Josiah Gordon/Postmedia News
Josiah Gordon/Postmedia News

In the U.K., a bearded man is poised to take control of the Labour Party, becoming the first bearded leader of a major British party since the First World War. And, given current polls, Canada may soon be sending a bearded prime minister to the clean-shaven ranks of the Group of Seven.

After nearly a century-long hiatus, it seems beards are returning to the faces of Western politicians.

Josiah Gordon/Postmedia News

“If Mulcair wins, it would indeed be a remarkable moment in the history of facial hair,” said Christopher Oldstone-Moore, a facial hair historian at Ohio’s Wright State University, in an email to the National Post.

Beards were practically ubiquitous at the dawn of Canadian governance. Nineteen of the 25 delegates photographed at the Charlottetown Conference sported some kind of facial hair. Of the four male monarchs who have been Canada’s head of state, two were bearded.

Josiah Gordon/Postmedia News

South of the border, the post-Civil War United States spent 28 consecutive years with presidents sporting some kind of beard, moustache or muttonchop sidewhiskers.

Then came the safety razor, Communism, the shaving demands of two world wars and hippies. Suddenly, the only whiskers left were on the faces of fringe radicals.

“Voters thought a furry politician was dodgy and had something to hide,” said Allan Peterkin, a Toronto doctor and author of One Thousand Beards: A Cultural History of Facial Hair.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Josiah Gordon/Postmedia News

Bearded world leaders

From Genghis Khan to Henry VIII to Charlemagne, chin fur was expected of men in positions of power. But now, it’s largely in Africa and the Islamic world where beards are still seen as a symbol of leadership.


AFRICA

  • Somalia*
    President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud

  • South Sudan
    President Salva Kiir Mayardit

  • Morocco*
    Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane

  • Kenya
    President Uhuru Kenyatta

  • Djibouti*
    President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh

ASIA

  • India
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi

  • Afghanistan*
    President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani

  • Brunei*
    Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah

MIDDLE EAST

  • Oman*
    Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said

  • Iran*
    President Hassan Rouhani

  • Saudi Arabia*
    King Salman

  • United Arab Emirates
    Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan

EUROPE

WESTERN HEMISPHERE

  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
    Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves

  • Suriname
    President Dési Bouterse

  • Cape Verde
    President Jorge Carlos Fonseca

* Predominantly Islamic countries

He added, “I always joke – you’re either Santa or Satan – depending on who is interpreting your facial hair. No politico wants to take that chance with voters.”

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil shaved his professorial beard soon after becoming leader of the province’s Liberals. After Justin Trudeau became federal Liberal leader, party handlers tried hard to have everybody forget that time he wore a goatee to the House of Commons for a few months.

Of the world’s 195 countries, only about a dozen have bearded leaders – largely in Africa and the Islamic world, where beards are expected as a mark of piety.

Among G7 countries, leaders have not sported beards since the early 20th century. The exception was an eight-month period in the 1980s, when right-wing politician Giovanni Goria was prime minister of Italy.

For the most part, a beard in the West has been the sign of a “leftist politician, particularly in Europe,” said Oldstone-Moore.

That’s certainly true of Jeremy Corbyn, the far-left Labour leadership frontrunner, who has been widely quoted as saying his beard is a “form of dissent” against the centrist New Labour policies of Tony Blair.

Notably, Corbyn would be the first Labour leader to  sport a beard since Keir Hardie, a committed socialist and fervent pacifist, whose last days were spent opposing the First World War.

A beard can also be found on Martin Schulz, the progressive leader of the European Parliament.

In a recent study, a team led by Oklahoma State University’s Rebekah Herrick set out to discover if the beard – so rare in U.S. politics – carried any special connotation.

They found no shared political ideology among the five per cent of Congressmen who had facial hair. The beard- and moustache-wearers didn’t seem to vote any differently from their clean-shaven colleagues.

However, they did find that voters perceived them differently. Beard-wearers were seen as more “masculine” and “less supportive of women’s rights.”

Of course, that’s only at first glance. Given that Tom Mulcair spent years in the public eye, Herrick said Canadian voters will be less inclined to lean on “stereotypes” when deciding whether to vote for him.

“I don’t think his beard will have an effect on the vote,” said Mireille Lalancette, a researcher in political communication at the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières.

If anything, “it shows an authenticity that he’s keeping it regardless of changing styles.”

National Post
• Email: thopper@nationalpost.com | Twitter:

Hair today, gone tomorrow
In the rich world, political beards have largely been taboo since the days of steam power. Below, G7 countries and their most recent leader to sport a beard.

Files

Canada
Prime Minister Mackenzie Bowell
Affiliation: Conservative
Left office: 1896

France
President Paul Doumer
Affiliation: Radical Party
Left office 1932 (assassinated)

Files

Italy
Prime Minister Giovanni Giuseppe Goria
Affiliation: Christian Democrat
Left office 1988

Germany
Chancellor Philipp Heinrich Scheidemann
Affiliation: Social Democrat
Left office: 1919

Japan
Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi
Affiliation: Rikken Seiyūkai (big government, socially conservative)
Left office :1932

U.K.
Prime Minister Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil
Affiliation: Conservative
Left office 1902

United States
President Benjamin Harrison
Affiliation: Republican
Left office 1893