September 5, 2010

Tsar Peter I imposes a tax on beards! – 1698

Russian tsars were absolute monarchs who felt they could (and often successfully did!) rule every aspect of their country and their subjects. Here's a great example: on this day in 1698, Tsar Peter I of Russia ordered his noblemen to wear Western clothes rather than their traditional Russian clothing and personally cut off their beards. He imposed a tax on all his subjects' beards, with exceptions made for priests and peasants. He hoped to discourage the growth of facial hair and what he considered “archaic” fashion.

I think Tsar Peter had control issues.

Of course, other kings have dictated fashion. Henry VIII (who wore a beard) and Elizabeth I (who did not) both taxed beards in England. In the modern world there are some companies and institutions who have dress codes that include rules about hair and beards. For example, Disney used to have a rule about no beards for its employees, and Brigham Young University currently has a no-beard rule for students (although the university does give out “Beard Cards” to a few exemptions who cannot shave for medical or religious reasons). Ready for the contradiction? Brigham Young wore a beard!

However, Tsar Peter still manages to take the metaphorical cake because he made men who still wore beards (and paid the yearly beard tax) wear medals that read “Beards are a ridiculous ornament.”


For centuries before this, Russian men had worn long, flowing beards, and the idea of a beard was, for them, bound up with the idea of being a Russian and a man. It must have been very difficult for many to part with their beards.

Just for fun:

  • Did you know that there is an iPhone app for trying on different beards?

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