I have sported a beard for around 60 years and after watching an awards ceremony on television the other day, realised that at last I was really ‘with it’. The beard has become something of a fashion accessory, sported by almost every male celebrity on the catwalk and hirsute hero on the high street. But storm clouds are looming.
Despite their current popularity, beards remain deeply divisive. One British barber and businessman has floated a radical proposal to discourage bearded faces, or at least make some money off the men who refuse to renounce them. He proposed a tax on the bushiest of beards and presented his proposal to the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne. Thank goodness, he’s now gone. I can imagine him implementing the new tax in his next budget speech. He’s not the first one to have had taken up this crazy idea.
If you’ve been working at home or not getting out that much during the pandemic, it may have seemed like the perfect time to grow a beard. Why go through the bother of shaving if you don’t have to, right?
Having time on my hands and with a beard I’ve nurtured since the early 60’s, I had to think of something equally outrageous to do during the lockdown (for an octogenarian) … so I dyed my beard pink and raised over £450 for the Florence Nightingale Charity.
Experts say, however, that your added facial hair might just be increasing your risk for developing COVID-19. It’s all about getting a good seal between the mask and your face.
Claims that Henry VIII introduced a beard tax in 1535 (despite possessing his own set of well-groomed whiskers) have found their way into numerous books, blog posts, and (of course) Wikipedia, but the tale seems to be apocryphal.
So brilliant was Henry’s idea that it was followed on by his daughter Elizabeth I, who ordered anyone who had grown a beard for longer than two weeks had to pay a duty and cough up to the government. The tax was in place as a means of status. Henry VIII had a long beard and it was a sign of high social class that you could afford the luxury of paying for your facial hair.
A similar tax was in place in Russia but for opposite reasons. In 1705, the Tsar saw beards as uncultured, so administered for a levy to encourage citizens not to grow them. If they resisted, they had to carry at all times a silver or copper coin saying ‘the beard tax has been taken’ on one side, and ‘the beard is a superfluous burden’ on the other. The beard tax was eventually abolished in 1772. Free haircuts for a year to the first detectorist to discover one of these tokens … only joking!