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British Barber Proposes Beard Tax

Inspired by historical examples, Antony Kent wants men to pay a 100-pound fee to rock a bushy beard

(Mike Mozart/Flickr)
smithsonian.com

Antony Kent, owner of the salon chain UK Barber Shops suffers from a bit of beard envy. The 48-year-old admits that he can’t really grow much more than a weak goatee, but he swears that’s not why he is proposing a beard tax to Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. Under Kent’s tax, men with unruly or bushy beards would pay 100 pounds per year for the privilege of rocking their mouth moss. Men with trimmed, well-groomed beards would pay half that, as Jesse Guy-Ryan writes at Atlas Obscura.

The veteran barber came across the idea after seeing so many beards around his hometown of Sale Green in Worcestershire. “I noticed that people were growing beards and I was thinking—why? I just found it quite fascinating to see how the fashion has changed,” he tells Hannah Worrall at Worcester News. When he began researching the trend, he came across an article about Henry VIII taxing beards in the 16th century. “My head started whirring away and I started thinking you might be onto something here. I thought—they need to reduce the deficit, so maybe they can start taxing beards with them being so prevalent at the moment!”

According to Guy-Ryan, King Henry’s beard tax is apocryphal. But it is well documented that in 1698, Peter the Great of Russia did tax beards. After touring western Europe, the Tzar came home with sheers in hand, and literally cut and shaved the beards off his military commanders, ministers and friends. After that, any man in St. Petersburg wishing to wear a beard had to pay 100 rubles and carry a beard token or face being forcibly shaved. Any peasant wishing to enter the city was required to dispense with their scruff or face fines.

Guy-Ryan also points out that in 2014, a researcher discovered an attempt by a Democratic Assemblyman from Essex county, New Jersey, to introduce a very strange graduated beard tax on April 1, 1907. According to an article dated May 5, 1907, the assemblyman proposed that a tax on whiskers would help pay off state debt. He proposed charging those that had "Common or garden whiskers" $5 a year, "Mutton chops, or Senatorial side fuzz" $10, "Square chin and side pattern," $50, and "Red (of any design whatsoever)" to cost 20 percent extra. 

"Many whom I questioned were coarse and vulgar men, whose language to me when I politely asked the reason they wore whiskers is not fit to repeat. The majority said that they wore beards as a matter of economy, to save both barbers' fees and the cost of neckties," the assemblyman notes in the article.  

More than 100 years later, Kent doesn’t really expect the government to adopt his beard tax proposal—he sees it as more of a protest.

“I’m trying to raise awareness of the ridiculous state of tax in the hairdressing industry,” he tells Worrall. “[T]he beard tax is an exaggeration of this. I have been writing to the government for many, many years on the tax affairs of hairdressing and all of my calls fall on deaf ears. So, I decided to come up with an alternative tax raising measure for the government so they can make things fair.”

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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