The Origin of the Current Fad for Beards

Posted: Wed, 27 Aug 2014

When did guys start growing beards? And where did this start?

If you look at newspaper and magazine articles, they credit George Clooney, soccer stars, and hipsters with the beard craze.

I first saw beards in Nashville in 2009. I asked people, "what's up with the beards?" But my California friends are middle-class and upper-class professionals, and they looked around and said "what beards?" They didn't wear beards in 2009.

It was the working class guys who first had rough beards. Finally, it started showing up in the college-educated classes and somewhere in 2012, it exploded. By late 2013 and early 2014, everyone everywhere had a beard.

In 2014, we talked about this. I repeated what I saw a few years earlier in Nashville. But everyone said it was a San Francisco / Brooklyn hipster thing and the working classes copied the upper classes.

So I looked into this. When did the beard craze start? Where did it start?

One way to do this is to use Google Trends. You can see what people search.

Here's the trends for the search term <beards> from January 2004 to July 2018 (14 years).

The search trend at Google for beards 2004-2018

The search trend at Google for beards 2004-2018

You can see the gradual increase, with sharp spike in 2013, which peaked in October 2013. It collapsed after that, so the trend is definitely over.

To get a better view of the beginnings, I removed 2013-18. You can see details in the preceding years.

Search trend at Google for beards, Jan 2004 to Dec 2012

Interesting! In the last five years, you can see what we call "seasonality"; there's a clear seasonal trend to the searches. Few searches in August (it's hot and few will have a beard) and a spike in October (colder weather, so they start to grow beards for winter).

And that cycle continues each year until 2007, when it spikes for October... and it doesn't drop. The beard fad started in October-December, 2007.

Google also shows which states are searching for beards.

The search trend for beards by state.

The top states are all Southern states. Which one is dead last? California at #51. Behind Hawaii (#50).

Yep, it's a Southern thing. It started in Texas and spread throughout the South. In the map above, Kentucky is the hot spot. The list at right shows Arkansas, Kentucky, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Michigan, Tennessee... No hipsters in those states.

So why would Southern guys be wearing beards in 2007?

Here's my guess. Southern guys also tend to be US Army guys. They go in the military, do a few years, and come back to civilian life.

So where were these guys for several years before 2007? In Iraq and Afghanistan, where the Islamic Jihad wears beards. Southerners picked this up from Islam. If you watch documentaries or look at photos from that time, the US soldiers have beards.

So it's not SF and Brooklyn hipsters who started beards. It's Southerners.

Comments from Readers

This page has gotten lots of response. I didn't expect that. In 2014, I noticed many guys in San Francisco had beards so I used Google tools to see if I could find out where and when it started. Below are some of the comments. -- andreas

  • Not to switch subjects...But I'm upset that there is even a mention of defeat in reference to all those solders who risked their lives for us.
  • I think it coincides perfectly with the writer's strike. Wasn't growing a beard a symbol of solidarity?
  • I think the movie 300 may have a lot to do with the popularity of growing beards, it came out around 2006-7.
  • Beards started among hard left college protesters. (The data clearly shows it started in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Texas, which aren't places for the hard left. -- andreas)
  • BTW, isn't it odd that guys are wearing beards at the same time that a bunch of new companies are selling razors? It's widespread now (2017) that most guys in Silicon Valley have 2-4 day stubble. I shave once a week. In nearly all movies, glossy-magazine ads, billboards, etc., guys have 3-day stubble.
  • First of all, the military forces do not (did not) allow beard growth. The Navy allows it with a special waiver that is typically only given to certain billets - Seals, for example. But in an effort to show cultural respect, the military forces in the Middle East allowed beard growth. This also was theorized to provide better "blending in"... that is also why troops were allowed, even encouraged to wear a Shemagh. During the on-going conflict in the Middle East, there has been an attitude shift among Americans regarding our service men and women. They are now highly respected, regarded as heroes and are enjoying this level of respect and admiration across the media and in American culture. Movies depicting the realities, tragedies and heroism have become common and the characters in these movies, the heroes, have beards. Having a beard has become associated with being tough, masculine and heroic. After multiple tours and having been a Marine before and during the conflicts, I have experienced, first hand, the cultural shift in America. It's especially evident when one is gone for a year and returns to witness how things have changed, again and again. I've received the go ahead to grow a beard from my command, with the related reasons. So I know, first hand, the reasons. I've noticed how tactical gear, assault weapons, camo clothing and other military items are flying off the shelves at surplus stores and gun shops. Even Captain America now has a beard in the most recent Avengers movie. None of this is due to the most bad-ass military force on the planet losing to a bunch of bearded sand rats. I can assure you, the conflicts in which my unit participated were won, by a very wide margin, by us. Americans love a winner and will emulate their heroes. Get with the program.
  • Thank you very much for your work on this topic. I humbly suggest you re-title your article. A “fad” doesn’t last for years, and we’re going on 10 years of beards with no end in sight. Even “trend” isn’t the right word anymore. (Look at Google Trends: the beard craze is definitely falling. -- andreas)
  • Foreign Policy magazine on beards

You're welcome to send me more comments. I'll add your comments to this page. Send email to andreas@andreas.com