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elvis side burns
I don’t know about you, but when I hear the term “sideburns”, I think of Elvis Presley. There was young Elvis, with the cool, trimmed, sideburns; then there was older Elvis, in his white diamante jumpsuits, with the bigger, bushier ‘burns. Even as a young boy, the King walked to the beat of his own drum and styled his hair differently from the buzz cuts all his peers wore. He was even cut from a school football team as he refused to cut his hair and lose the sideburns.

Sideburns weren’t, however, invented by Elvis – nor were they even invented in the twentieth century...

This style of facial hair, grown in patches at the sides of the face and down the cheeks (and worn with a bare chin) dates back to at least 100BC. There is even a famous mosaic of Alexander the Great showing the ancient king and warrior wearing sideburns.

The style of “beard” which we know as sideburns was originally known as “mutton-chops”. The name was changed in honour of businessman and politician Ambrose Burnside. This man was a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He was rather inept as a general, but he was renowned for wearing very prominent and bushy “mutton-chops”, which he styled to connect with his moustache. This unique styling of his whiskers became a popular trend at the time – and by about 1870, the style was referred to as “burnsides”. They were called “sideburns” for the first time in 1877 – and the name has stuck! Alternative names for sideburns or mutton-chops include greaser-sleeves and balcarrotas.

Luminaries such as Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin and German Emperor Wilhelm I have worn sideburns in various styles.

In the Jewish religion, the length of one’s sideburns is dictated by the sect to which one belongs. They are worn as distinctive long curls or “sidelocks” called payots by Orthodox Jewish men. According to Jewish law, followers are forbidden from shaving the corners of the face. Styles and lengths of these sidelocks vary greatly between sects.

Sideburns have represented various things in pop culture over the years. Napoleonic military members wore them to appear dignified, and they were common in the European cavalry. When James Dean and Marlon Brando wore them, they signified rebellion and cool. Hippies wore them in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s and they were associated with laziness and the “slacker” mentality, as per Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider.

So how to successfully wear sideburns? Keep the thickness of your ‘burns consistent with the rest of the hair on your head – if your head is trimmed short, don’t grow a bushy mutton-chop. Choose the length to balance the rest of your features – unless you’re looking to start your own unique trend, the most flattering length is at about the midpoint of the ear. Longer sideburns which reach the earlobe can help to offset a long face, and can also slim a round face. If your chin is weak, keep them shorter.

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