The Real Reason Amish Men Have Beards

The wonders of a beard — this defining characteristic of so many individuals we hold dear — change the facial landscape from something plain to an almost mythic presence. What would Gandalf be without his cascade of gray whiskers? It becomes an extension of his character, Screen Rant, points out, going from a wild, slightly over a foot scramble of unruly hair to a shorter, trimmed version he sports as the commanding, even more powerful, wizard he becomes by the end of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. The same goes for Albus Dumbledore in the "Harry Potter" series; his beard gives gravitas.

Even in American history, the beard finds moments of importance. Would Abraham Lincoln, a self-educated man from Kentucky and Indiana, have achieved his status as president of the United States without one? Not according to Grace Bedell, an 11-year-old girl in 1860 who told Honest Abe that he'd look better with whiskers because of his thin face. "All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President," said Abraham Lincoln Online.

About 33% of American men have facial hair, and 55% worldwide, reported Modern Gentlemen. For some of these wearers, a beard is a religious requirement, like with Sikhs, who keep their beards uncut, offered Slate. For the Amish culture, spirituality plays only a partial role in the decision for embracing the bristly world of the unshaven. Facial hair also offers insight into who Amish men are in society.

Unshorn and proud of it

For the Amish, a North American religious sect in the Old Order Amish Mennonite Church, said Britannica, a hirsute visage represent the embracing of a religious practice as well as providing a social cue. The group, which began in the late 17th century, followed the teachings of Anabaptist leader Jakob Ammann who advocated eschewing fashionable clothing and believed that liars should suffer excommunication and then be shunned by their communities. He also banned any beard trimming, offered Amish Studies, The Young Center. The Amish lifestyle embraces the German word Gelassenheitwhich basically means a self-surrendering to a higher authority; pride and attention-seeking are verboten and humility is paramount. Another concept practiced is Ordnung, or order, a group of rules that dictates Amish life, including technology use (or lack of, since the Amish still live as people did 300 years ago, and even fuel their lamplight with propane rather than electricity, as per The Amish Village), facial hair and wardrobe. Men, typically, don an Amish-style hat and vest while women often wear a dress-cape-apron combination and a headdress.

Amish men also grow long distinctive beards without mustaches. Part of the reason for this is because they closely follow the Bible, which says, for instance, in Leviticus 19:27, "Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard," said We Are the Mighty. The facial hair honors their Christian ancestors from the Bible, where growing whiskers was the norm and signaled a boy's passage into manhood. 

The deeper meaning of Amish beards

The Amish are pacifists or, as they would say, they embrace "nonresistance," since they seek to avoid confrontation in general life, not just on the battlefield. Because of this stance, they seek to distinguish themselves from those in the military by their appearance — which is why they wear their beard without a mustache, according to We Are the Mighty. British troops were actually required to have facial hair above the lip in the 1800s — a rule that stayed intact until World War I when clean-shaven countenances fit under the gas masks better. Now, you'll see most individuals involved in military service without mustaches. Despite the ending of that hairy soldier tradition, the Amish still continued shaving under their nose. 

Adopting a beard also provides a social signal, indicating a boy has become a married man since the Amish never use wedding rings. The beard growing begins after the ceremony, per The Travel. The wedded man will grow it for the remainder of his life without ever shaving it, explained Gents of Lancaster. This act symbolizes his marriage's longevity. 

What happens when Amish men can't grow beards? After all, about 24% of Americans surveyed in a Body Logic poll could not, per Modern Gentlemen. That's alright, according to Gents of Lancaster, since following the rules of the Amish faith requires merely not shaving a beard. As long as that occurs, the Amish man is successfully adhering to his religion's strictures, even with that smooth face.