You know the saying: What’s old is new again.
Here’s one for you: Civil War facial hair. It’s what’s hot in 2015.
The Valentine’s new show “Beard Wars” re-creates 23 famous beards from Union and Confederate generals in the ultimate salute to facial hair.
“This was our way of paying homage to the Civil War sesquicentennial,” said Domenick Casuccio, public relations director for the Valentine. “We wanted to do something fun while capturing the cultural resurgence of men’s facial hair in Richmond.”
The American Civil War saw a wide range of styles in men’s full facial hair during the mid-19th century. In the last few years, full beards and facial hair have become popular again, especially with hipsters.
“Beard Wars” bridges the history of the Civil War to today.
From the impressive sideburns of Ambrose Burnside to the magnificent mustache of George B. Cosby, members of the RVA Beard League grew beards in the style of Civil War generals and were photographed for the show by local photographer Terry Brown.
The contemporary photos are shown side by side with their Civil War inspiration as a “faceoff” between yesterday and today.
Casuccio grew his ginger-colored beard to represent Ulysses S. Grant in the show. Getting his beard into shape for Grant took a couple of trips to the High Point Barbershop & Shave Parlor in Richmond’s Fan District.
A marked difference from the generals of yesterday.
“Civil War generals were out in the field and didn’t have time to go to a barbershop or regularly groom themselves,” Casuccio said. “I was looking shaggy for a little bit. Typically I keep a well-groomed beard.”
Casuccio is a member of the RVA Beard League, a 200-strong group of facial-hair aficionados and one of the largest beard leagues in the country.
Chad Roberts, president of the RVA Beard League, grew his beard to a foot and a half to represent Confederate Gen. William Mahone.
“His worldview was very different from mine,” Roberts said. “It was an interesting experiment (to represent him).” Roberts usually keeps his footlong beard braided to keep it out of the way and “fashion-forward,” he said jokingly.
The show is a different way to get across information about the Civil War. Short biographies of each general are featured, as well as shaving accessories and other objects from the Valentine collection.
Not just limited to men, the exhibit includes a few female members of the RVA Beard League, known as “Whiskerinas,” who re-create infamous wartime looks with fake hair, papier-mâché or yarn.
Brown attributes the current popularity of beards and facial hair as “an avenue of self-expression,” something that the men of today share with their forebears of the mid-19th century.
“Beard Wars” is a novel way of looking at history — through the whiskers of time, so to speak.
“For me, it’s interesting to see what Richmond was like a century and a half ago. And where it is and where it stands today,” Roberts said.