And I’ve been clean(shaven) for two years now…”

    I will readily admit that I am a bit touchy on this subject. I think this is one area where individuals in the Church assign scriptural infallibility to their own opinions, or those of the GA’s. I am glad that I was not the one who was asked to shave by that GA in Scott’s post. If so, and if I had had sufficient presence of mind to voice a reply, as opposed to the likely seething flames of resentment and humiliation I’d feel, then something truly unfriendly might escape my lips, like: “Well then, you blankity-blank, why doesn’t Pres. Hinckley ask Christ to set the example, instead of picking on me!”

    As I said, I’m glad this did not happen, I’m also glad that I live outside the Heartland of Mormonism, where we’re hard up enough for Priesthood that us prickly-faced delinquents don’t get such a hard time, and sometimes even get callings.

    On a more positive note, in another city I was invited to become a Temple Ordinance Worker, and when the subject of Missionary-style grooming came up (this was a very new rule for Temple workers), I took a brief second to think, and decided not to do it afterall. The Brother was very kind and did not seem to think less of me for it. Whatever you think of my decision, this was a case where the authority recognized policy as simply that and no more.

    I totally agree with Scott and his anti-micromanagement (macromanagement?) statement, and would go so far as to say that this kind of unwritten rule is nothing more than personal predjudice dressed up to look like official policy with a doctrinal basis. If it really is policy, then let it be a ‘written rule’ instead.
    This is a classic example of how even we LDS can ‘look beyond the mark’ and combine doctrine, policy, and culture into some sort of trinitarian whole.
    I prefer to keep them separate.

  26. queuno on August 16, 2005 at 1:18 am

    I’m goateed, and I’ve discussed this with my stake president, who is a close friend. He said that there are circumstances in which he would recommend that an individual shave his facial hair, but that generally, those are restricted to stake presidencies and bishoprics. Now, he indicated that it was not a “commandment” to do so, as there are many bishopric and SP members who have goatees and beards (I know of one in SLC). However, he indicated that his position was that unless you have serious reasons why you should reject the request of a leader, it’s probably better for all concerned to go along with it. [Yes, and he admits, that rule of thumb does not apply to every situation. But he said, "it's a goatee! Just shave it off! You can regrow it when the calling is done.]

    I’ve had a goatee for 9+ years, ever since graduation day at BYU. I’ve served as a stake missionary and in other stake positions with it. It’s well-trimmed and neat. No one has ever openly expressed a problem with it, except one stake mission president in the beginning, who made a comment about it. My response was, “Are you asking me to shave it off?” He said no. So it stayed. I’ve since decided that if requested, I’ll shave it off, because I have a general rule that I won’t ever get myself too attached to anything (goatees, possessions, etc.). Yes, the whole facial-hair-is-bad thing is an example of I call “extra-Mormon culture”, which I generally despise, but it’s really such a silly thing.

  27. Kyle on September 13, 2005 at 3:53 pm

    Not to discriminate against well-kept facial hair, but maybe beards are discouraged (not prohibited) because church leaders don’t want to perpetuate the myth that LDS members are beard-wearin’, country bumpkins that practice polygamy in the Utah desert.

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