Movember: Facial Hair in the Workplace

 

It’s Movember time again which means upper lip fuzz will be springing up in offices and workplaces up and down the country. We take a look at the history of facial hair in the office...

 


 

About Movember...

This international phenomenon began in Australia in 2003 when Travis Garone and Luke Slattery were inspired to do something specifically for men following the fundraising efforts of a friend’s mother for breast cancer. Within two years, Australian moustache-growing had raised over a million dollars and the idea spread to New Zealand, then the UK, Spain, Canada, the US… and every November, there are now men complaining of itchy upper lips in 21 countries, with a combined total raised of over AUD730 million.

 

We think it’s great that Garone and Slattery have had such a positive influence on office morale and that Movember is being credited as one of the influences on the current fashion to leave the razor alone.

 


 

Facial Hair in the Office

Historically however, any kind of facial hair has been a no-no in the office, and even now some companies have clean shaven policies which forbid any kind of facial hair. The invention of the safety razor at the end of the 19th century started the fashion for being clean shaven as a sign that you were a civilised, modern man. World War I also played a large part in how men sported facial hair, as the seal on gas masks wouldn’t work properly over a beard or moustache.

 

Facial hair in the workplace - Movember

 

Image credit: LSE Library [no restrictions] - Image source: Wikimedia Commons

 

 

In the ‘20s, many office interiors were designed around an open plan design with clean lines, which was no place for what the novelist Frank Richardson termed “face fungus”.

 

A clean shaven face went from life-saving to career saving in the Great Depression. Jobs were at a premium and every man had to do what he could to get and keep a job. In 1932 the advice to American men was: “Shave off that moustache if you’re looking for a job. A moustache…[may] help in getting a job as a ‘gigolo’ or sheik, but there are practically no openings for them during a depression.”

 

In fact, throughout the 20th century, the clean shaven look was firmly associated with professionalism, and facial hair seen as the preserve of the left-wing. Karl Marx, for instance, deliberately grew a bushy moustache and beard to differentiate himself from the clean shaven capitalists.

 

Christopher Oldstone-Moore is the author of academic studies on The Beard Movement in Victorian Britain and Mustaches and Masculine Codes in Early Twentieth-Century America. His theory for the lack of facial hair allowed in the office is that: “According to the twentieth-century gender code, a clean-shaven man's virtue was his commitment to his male peers and to local, national or corporate institutions. The mustached man, by contrast, was much more his own man: a patriarch, authority figure or free agent who was able to play by his own rules.” In other words, if you wanted to succeed in business, you shaved every morning!

 

In the Swinging Sixties, attitudes did begin to change towards facial hair as the rise of the counterculture broke social norms. People questioned the establishment and demanded equality and rights. Long hair and beards were commonplace, and the iconic photograph of bearded left-wing Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara became the poster on every student’s wall. Whilst facial hair was still kept away from the workplace, office design was still being influenced by the colourful and vibrant society.

 

In the ‘70s, individuality flourished. In the office world, the revolutionary ergonomic chair was invented which gave each person a chair which suited their needs. And whilst longer hair was tolerated in office life, bushy moustaches were the main preserve of people who wanted to drop out of mainstream society, or TV characters like Magnum PI.

 

The 1980s were all about making money and there was definitely no place for facial hair of any sort in mainstream office culture. Computers were being introduced to the workplace operated by sharp suited employees. Ironically, in Silicon Valley, the people developing these sleek, shiny objects, e.g. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak whose Apple stores and HQ interiors are renowned for their office design, eschewed the smartness of the rest of the office world to wear casual clothes and sport facial hair.

 

Steve Jobs - Facial hair style

 

Image credit: Matthew Yohe - Image source: Wikimedia Commons

 

But still moustaches or any kind of facial hair would hold men back in the office. As recently as the turn of the 21st century, academics were finding that personnel managers were much more likely to hire clean shaven men.

 


 

Facial Hair is Now An Office Trend

This historic antagonism towards facial hair makes acceptance of the recent and growing trend quite astonishing. Over the last couple of years, CEOs of major international companies have joined Richard Branson in sporting beards and moustaches.

 

With facial hair being bang on trend in 2016, and office interiors becoming more creatively adventurous in general, this year’s Movember could prove a turning point for the currently clean shaven looking for a different look. We’ll wait and see if there’s a rush on razors on 1 December!

 

Are you planning to modernise your office design with a ‘mo’? If you are, send us your sculptured masterpieces on social media, as we’d love to see them! But, as we’re the experts of all things office interiors related, you can talk to us about making your office stand out from the crowd (not with a moustache though…!).

 

Post by Dean Kahl