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The economics of beard popularity in the US

We may have reached “peak beard.”

You may think people grow beards because of their fashionability or warmth, but author and professor Stephen Mihm says there might be another reason. In a New York Times piece, he makes the case that in Western countries, trends in beard popularity often closely follow trends in capitalism.

During the mid-19th century, communists and other labor radicals donned bushy Karl Marx–style beards as a form of protest. Members of the business community viewed these movements as scary and threatening to the establishment, and as a result, beards became verboten in general society. But once these protests ended and capitalist enterprises once again safely reigned supreme, beards came back into vogue, and titans of the business world began to don impressive displays of facial hair as a means of exuding an image of strength and rugged individuality.

In the early 20th century, beards once again began to be associated with anti-capitalist movements, and for nearly a century they were nowhere to be seen in corporate board rooms and many parts of society, being relegated to “fringe” sets.

Then along came the tech boom, which made many scruffy outsiders in Silicon Valley rich and powerful members of the capitalist landscape. People like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Jack Dorsey redefined how we view powerful business heads and have helped usher in a new period of beard acceptance and popularity.

To learn more, including whether beards might actually be on the way out, watch the video above.