For a time, when people were suspected of telling less than the truth, they were called “bare-faced liars.” Theoretically, the term originated in the 1500s, when a lack of facial hair was considered impudent in all but the youngest males. Men who were able to tell a lie without any indication of that playing out on their facial features were deemed unabashed barbarians.
Consequently, being bare-faced may have been considered an impediment to public office. While all 45 American presidents have been men, only 13 of them have sported the quintessential male attribute: facial hair. As the social aesthetics of society evolved over the decades, so has its taste for whiskers; the most recent presidents have also been the most bare-faced. Wearing any facial hair while in public office has gone from almost a requirement to perhaps an indicator of failure.
Not all whiskers are the same, facial hair is more than just growing a beard. Some forms of “whiskery” were more popular than others with the country’s top mug.
The first elected set of sideburns belonged to John Quincy Adams (1825-1829), the sixth U.S. president. His look was notable because of its lack of corresponding mustache and beard. Number eight, Martin Van Buren (1837-1841) and number 12, Zachary Taylor (1849-1850), both copied Adams’ furred jaw. Harry S. Truman (number 33, 1945-1953) was the only president who sported a goatee and mustache; there were no sideburns on his face. (He grew it only on vacation.)
Chester Arthur (1881-1885) set a trend with his mustache. Grover Cleveland’s mustache must have been popular with the electorate: they voted him into the White House twice (in 1885 and 1893) as the 22nd and 24th president. Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) and William Howard Taft (1909-1913), numbers 26 and 27 respectively, each kept a furry but stiff upper lip while in office.
The 16th president, Abraham Lincoln was the first to wear a beard (with sideburns) when elected in 1861 and 1865 and was the only president to forego a mustache.
All other bearded leaders incorporated the full spread of facial hair – sideburns, mustache and chin hair – in their chosen presentation. Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877), Rutherford B. Hayes ((1877-1881), James Garfield (1881), and Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893) all chose to sport a fully bearded face to their constituents.
Party politics and facial fuzz
The Republican party appears to have embraced facial hair more than their Democratic opponents. Of the thirteen with any facial hair, only two were Democrats, while nine were Republicans. Zachary Taylor was a Whig (a party imported from England and united by their opposition to royal power or anything resembling it). John Quincy Adams had the good fortune to be part of the then-existing “Democratic-Republican” party.
The last mustached candidate to run for the presidency was Thomas Dewey and some posit that public distaste for his facial hair was actually what cost him the election.
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