Morning Shave

Delivering the Commencement Address at University of Texas at Austin in 2014, Admiral William H McRaven, a retired United States Navy Admiral who last served as the ninth commander of the United States Special Operations Command from August 8, 2011, to August 28, 2014 said “If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day.”

‘Making the bed’ ritual was all important first task of the day one accomplished as a Cadet at Sainik (Military) School, from the age of nine to sixteen.  On joining the National Defence Academy (NDA), the morning shave became the first important task of the day.  During early school days, one did not have any facial hair and later, shaving was a ritual only during weekly haircut, executed by the barber.  On joining NDA, morning shaving became  mandatory  for all cadets and it continued through my two decades of service with the Indian Army.


One winter morning in the eighties, I, a young Lieutenant and Senior Subaltern of the Regiment, received a message that an important political leader had passed away and the day was declared a holiday.  I had by then shaved and was changing.  I came out of my room, dressed in whites for physical training (PT) and I found all other Lieutenants also ready for PT.  “We have shaved and put on our PT dress.  Let us all go for a run.  Once you have shaved early morning, holiday or not, it makes no difference ” I said.

In the Army, being a uniformed service,  discipline is judged partly by the manner in which a soldier wears a prescribed uniform or a dress, as well as by the individual’s personal appearance.  Thus a well-groomed appearance by all soldiers is fundamental to the Army and contributes to building pride and esprit-de-corps.  There is a need for every soldier to be self-disciplined and also be proud of being part of a noble profession.   It is the prime responsibility of all commanders to ensure that soldiers under their command present a smart and soldierly appearance. All  commanders have to ensure that soldiers take pride in their appearance at all times, in or out of uniform, on and off duty.  A properly shaved soldier, sporting a mustache if preferred, will surely give a soldierly appearance.

Soldiers sporting a clean shaven face can be attributed to  Alexander the Great.  It is believed  that he ordered his soldiers to be clean shaven so that the enemy might not grab them by their beard and throw them to ground.


In Indian Army, soldiers are expected to be clean shaven other than the Sikhs, who are allowed to grow their beard.  Mustache if worn must remain above the upper lip.  British Army, from where most traditions and regulations came for the Indian Army, orders regarding shaving can be traced back to the Eighteenth Century.  Until then, British soldiers were all clean shaven and did not wear a mustache.  Soldiers of Hussar Cavalry Regiments wore moustaches to intimidate their enemies. This mustache trend spread across British Army.   At this time, a mustache differentiated between a soldier and a civilian.  Influence of Indian Royalty and Indian belief that mustache indicated manliness could have also played a role.  By late Eighteenth century, mustache became popular among British civilians, so also sideburns.


Sir Douglas Haig with his army commanders and their chiefs of staff – World War I – (Image Courtesy Wikimedia).

During World War I, Commonwealth soldiers found it cumbersome to maintain their mustache, while fighting trench warfare.  Many soldiers and officers preferred to shave off their mustaches and it even led to some sort of a revolt.  A few soldiers were even court-martialled for not complying with the order of a mustache.  In 1913, General Nevil Macready investigated the matter and submitted a report that orders regarding mustaches be withdrawn.  No action was taken on this report and in 1915 King George reinforced the necessity of a mustache for a soldier. General Macready resubmitted his ‘mustache’ recommendations in 1916 and on the 8 October, order was passed, doing away with a mandatory mustache for a soldier.


Iconic poster of World War I with Lord Kitchener, sporting a handlebar mustache, persuading everyone to join the army still stands out (Image Courtesy Wikimedia).

It is a myth that hair tend to grow thicker and darker than before due to shaving.  Mildred Trotter, a forensic anthropologist debunked this myth back in 1928, when she asked three college students to shave their legs, ankle to knee, twice weekly for eight months. Using a microscope, she compared each student’s hair growth rate, color and thickness. She concluded that shaving had no impact on hair’s texture or growth.

Wrestlers are mostly clean shaven as Olympic rules require them to have either a full beard or none at all, as stubble can irritate an opponent’s skin.  Swimmers are mostly clean shaven – they remove all possible body hair – as body hair can slow them down a bit.

Married Amish men sport a beard with a trimmed mustache in place of wearing a wedding ring.

For reasons still unclear, Parliament fired the personal barber of Charles I of England. Famously slow to trust others, King Charles never shaved again, for fear that a new barber would try to kill him.

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