Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Mutton Chops

Does anything announce the presence of a man of extraordinary virility more than a luxuriant display of facial hair? The fashion for men’s facial grooming has undergone significant changes over time, with the prevailing vogue an easy indicator as to the era in which it was popular.

The Victorians, so fussy about other aspects of their appearance, seem to have focused all of their expression of personal style into outrageously coiffed facial hairstyles, their bushy, waxed and pomaded whiskers practically screaming for attention. World War One put a quick end to all of this, in the form of chemical warfare and the need for gas masks to affix to the face with an airtight seal. Mustaches survived this assault, though they experienced a severe blow by their association with certain abominable dictators of the World War Two era.

Today it is rare to see a gentleman sporting the mutton chops of his great-great grandfather’s era, though to flaunt such a startling and archaic style is to signal one's masculinity and confidence very publically. It is the province of the butch gay man, (and) or actual butchers. To sport mutton chops is to defy social norms (and perhaps women) by deliberately looking old-fashioned — therefore they are best cultivated alongside a preference for pinstriped shirts, suspenders, and trousers. Boots and leather-uppers only, sneaker-wearers need not apply.

Ambrose Burnside
The sideburn is a corruption of the name “Burnside,” the Civil War general whose own flew like giant wings from his face, drawing attention away from his vastly receded hairline. Another Civil War buff who has proudly and defiantly worn mutton chop sideburns probably since he was a toddler, is a certain Ian Kilmister, or as most know him, Lemmy. If your nickname is Lemmy, you are required to get aggressive with your face. 

Elvis kinda-sorta went there towards his late period, but never committed to them as much as he did to the flamboyance of his lapels, an extension of his facial hair rendered in polyester.

Any perusal of the mutton chop on the internet provides some alarming examples, most of which make their wearers appear to look demented, despite evidence to the contrary (see Friedrich, Caspar David, and Darwin, Charles). Also check out Century of the Beard)

Oh, hang on. You meant mutton chops, as in chops of mutton. That’s something completely different.

A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes, Charles Elmé Francatelli, 1852

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