The mid-19th Century saw the flourishing of the neckbeard, here pictured on American transcendalist writer Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862). The neckbeard was the mullet of its day, in that it made the wearer ready for different – even contradictory – social occasions with one simple style. The hairstyle conveys both a fresh-faced business mien and the rugged manliness of a north-woodsman. For Throeau, who walked the line between polite society and an outdoor lifestyle, it was the perfect combination. It also kept chill New England gusts from entering the wearer’s collar.
An image of a whiskerless Thoreau from 1854 suggests his neckbeard may have also been designed to disguise a hideous wattle.
Thoreau was famous for his ugliness, and from an aesthetic perspective, his neckbeard may have been a way of shouting to the world: “I don’t give a fuck.” And it seems to have had the desired effect: According to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s journals, novelist Louisa May Alcott said that Thoreau’s facial hair “will most assuredly deflect amorous advances and preserve the man’s virtue in perpetuity.”