• The Prickly History of Beards: The Goatee

by Mr. Spruce

A Goatee, by modern understanding, most commonly refers to any facial hair focused upon the chin. The name almost certainly stems from the visual similarity between that and the tuft of hair found adorning the chin of the common goat.

The specifics of the style have changed with the passing of time and trends though. To that end, this week in The Prickly History of Beards we'll be delving a bit deeper into the Goatee and some of its tumultuous history.

Until much more recent times the term Goatee would solely have been used to describe hair upon the wearers’ chin of varying length but with the rest of the face clean shaven. However, since finding it’s popularity surging in the 1990s the term is now more commonly representative of a short cropped, chin-based beard paired with a moustache. 

Goatee vs. Van Dyke

This rebranding within the zeitgeist caused no small amount of outcry as beard purists insist that including a moustache in the equation makes for a style that should more accurately be termed a, ‘Van Dyke’. The Van Dyke has been a verifiable style of facial hair since the 17th Century when Flemish painter Anthony Van Dyck popularised wearing a moustache with a beard upon the chin and cheeks shaved bare. The rules specific to the style of the Van Dyke are loose at best and open to wide and varied interpretation. 

Dark times for the Goatee

Pan i Syrinx by Jean-François de Troy

Pan i Syrinx by Jean-François de Troy (Image courtesy of www.getty.edu)

The origins of the Goatee can be traced back as far as Ancient Greece when the deity Pan was commonly depicted as sporting one. As time progressed and Christianity became the dominant religion the striking image of Pan was reappropriated and became synonymous with the image of Satan. This became the accepted ideal of the Devil during the Victorian and Edwardian eras alongside the rise of neopaganism. 

"...the goatee is often thought of as the beard of choice for evil alter-egos in modern media tropes."

Indeed this rather unfortunate association may go some way to explain why the goatee is often thought of as the beard of choice for evil alter-egos in modern media tropes. Researchers from the University of Warwick looked into this phenomenon to ascertain why the goatee is so commonly used to mark out the ‘bad guy’ and discovered that humans tend to perceive downward facing triangles as inherently threatening.

A goatee changes the shape of the wearers face significantly enough to draw an association with a downward facing triangle hence a subconscious warning bell sounds. This, combined with the classic demonic imagery, might just be enough to mark out the goatee as the most dangerous choice of beard style yet invented. 

The Goatee and Counter Culture

Of course, evil connotations aside, the goatee has also come to be representative of various different counter cultures over time. It was a popular choice of style amongst bohemians in Paris during the tail end of the 19th century and again amongst the beatnik culture in the States in the era immediately following WW2. Kurt Cobain resuscitated it in the early 1990s and it became a common beard style amongst many of his Grunge peers.   

"...it's important to maintain sharp edges and corners at the jawline."

The goatee is arguably less often associated with evil or any particular subculture now as it’s popularity has grown and grown. Famous bearded wearers throughout history include; Abraham Lincoln, Craig David, Colonel Sanders, Jeff Daniels, Frank Zappa, Brad Pitt, Robert Downey Jr., Che Guevara, Will Smith, Steve Austin, Idris Elba and Nick Oliveri. 

Top tips for Goatee wearers 

Should you decide that this is the style for you there are a few points to bear in mind. You must pay attention when shaving as you approach the edges, take your time and make sure that the beard doesn’t extend past the smile lines of your mouth. Both sides of the goatee must be meticulously symmetrical. If you opt for a moustache as well as a beard, keep it well defined; it's important to maintain sharp edges and corners at the jawline. 

The Goatee is a style that has survived the test of time and doesn’t look like it’s going away anytime soon. Whether you fancy yourself as a self styled ‘baddie’, a raffish bon vivant, a metalhead or smooth R’n’B aficionado then you need look no further than the ever reliable Goatee. 

What do you reckon? Is a Goatee your go-to beard, or is it more a case of 'get out, beard!'? Sound off in the comments below and let us know what you think.

Till next time, this is Mr. Jack Baxter signing off.

Mr. Jack.

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Mr. Spruce
Mr. Spruce


Mr. Spruce aka Andy. One half of Worthy & Spruce. Blogging about all things gentlemanly, and many things not. Tired but tireless dad, business dude, consumer of coffee, and deliverer of timely quips.

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