Was the beard tax a thing?

It seems that everywhere you look, men have beards. Some spend much time waxing, softening, moisturizing and styling their facial hair. After years of bare faces, the beard phenomenon is becoming more and more commonplace. Love them or hate them, it seems that beards are here to stay- for now, at least. It is almost No-Shave November. Then again, maybe it’ll fall by the wayside if another Beard Tax is introduced. A Beard Tax? Yes, it was a real thing!

 

What in the world was the Beard Tax?

The infamous King Henry VIII introduced a Beard Tax in 1535. He wore quite the impressive mane of facial hair himself. This tax was graduated, meaning that the amount was commensurate with the wearer’s’ social position. Elizabeth I of England, Henry the VIII’s daughter, reinstated this tax, but it was poorly enforced. Sadly, this all may be apocryphal, since there is no contemporary record of this charge ever being in effect.

 

One place we do have documentation of a Beard Tax being enforced is in Russia. Peter I wanted to bring Russian society in line with Western culture, so in 1698, he instituted the Russian Beard Tax- and strictly enforced it. He employed police to forcibly and publicly shave men who wore a beard and refused to pay the tax. Unfortunately, many believed going clean-shaven was against their religious beliefs. Here again, the amount of taxation was in line with the status of the man. For instance, those part of the Imperial Court, in the military, or a government official paid 60 rubles each year. That’s about one U.S. dollar in today’s conversion, though how much it was 320 years ago is anyone’s guess. Conversely, peasants were charged two half-kopeks- about a penny- each time they entered the city.

 

Even in modern times, there have been Beard Taxes introduced, as recently as 1907 in New Jersey! A member of the NJ State Legislature recommended a bill for the taxation of men with beards. While we don’t know who this legislator is, apparently he lamented that men with beards usually have something to hide, and even grow their facial hair for “ulterior and often base motives.” Whoa. That’s quite the statement.

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