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Uniform regulation in the British Army between the years 1860 and 1916 stipulated that every soldier should have a moustache.
Before you read the complete article, look at this vocabulary and find it in the text:
find out: to discover
breach: the act of breaking a rule or agreement
seemingly: appearing to be
rampant: growing or expanding out of control
bare: having no facial hair, naked
scorn: to criticise heavily, to treat with disdain
plain sailing: easy
troops: soldiers or armed forces
compulsory: mandatory, obligatory
seal: a closure to prevent the escaping of air or liquid
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Today I found out that uniform regulation in the British Army between the years 1860 and 1916 stipulated that every soldier should have a moustache.
Command No. 1,695 of the King’s Regulations read:
“The hair of the head will be kept short. The chin and the under lip will be shaved, but not the upper lip…”
Although the act of shaving one’s upper lip was trivial in itself, it was considered a breach of discipline. If a soldier were to do this, he faced disciplinary action by his commanding officer which could include imprisonment, an especially unsavoury prospect in the Victorian era.
Interestingly, it is during the imperial history of Britain that this seemingly odd uniform requirement emerged. Initially adopted at the tail end of the 1700s from the French, who also required their soldiers to have facial hair (which varied depending on the category of soldier), this hairy fashion statement was all about virility and aggression. Beard and moustache growth was rampant, especially in India where bare faces were scorned as being juvenile and un-manly, as well as in Arab countries where moustaches and beards were likewise associated with power. It wasn’t all plain sailing for the moustache though; back home, British citizens were looking on it as a sign of their boys ‘going native’ and it was nearly eradicated completely.
However, in 1854, after significant campaigning, moustaches became compulsory for the troops of the East India Company’s Bombay Army. While not in the rules for everyone else yet, they were still widely taken up across the Armed Forces and during the Crimean War there were a wide variety of permissible (and over the top) styles. By the 1860s, moustaches were finally compulsory for all the Armed Forces and they became as much an emblem for the Armed Forces as the Army uniform.
In 1916, the regulation was dropped and troops were allowed to be clean-shaven again. This was largely because such a superficial requirement was getting ignored in the trenches of WWI, especially as they could sometimes get in the way of a good gas mask seal. The order to abolish the moustache requirement was signed on 6th October, 1916 by General Sir Nevil Macready, who himself hated moustaches and was glad to finally get to shave his off.
While no longer in force today, there are still regulations governing moustaches and, if worn, they can grow no further than the upper lip. It is also still extremely common for British soldiers in Afghanistan to wear beards, as facial hair is still associated with power and authority in many Islamic regions.
“Let’s chat about that!”
Send your answers to your ECP coach!
- Why do you think soldiers were made to wear a moustache?
- Do you know of any other interesting military uniform regulations?
- Have you ever worn a uniform? why? What was it like?
- What effect does a moustache have on someone’s appearance?
- What reasons do people have for shaving their facial hair on a regular basis?
- What reasons do people have for letting their facial hair grow?
- Can you name some famous people with moustaches? What would they look like without a moustache?