By Howard T. Brody

While the fashionisters (the male version of fashionista) debate over whether or not they should wear lace shorts or rompers this summer— and yes they really do exist, and yes, people really do wear them—  STRIPLV tackles the one really hard fashion question that sooner or later every man must decide.

“Should I shave?”

While some cultures around the world interpret beards and mustaches as a sign of wisdom, honor, masculinity and virility, we must face the fact (pun intended) that Americans are obsessed with facial hair. We have an entire industry built on male grooming, which generated $21 billion worldwide last year, $9.1 billion of which was from U.S. consumers. What’s more, online sales of men’s barbering products continue to grow. In 2016, men’s shaving products reached $826 million in sales through internet retail outlets, about 9% of the total sales in this space. The biggest online seller in this category, Dollar Shave Club, which has more than 3 million subscribers and whose annual sales topped $200 million in 2016, was sold last year to Unilever for $1 billion.

Americans are so obsessed with facial hair that each year a three-day event is held, sponsored by major corporations like Remington (Spectrum Brands), Lone Star Beer (Pabst Brewing Company) and Just For Men (Combe Incorporated), called the World Beard and Moustache Championships. This year the event will be held in Austin, Texas from September 1–3 at the Long Center for the Performing Arts, which can accommodate more than 2,000 people. The event will attract facial hair enthusiasts from around the world including more than 1,000 competitors and fans, and will feature live entertainment, food vendors, family-friendly activities and dozens of competitions.

So, how did we go from the old barber shave for five cents to the multi-billion dollar industry of today where we have clubs, organizations and competitions?

Well, a lot of it has to do with how Americans like their faces to look and so we have to go back about 200 years to trace America’s history as it pertains to beards and mustaches.

The Early 1800s

Right around the turn of the 19th century, American men typically had clean-shaven faces. For a good reason. America had won their independence from the British crown only three decades prior, and those who were in leadership positions were feeling a sense of authority and freedom, which in itself was odd because slavery was still very much a reality at the time. However, it was commonplace for black men who weren’t slaves to serve as barbers during this time and become independently wealthy by listening to the secrets that were shared by the scholars and power players who frequented their barbershops.

As the 1800s moved forward, racial tensions in the U.S. mounted. By 1848 the government grew from 13 colonies to 30 states, and many of them wanted to end slavery. As friction continued and we moved closer toward the Civil War, many white men began fearing the position of power black barbers held. Because of this fall from grace by the black barbers and since white men ran the risk of contracting tetanus (or even something that would lead to death if their razors were not properly sterilized when they shaved), facial hair and an unkempt look came into fashion.

The Mid-1800s

By the start of the American Civil War in 1861, all facial hair was extremely popular in both the North and the South, but heavy sideburns and Shenandoah beards seemed to dominate men’s grooming habits. While today we think of sideburns as hair down the side of one’s face – popularized during the clean shaven era by men like U.S. Presidents John Quincy Adams and Martin Van Buren and which had a resurgence more than 100 years later during the late 1960s and early to mid-1970s – in those days sideburns included a mustache that would connect the two. The term was named after Civil War Union Army General Ambrose E. Burnside, who after the war served three one-year terms as Governor of Rhode Island, was elected to the Rhode Island Senate as a U.S. Senator and who was the very first president of the National Rifle Association.

As for the Shenandoah beard, also called a chin curtain, look no further than  your wallet and the portrait printed on the five dollar bill. Oddly enough the 16th President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln, didn’t grow his beard until late 1860. A few weeks before Lincoln was elected, an 11-year-old girl named Grace Bedell from Westfield, New York, wrote him a letter urging him to grow a beard to improve his appearance. The suggestion turned into the iconic look we know today. The chin curtain grows along the jaw line and covers the chin completely. This is not to be confused with the chinstrap – a similar beard style that also grows along the jaw line but does not cover the chin fully. Also, many chin curtain beards do not extend far below the jaw line, if at all, whereas all chinstrap beards normally do.

The Shenandoah remains common even today among married Amish men. Male members of this religious sect generally grow a beard after baptism but shave off their mustache. To the Amish, the mustache is associated with the German military fashion that was prevalent at the time of their community’s formation in Europe. The exclusion of the mustache serves as a symbol of their commitment to pacifism.

