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No-Shave November 2014: Why don't more presidents have facial hair?

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It's officially No-Shave November, and you know what that means. Now begins a full month of dudes letting their facial hair grow and grow until Dec. 1 all in the name of raising cancer awareness.

While this is obviously a wonderful cause and something many men around the world will be involved in during the month, not everyone will be participating. One guy who probably won't get in on the action is President Barack Obama, who said "I can't grow facial hair" in a 2006 interview with The Hill. "I get whiskers," he told reporter Betsy Rothstein.

While President Obama may be unique in his lack of ability to grow facial hair, he's certainly not alone in bringing a clean-shaven face to the White House. Surprisingly few presidents have had facial hair. Out of 44 presidents, only nine of them have grown beards and mustaches. These hairy men include Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, Theodore Roosevelt and William H. Taft. If you want to split hairs, some presidents have also had prominent sideburns, including George Washington, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren and Zachary Taylor.

Looking at this list of names, you'll notice that the last president to have any sort of facial hair was Taft, who left office in 1913. So that means we've gone more than 100 years without having a president with a beard, a mustache or even a little soul patch. These days, it seems like the White House is a little antagonistic toward facial hair.

As you can see, there was a long string of presidents that sported facial hair from Lincoln (1861 to 1865) to Taft (1909 to 1913). It is said that Lincoln grew his beard after 11-year-old Grace Bedell encouraged him to do so to fill out his thin face. It seemed to give the rather gangly lawyer a look of authority. From then on, nearly every president sported some form of facial hair, except for Andrew Johnson, who was impeached, and William McKinley, who was assassinated. Coincidence?

However, that trend ended when the clean-shaven Woodrow Wilson took office in 1913. Slate notes that the beard went out of style among American men in the early 1900s, thanks in part to the invention of the Gillette safety razor, which made shaving much easier. The military banned beards shortly after this time. Facial hair was also part of the style of the counterculture movement of the 1960s and 1970s, so politicians wanted to distance themselves from the radical ideals of so-called hippies.

But as a New York Times article from 2004 points out, the lack of facial hair in the White House may be not be as a result of facial hair not being trendy but rather who has facial hair. If you think about the major threats to the United States during the last century, most of them have had facial hair, such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Fidel Castro, Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. A beard or a mustache is the defining feature for these men, so no president would want to wear it for fear of sparking visual associations to these enemies of the U.S.

Law professor Brian Kalt has even come up with a law of presidential facial hair. Kalt's Law states that, "Under the modern two-party system, if a candidate has facial hair, the Republican always has as much, or more, than the Democrat." Kalt wrote that the reason for this could just be coincidence or "some playing fast and loose with the terms," but it could also be based on some regional differences. Historically speaking, other than Roosevelt and Dewey, the Republican candidates were all from "the relative hinterlands" of California, Illinois, Ohio and Indiana.

In recent years, oftentimes if you had facial hair, you were either unsuccessful in getting into office, came under controversy or were lampooned. Jesse Jackson, Alan Keyes and Al Sharpton all ran for president, but didn't get very far. Former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine was sued in 2013 by the U.S. government for his role in the collapse of the brokerage firm MF Global. When Al Gore returned to public life with a full beard after losing the 2000 presidential election, everyone thought he just looked sad. Some things to keep in mind as you head to the polls on Election Day.

In recent years with the rise of the hipster style, facial hair has come back into vogue, which could encourage some politicians to grow facial hair and maybe even have a successful run in office, too. Although, being associated with hipsters isn't really the greatest thing either. Could you imagine if the next president had a handlebar mustache? No, no you cannot.

And let's not forget about the possibility of the next president being a woman. With that in mind, let's hope the clean-shaven presidential look is here to stay.

Image: Win McNamee / Getty Images

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