Facial Hair Styles Throughout History

Family History
20 July 2023
by Jessica Morgan

You can tell a lot about a man by his facial hair. Throughout history men wore different styles depending on their profession, practicality, and popular trends.

Which ones did your ancestors wear?

A look at historical events, trends, and iconic figures can help you determine what kind of beard your ancestors likely wore.

1600s: The Van Dyke

An early trendsetter in beard styles was Anthony van Dyck, the famous Flemish painter. His pointed mustache and goatee quickly became the rage in 17th century Europe.

Variations of the Van Dyke beard can be seen in paintings of King Charles I, Guy Fawkes, and the Musketeers. While the fad died out in Europe, the Van Dyke was carried on for a time by frontiersmen in America.

Painting of Anthony van Dyck.
Anthony van Dyck

Who in your family tree may have sported this style? For most of us it would have been our 10th or 11th great-grandfathers.

Late 1700s-1850s: The Chinstrap

While most men went clean-shaven through the 1700s, the Chinstrap—which follows the jawline from one side of the face to the other—became a popular trend later in the century.

The Chinstrap was worn by men in Europe, with the style trickling over to Russia and Japan.

One of the most notable men to don a chinstrap was American author Henry David Thoreau.

Henry David Thoreau.
Henry David Thoreau

Which of your ancestors may have sported the Chinstrap? For most of us it would been our 2nd to 4th great-grandfathers.

1860s-1890s: Sideburns (aka Mutton chops)

Military men had used sideburns as a cheeky way to stay clean-shaven while also sporting facial hair.

But the real extravagance of the sideburns was kicked off by Ambrose Burnside, who wore this much-longer style during the Civil War.

People named the style “Burnside” after him, which later was reversed to “Sideburns.”

Ambrose Burnside.
Ambrose Burnside

Who in your family tree may have worn this style? For most of us it would been our 1st great or 2nd great-grandfathers.

1860s-1900s: The Chin Curtain

The chin curtain is a beard covering the chin and jawline but leaving the upper-lip bare. The most popular figure to sport this style was, of course, Abraham Lincoln.

Weeks before he was elected president, an 11-year-old girl wrote to him suggesting he grow a beard. He did, and in short time the chin curtain craze took off.

Abraham Lincoln.
Abraham Lincoln

Which ancestor may have had this beard style? For most of us it would been our 1st great or 2nd great-grandfathers.

1880s-1900s: The Mustache

While men donned mustaches throughout history, Europeans and Americans sampled a variety of mustache styles in the late 19th century.

Royals wore the flamboyant ‘Imperial’ mustache, setting off the trend in Europe.

Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Kaiser Wilhelm II the last German Emperor: Imperial Mustache

The ‘Walrus’ offered a more rugged style favored by American notables like Mark Twain and Theodore Roosevelt.

Theodore Roosevelt.
Theodore Roosevelt: Walrus Mustache

The ‘Handlebar’ mustache was among the most popular styles, having a variety of lengths from past the upper lip to off the face. This style was favored both by American settlers and European soldiers of the 19th century.

Wyatt Earp.
Wyatt Earp: Handlebar Mustache

Who in your family tree may have worn one of these dashing mustaches? For most of us it would been our grandfathers to 2nd great-grandfathers.

1900s-1940s: Clean-shaven

At the turn of the century, concerns about hygiene—and fear of facial hair spreading germs—made beards fall out of style.

Other events reinforced the clean-shaven look: WWI soldiers had to be clean-shaven to wear gas masks.

Gillette invented the first disposable razor blade in 1901, making shaving cheaper and safer than ever before.

Calvin Coolidge and Al Jolson among group of men.
Calvin Coolidge and Al Jolson

Who in your family tree may have sported the clean-shaven look? For most of us it would been our father, grandfathers, or great-grandfathers.

1940s: The Pencil Mustache

This style found its way to the limelight in the early days of Hollywood. Iconic actors such as Errol Flynn, Don Ameche, and Clark Gable donned the Pencil Mustache on the silver screen.

This mustache was quickly associated with suave, debonair gentleman, leading many men to imitate the style in the 1940s.

Who in your family tree may have donned a pencil mustache? For most of us it would been our father or grandfathers. Or you may know an uncle or great-uncle who had this look!

More Inspiration

Looking for more beard and ‘stache inspiration? Ancestry® has you covered.

We’ve got Yearbooks from 1900 to 1999 from across the U.S.

We’ve also got millions of photographs (searchable by keywords like “mustache“) that have been added to Ancestry family trees by users who have indicated that their tree can be viewed by Ancestry members.

Not a member yet? Get started today with a free trial of Ancestry.