The Early 1900s

As the 20th century came about, men once again began to fancy a more clean-shaven look, except this time there was the occasional mustache thrown into the mix. Instead of politics and power playing a part in the pronouncement, advertising, sex and science were the deciding factors. With viruses discovered in the 1890s on the heels of the work done by bacteriologists like Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch, beards were thought to carry germs, including influenza, which of course was still a major cause of death in the early 1900s.

In addition to the fear of kicking the bucket, there was only one thing that could perhaps motivate men even more than dying – the prospect of getting laid. By 1910, The Gillette Company, which was founded only nine years earlier, began encouraging men through advertising campaigns to shave daily, claiming that women appreciated and preferred a clean-shaven face.

That didn’t stop the 27th President of the United States, William Howard Taft, from sporting a much-revered handlebar mustache, aptly named after the shape of bicycle handlebars. While Taft wasn’t the first well-known American to rock that style of ‘stache – Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill, and J.P. Morgan all wore it before him – from 1909 to 1913 he was the last POTUS to do so. As a matter of fact no presidents since Taft have worn any facial hair, and perhaps that might be contributed back to the notion of women preferring a clean-shaven face. After all, on November 2, 1920, more than eight million women across the U.S. voted in elections for the very first time.

The 1930s and 1940s

While various forms of facial hair were fairly common prior to and during World War II, the most dominant mustaches of the era were the pencil mustache (a thin mustache that outlines the upper lip, neatly trimmed so that it takes the form of a thin line, as if having been drawn using a pencil) and the toothbrush mustache (shaved at the edges, except for about an inch and a half above the center of the upper lip with the sides being vertical rather than tapered). The pencil mustache, called that because it was “pencil-thin,” stretched across the upper lip with a space between the top of the mustache and the nose. Many classic Hollywood stars of 

the era wore pencil mustaches and were considered quite handsome, including Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, and William Powell. Other notable people over the years who have worn the pencil mustache include actors David Niven, Vincent Price and Sean Penn, director John Waters, and musicians George Benson, Prince, Little Richard and Sammy Davis, Jr. In 1974 Jimmy Buffett wrote and sang “Pencil Thin Mustache,” where he wishes he had a pencil thin mustache like the titular film character Boston Blackie.

Before the start of World War II, toothbrush mustaches were also prominent among men. Living in the U.S., comic actor Charlie Chaplin was an iconic wearer of this mustache, showcasing it in such well-known classic films like Modern Times and City Lights. Another such iconic wearer of the toothbrush mustache was Oliver Hardy of the famed comedy team Laurel and Hardy. Unfortunately, the most nefarious wearer of this mustache style was German Chancellor Adolf Hitler, who pretty much ruined it for everyone. By the end of the war, this facial hair fashion was out of style for obvious reasons.

In 2010, under some ill advice, former basketball legend Michael Jordan wore a toothbrush mustache for a Hanes’ underwear TV commercial. Reaction from the public and the press was quite unfavorable and it prompted Jordan’s close friend and legendary basketball player in his own right, Charles Barkley, to tell Yahoo! Sports at the time: “I have got to admit that I don't know what the hell he was thinking and I don't know what Hanes was thinking. I mean it is just stupid, it is just bad, plain and simple.”

The 1950s

While most of America was clean cut during the happy days of the 1950s, which included sock hops, poodle skirts and the birth of rock and roll, the goatee, which had been around for about 100 years, came back into prominence. It was reintroduced into the mainstream consciousness via the counterculture movement, worn by free-thinkers called beatniks, as well as soul and jazz musicians like Dizzy Gillespie, who had been around since the 1940s.

A variation of the goatee was called the Van Dyke, named after 17th-century Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck. A Van Dyke typically consists of hair growth of both a goatee and mustache with all hair on the cheeks shaved. This particular style itself has many variations, including a curled mustache versus a non-curled mustache and a soul patch, which is explained below, as opposed to no soul patch.

Oddly enough, some of the most famous Americans with goatees are fictional characters, including Uncle Sam, who first appeared shortly after the War of 1812, Maynard G. Krebs from the old TV Show "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis", Shaggy Rogers from the Scooby-Doo franchise and Tony Stark (aka the Marvel Comics superhero Iron Man).

