American Civil War Barber POV

Grooming, barbering and men’s hairstyles in the ACW

During the years of the Civil War, there was a notorious increase in the technology at the time in of the weaponry and applied tactical warfare. Unlike the wars that had occurred in Europe prior to the colonization of the Americas, it was in the Civil War that soldiers took a stance in homogenizing their appearance and attire. Because the Civil War was a massive step in the industrialization of the United States, it was thus possible to equip men with weapons and uniforms that bare almost identical resemblance to the equipment of their fighting peers.

Back then, the role of the barber was twofold in that not only was a barber a specialist in male grooming (including facial hair and head hair) but he was also a battlefield medic. Because of such need of medical personnel, the advances in both medical equipment and barber equipment technology during the Civil War were astounding and yielded greatly-positive consequences on the medical field and barber field in the years following the war.

Male grooming during the Civil War was of the utmost importance as no longer men were allowed to sport long hair or remain unclean. Whenever possible, men would shower, shave and get a haircut. Furthermore, men were recommended to wear their hair in hairstyles that at no time would impair their eyesight in the battlefield. The Civil War certainly revolutionized men’s grooming among the many other aspect’s of a male’s daily living.

Men’s hairstyles and hair grooming during the Civil War

The men’s hairstyles typical of the Civil War consisted of slicked back hairstyles that were styled with pomade or pure lard. The hair was instructed to be kept short although some hair length was allowed to help combat the cold. Facial hair was allowed although only those higher ranking officials were allowed lengthy beards.

Picture of men during the Civil War with classic hairstyles

The hair of the men in the Civil War was a major change in tactical warfare from the previous worldwide wars. For example, the wars in Europe prior to the American Civil War were fought with long hair, and in fact long hair was a valuable trait sought after in solders primarily for two reasons:

  1. Long hair increased the physical appearance of men, giving them a raw look that would intimidate opponents. This very same fact of long hair increasing the bulk of a male was extrapolated to facial hair as facial hair was also left to grow fully to increase the male’s upper body bulk.
  2. Long hair helped guard soldiers from the cold, and in Europe winter time is remarkably cold and bitter.
  3. Long hair served to protect the skull against friction injuries or abrasive injuries.

However, during the Civil War the higher ranking officials would mandate that all soldiers be neatly trimmed as, by the time the war was starting, barbers had realized of the positive effect that good hygiene had in soldiers.

Barbering hair products during the Civil War

As said, barbers were deployed in good numbers to the battlefield during the Civil War; their tasks were to treat the wounded and also ensure that hygiene was kept at a bare minimum. Indeed, the barbering tools right as the Civil War progressed became more and more sophisticated as well as more convenient and useful for the hectic setting of a war zone. Outside of the medical tools a barber needed to treat wounded soldiers, a barber would have the following barbering tools and products with him at all times: razors, hair clippers, soap and pomade or hair grease.

Razors

Razors became safer and longer lasting which allowed for a razor to be used on more men. While cuts did still occur, barbers soon learned to adapt to the stressful environment of the battlefield and would be able to shave mean with greater efficiency.

A straight razor as used by men in the Civil War.

Soap

The shaving was done with basic soaps consisting of wool fat. Leather was created by vigorous stirring with a brush and then the barber would shave the soldiers face in the barbershop.

Hair clippers

Hair clippers advanced greatly during the civil war. Prior to the Civil War, hair clippers were barber tools that were almost unheard of. However, during the Civil War the hair clipper as a men’s hairstyling tool was used at unprecedented scaled and when allowed, the hair clipper was used as a hair styling tool to give men haircuts that were a bit more lively. In fact, the military barbershops of the time during the Civil War was a place for the soldiers to relax when not engaging in battle and one of the preferred passing-time activities of men were to get haircuts or to have their hair neatly styled by the barber.

A hair clipper that was the first step in the evolution of the modern hair clipper

Hair products

The hair products used consisted of basic pomades made up of pureed apple and bear lard (see the use of pomade from the same website as the history of hair clippers) although in some cases pure lard (from pig fat) was used instead of pomade as both pomade and grease achieved the same styling effect. The goal was to slick the hair back so that the hair would not impair the eyesight of the soldier, yet maintain enough length to keep the soldier’s head warm and even protect the skull from abrasive injuries.

The Civil War impact on male grooming in the after years

Truly, the Civil War caused a massive revolutionizing in male grooming. For starters, the Civil War introduced a strong element of personal hygiene and cleanliness in men, and the clothing of men became more sophisticated as the textile industry created to at first make the uniforms was then shifted after the war ended to manufacture civilian clothing.

In terms of shaving, neatly trimmed moustaches became the social norm after the war. The usual facial hair style inherited to civilians from the war was a clean face with a moustache reaching the edges of the mouth or what is known as a classic moustache.

In terms of men’s hairstyles, the trend in men shifted towards short to medium length hairstyles that were of neat appearance and always slicked whether back or to the side. In fact this trend of slicked back hairstyles in men continued in the United States well into the 1930s right until the Second World War. Due to the ease of slicking the hair back, men with straight hair would leave their hair at medium lengths whereas men with curly hair would keep the hair short for ease of slicking back. Black men, with their typical tightly curled hair, would simply keep their hair at short regular lengths, shorter than their white fellows with less curly hair.

Lastly with regards to barbershops and barber products, the barbershop as a business skyrocketed in popularity. Barbershops after the Civil War became social places for men to gather for hours and every town no matter their size would have at least one barbershop. The barber products became more common place, with shaving razors being easily available for men to buy. On the other hand, hair clippers became even more modernized, allowing barbers to cut and shape men’s hair more efficiently and with greater gusto. Compared with the hair clippers of the early 20th century, the hair clippers used in the Civil War were primitive and inefficient, and the hair clipper continued to be modernized at rapid rates into what is today’s the common hair clipper.

Conclusion of the men’s hairstyles and grooming of the war

As a barber myself coming from a lineage of barbers who served in the Civil War, I have heard many tales of what being a barber was during this crucial time of our motherland. As dramatic as it may sound, the art of barbering and the overall male grooming trends of the 20th century owe much to the Civil War and to the brave men who fought in this war.

In this modern day and age in the Unites States, the current male grooming trends is going classic and the same slicked back men’s hairstyles of the war are becoming trendy again some 150 years ago! I constantly see men with slicked back hairstyles and the use of pomade is at an all time high. In fact yours truly has such a male hairstyle and uses pomade as intended for the battlefield!

This article was published on this site by collaborator Andrew Wilkinson