In Act III of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Lady Bracknell remarks to idle young gentleman Algernon, ‘never speak disrespectfully of society. Only people who can’t get into it, do that.’
At that time, it was usual for men in the western world to carry facial hair and this continued until the First World War. Thereafter, beards were increasingly seen as a sign of pomposity and the incompetence of the generation responsible for the slaughter of that war. Moustaches on the other hand were still worn until the Second World War and well into the 1950’s. In the UK armed forces they were often seen as a feature that distinguished the officer class.
Since then, the razor has generally triumphed, although with occasional forays into hippiedom. The trend does seem to have been towards an almost Roman absence of body hair, although different countries do seem to have varying attitudes to particular areas of the body.
Amongst UK male politicians, facial hair gets the spin doctors’ thumbs down, whilst in other cultures, different norms may apply.
Whilst there is no mention of facial hair in the Q’uran, the habit of the Prophet was to leave the beard uncut, but the moustache trimmed and this habit has accordingly continued in many Islamic cultures. In traditional Jewish society, too, the beard may also be seen as appropriate.
Some clients welcome advisors who reinforce and resonate with their cultural norms. Now it is quite likely that the majority of individuals on the UK FCO financial sanctions target list in Afghanistan; Al-Qaida, Belarus; Central African Republic; Congo; Egypt; Serbia; Iran; Iraq; Ivory Coast; Liberia; Libya; North Korea; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Somalia; South Sudan; Sudan; Syria; Tunisia; Ukraine; or Zimbabwe may have beards. However, in an increasingly tense, yet globalised and international world, we have to be ever more alive and sensitive to all of our cultural differences and act appropriately.
To coincide with Eid-al-Fitr and the end of the month of Ramadan, is it time for a Cross Cultural Hirsute Special Interest Group? All members with a particular interest please apply.
Richard Frimston TEP is Co-Chair of the STEP Public Policy Committee and Chair of the STEP EU Committee. He is a Partner and Head of the Private Client Group at Russell Cooke LLP. Richard sports his own well-maintained beard and seldom strays into ‘hippiedom’.