Along with the goatee, the soul patch, came into prominence during this time and into the 1960s, when it was common among African-American men, most notably jazz musicians. Also known as a mouche or a jazz dot, it's a small patch of facial hair just below the lower lip and above the chin. It became popular with beatniks, artists, and those who frequented the jazz scene and moved in literary and artistic circles.

The goatee made a big comeback in the 1990s as a lot of athletes and rappers donned the facial hair fashion, and it has stuck around ever since.

The 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.

While most of America was still clean shaven and clean cut when the ‘60s began, by the middle of the decade, all that started to change as long hair became fashionable and facial hair was a wild, free for all, with many men sporting full beards. Beatniks were replaced by hippies, and while some of the greatest music was being created, the unkempt look among young people became the norm.

However, like all things, that fashion statement didn’t last, and by the mid-‘70s most of America’s males were once again well groomed. Hair remained long, but it was styled and while people were out at the discos, the horseshoe mustache, also called the biker mustache, and often confused with the handlebar mustache, was picking up popularity, especially among modern cowboys and rodeo performers. Lasting well into the ‘80s, the horseshoe has vertical extensions grown on the corners of the lips and down the sides of the mouth to the jawline, resembling an upside-down "U" or a horseshoe. The facial hair grown along the sides of the mouth in the horseshoe are sometimes called “pipes.” Perhaps the most well-known personality to sport this type of mustache is former pro wrestler Hulk Hogan. Not surprisingly, this type of facial hair was also commonly seen on adult film stars of the day and is one of two mustache styles that is universally referred to as a “pornstache” with the other known as the chevron.

First making a big splash in 1969 on Robert Redford in the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the chevron covers the area between the nose and the upper lip, out to the edges of the upper lip but no further.

The chevron was popular throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s and was solidly embedded in virtually every area of American culture – TV journalist Walter Cronkite, music Freddie Mercury of Queen, sports racecar driver Richard Petty, baseball star Reggie Jackson and Olympic swimming gold medalist Mark Spitz, and even politics Nixon administration liaison G. Gordon Liddy. Notable adult film stars of the day that sported the chevron included John Holmes, Harry Reems and “The Hedgehog” himself, Ron Jeremy.

But all those personalities can thank a trio of actors for bringing the chevron mustache into mainstream fashion during this time, which included Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back, Tom Selleck as the title character on the ultra-popular TV show Magnum, P.I., and Burt Reynolds of Deliverance and Smokey and the Bandit fame who also posed nude for Cosmopolitan in 1972, which was the inspiration to launch Playgirl magazine.

In the late ‘80s, while women were busy at the mall wearing big hair and shoulder pads, the five o’clock shadow look on guys was around for a hot minute thanks to Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas on the hit TV show Miami Vice, which mixed action and fashion like no other show before it or since.


With the exception of the metrosexual arriving on the scene about 10 years ago (a young, urban, heterosexual male with liberal political views, an interest in fashion and a refined sense of taste), not much had really changed in male facial hair until the beard trend of the late 2000s.

Associated with “hipster” culture, the bearded, plaid shirt-wearing look has become so popular among American men these days that they have been nicknamed “lumbersexual,” which is defined as a young, urban man who cultivates an appearance and style of dress suggestive of a rugged, outdoor lifestyle.

Today, virtually every style of facial hair is commonplace both here in the U.S. and across the globe. About 33% of American men currently have facial hair, compared with 55% of the men worldwide.

A 2013 study by the official journal of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society found that men with full beards are seen as more attractive, healthier, better at parenting and more masculine. That study was reinforced last year.

In 2016, researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia explored male facial hair on a global scale to determine what role it had in sexual attractiveness, masculinity and both short-term and long-term relationships.

More than 8,500 women were shown photos of men with varying amounts of facial hair. The images, manipulated by researchers to show the same men, showed the men with clean-shaven faces, light stubble, heavy stubble and thick beards.

According to the results, published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology, women said the sexiest men were those with heavy stubble, followed by those with short stubble. Men who were clean shaven and those with full beards were rated the lowest on the overall sexiness scale.

So what’s the next trend along evolutionary trail of facial hair in America? It all depends on what women like. Just like in the early 1900s, there is only one thing that could motivate men to do just about anything when it comes to facial hair – the prospect of getting laid.

Facial hair may come, and facial hair may go, but some things never change.

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