The 1920s was an iconic time for men’s fashion. Think speakeasy swagger and Great Gatsby gangsters. But what were men wearing on their faces in the 1920s? And how did their shaving routines differ from the modern males’?
Leo did boast a baby-faced clean shave in the cinematic remake of Fitzgerald’s iconic novel. But can we really bank on historical accuracy from Gatsby and his on-screen compadres? Keep reading to learn the history of the 1920s facial hair-do, and some tips on how to nail it yourself.
Was Facial Hair a Trend in the 1920s?
With prohibition sweeping the states, men had the time to take pride in their appearances, never fearing a well-tailored suit, suspenders, and a bow tie. You may even find a groomed gangster donning a fedora with a flapper on his arm, straight out of an underground piano bar or high society party.
It’s no surprise then that men also started to put more effort into their grooming routines. It wasn’t actually until the 1920s that men started to wear, and style, their facial hair as a fashion statement. Facial hair was once a symbol of concealing scars or ailments, but soon became a marker of social class.
The most successful men attended the most elusive parties in the 1920s. So, of course, they needed to look the part. Movie stars and gangster icons set the trends, representing a vision of put-together manhood that any high-flying and well-respecting gentleman would want to follow. But in terms of facial grooming, the styles weren’t quite as diverse as the bountiful beards we see now in the 21st century.
How Did Facial Hair Look in the 1920s?
The most popular look for facial hair in the 1920s was in tandem with the suave fashions of dapper gentlemen. With Rudolph Valentino and Charlie Chaplain as poster boys, men conventionally kept their hair slicked back and as clean-cut as their suits. For these reasons, facial hair was also neat and maintained, so as to complement a well-kept head of hair.
The 1920s is when the mustache first really came to be. Before this time, unkempt chin straps and overgrown sideburns dominated the world of male grooming. This is because these styles were the result of leaving hair to its own devices and almost seeing where it would grow by itself. The difference between 1920s facial hair from the years that came before was the attention that men gave to their looks.
An unheard concept for men in the years preceding the 20s, putting such effort into your appearance became common practice at this time. This decade of affluence and socializing incited an attitude to self-presentation that was marked by a shift in fashion and masculinity, as they started to intertwine more than ever.
Great Gatsby Grooming
So how did the 1920s gentleman go about mastering a facial-do worthy of a Gatsby party guest? The key was simplicity and precision. A close shave, leaving almost no hair, bar a clean and neat mustache, is the most characteristic of this era. Believe it not, allowing hair to grow for a number of weeks before shaving is a top tip for achieving the smoothest cheeks.
Yet, if you don’t trust yourself to perfect a thin and groomed mustache then a classic barber is your best bet. Forget the rugged masculinity that an unkempt beard seems to signify nowadays. Old school facial hair spoke for class and showed that a man had the time, and money, to look after himself.
If you are willing to brave the razor yourself, prepare your skin appropriately. Exfoliating gently with a light scrub or cloth, preferably the day before a shave, will remove any dead skin cells. These can clog your razor and even cause it to go blunt. Unprepared skin is also more likely to be irritated and produce shaving bumps. When aiming for the cleanest of shaves, especially for a high society event, this can really ruin a look.
Make sure you have a suitable lather handy and apply to a dampened face. The 1920s male, probably laid back in his leather barber’s chair, would surely have shaving soap applied to his skin with a rounded shaving brush. These achieve the best coverage of soap, and also slightly exfoliate skin and raise hairs to easily catch in your razor. A good gel that foams enough will do the job. Just avoid canned foams as the chemicals in these will dry out your skin, and the cans are bad for our planet.
A classic barbershop would use a professional straight razor. Although we know they can be daunting, and slightly Sweeney-Todd-esque, a double-edged type will also do just fine. You want the most accurate and close shave you can if you want to look ready for a Gatsby party, so ditch your disposable cartridge razor and invest in something more durable.
When actually shaving, shave your whole face and cheeks, leaving only the hair on your upper lip. Apply cream everywhere you plan to remove hair to keep track of where you have and haven’t shaved.
When styling your mustache, use your mouth as a guideline. Your mustache shouldn’t go beyond the width of your mouth, but shouldn’t be too short either. Rather than a pencil, think of an English mustache. Thin with a slight curve. Your hair will usually grow with a natural gap in your cupid’s bow. But if not, carefully remove hair here for a style suitable for any Warner Baxter.
Use mustache scissors for the outer corners of your mustache hair, if you fancy styling a smooth flick either end. As goes for 1920s hair, your mustache needs to be slick and hold its shape. Use a small amount of gel to maintain the style and keep the hair smoothed down.
Always moisturize after a shave, especially as this look requires removing a lot of hair and maintaining a smooth appearance. But that said, avoid shaving too often. If you can leave a few days between shaves, your skin will thank you.
With this look being most desirable for the socialite male, the parties he attends are likely most often on the weekends anyway. This means you might get almost a week for your skin to recover and build up its natural protectants before you need to shave again, if you’re lucky. Besides, you’re more likely to find a stubble instead of an irritated and swollen face on a 1920s gangster movie star.
Frequently Asked Questions about Facial Hair in the 1920s
Was it common for people to have beards in the 1920s?
A beard was a rare sight on the 1920s man. Due to connotations that bearded men had something to hide, a full face of hair wasn’t popular in Gatsby’s era. Yet, older men still wore impressive facial hair. This remained a signifier of wisdom and knowledge throughout the 1900s for older gentlemen. Though, we think this is just because with old age comes less attention to detail. The perks of a grooming routine only really appeal to the true socialite.
How did facial hair become popular?
It’s not that beards weren’t around before the 1920s. In fact, they were having their moment in the late 1800s. But the 1920s saw a significant cultural shift. The roaring 20s wasn’t just about flappers and socializing. A boom in industry and capitalism saw male grooming go from a hobby for the affluent, to a commodity for any smart suitor. Facial hair trends had to match the clean-cut and thought-out fashions of these men.
What started the beard trend?
It wasn’t until the 1960s that the beard trend really took off, in a rebellion against the clean-shaven appearance that dominated much of the early 20th century. Hippies ran this movement with their contempt for anything that stood for law-abiding conformity, like capitalism, fascism and corporate greed. While the 1920s mustache was a signifier of style, the popularization of beards was more of a political statement.
A Final Word From The Trending Man
If you’re seeking a facial hair look that’s fit for the roaring 20s, it’s clear that you shouldn’t be fooled by the baby-faced smoothness of Leonardo Dicaprio’s character. There’s more effort to tidy facial hair than it may first seem. Remember, grooming wasn’t quite as integrated into society as it is now, and a professional barber probably did most of the work for these high-flyers.
But if you fancy trying to master this look at home, consider our tips. You don’t want to look rugged and unkempt. Afterall, maybe he spent so much time hiding away as a result of a botched shave, who knows?