Politics tends to be the realm of the clean shaven, but as America has grown more lax about facial hair, scruff has become more acceptable in Washington too.
Lawmakers typically sport whiskers after an extended recess. The latest example is Sen. Ted Cruz, who showed up after Thanksgiving with a patchy beard. At first widely mocked online, Cruz’s beard has earned the praise of Esquire and Chrissy Teigen as it has grown in.
Others on Capitol Hill who’ve grown out their facial hair include Sen. Tom Cotton, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, and outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan, who kept his facial hair for the unveiling of his (clean shaven) House Budget Committee chairman portrait.
Ryan debuted his beard after Thanksgiving in 2015, a year after Obama press secretary Jay Carney showed up to the briefing room without shaving. At the time, GQ called Ryan’s beard a “media play” and wrote “the eye-roll-inducing style move equivalent to your father showing up to dinner on a skateboard.” According to the US House History, Art & Archives, Ryan was the first Speaker with a beard since Frederick Gillett, who served until 1925.
But facial hair has come back into vogue. As the great arbiter of American sexiness, People has put men with various levels of scruff on seven of its past 10 Sexiest Man Alive covers, including Idris Elba, who wore a full beard on the 2018 issue.
“Today, men are not judged negatively when they skip a shave,” Gillette North America vice president Massimiliano Menozzi told CNN earlier this year. “It is is not considered lazy or disrespectful.”
Gillette consumer data found men in developed markets shave two times less a month than they did a decade ago. And razor and blade sales have fallen for three consecutive years in the US, according to Nielsen data. In an era of athleisure, when the tie has become optional, even for former presidents, it follows that shaving standards would also grow more relaxed.
The first president with a beard was Abraham Lincoln, who grew one after an 11-year-old girl from New York named Grace Bedell wrote him a letter suggested it during his first presidential campaign in 1860. At the time, women couldn’t vote, but Bedell said women would convince their husbands to elect Lincoln if he had a beard.
“All the ladies like whiskers, and they would tease their husband’s to vote for you and then you would be President,” she wrote.
Lincoln responded in a letter wondering if people would find it “silly,” but ended up growing one. For the rest of the 19th century, most but not all presidents had beards or mustaches. The last president to with facial hair was William Taft, who left office in 1913.
Men in politics may receive less scrutiny than women for their appearance, but they’re also more restricted. During the 2016 campaign, for example, Hillary Clinton offered up that she dyed her hair, an admission Donald Trump has also made in his book How to Get Rich. However its hard to imagine him with a beard.