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Portrait of Prime Minister and Commander in Chief of the Kingdom of Nepal, Mathabar Singh Thapa, showing sideburns style worn by Hindu Kshatriya (warrior) military commanders in the Indian subcontinent.

Sideburns, sideboards,[1] or side whiskers are facial hair grown on the sides of the face, extending from the hairline to run parallel to or beyond the ears. The term sideburns is a 19th-century corruption of the original burnsides, named after American Civil War general Ambrose Burnside,[2] a man known for his unusual facial hairstyle that connected thick sideburns by way of a moustache, but left the chin clean-shaven.


Kaiser Wilhelm I
Wilhelm I, German Emperor, sported large sideburns; this style was often referred to as "side whiskers"
Ambrose Burnside
The term "sideburn" is the namesake of Ambrose Burnside
Other 19th century examples
Werner von Siemens
German inventor Werner von Siemens (1816–1892)
David Chubinashvili
Georgian lexicographer David Chubinashvili with "mutton-chops"

Sideburns can be worn and grown in combination with other styles of facial hair, such as the moustache or goatee, but once they extend from ear to ear via the chin they cease to be sideburns and become a beard, chinstrap beard, or chin curtain.

Indigenous men of Mexico, who shaved their heads and wore their sideburns long, as well as Colombians, who wear their sideburns long and typically do not have any other facial hair, are said to be wearing "balcarrotas", rarely seen in modern times, but prized in the 16th century as a mark of virile vanity and banned by the colonial authorities in New Spain, resulting in rioting in 1692.[3]


Following the fashion in Europe young South American criollos adopted sideburns. Many of the independence heroes of South America, including José de San Martín, Manuel Belgrano, Antonio José de Sucre, Bernardo O'Higgins, José Miguel Carrera, and Antonio Nariño had sideburns and are as such depicted on numerous paintings, coins and banknotes.

Nineteenth-century sideburns were often far more extravagant than those seen today, similar to what are now called mutton chops, but considerably more extreme. In period literature, "side whiskers" usually refers to this style, in which the whiskers hang well below the jaw line (see the picture of Wilhelm I, due right). As with beards, sideburns went quickly out of fashion in the early twentieth century. In World War I, in order to secure a seal on a gas mask, men had to be clean-shaven; this did not affect mustaches.

In 1936 President Franklin Roosevelt briefly experimented with sideburns on a yachting cruise, provoking laughter from wife Eleanor.[4] Sideburns made a comeback in the mid-1950s when Marlon Brando sported them as the title character in The Wild One (1953). Further spurred by Elvis Presley, they were sported by "hoods", "greasers", and "rockers" seeking to highlight their rebellious post-pubescent manliness.[5] Sideburns have continued to be popular among rock musicians, particularly in the hard rock and heavy metal genres, becoming notable features of the persona of such musicians as Motörhead's Lemmy.

The character Wolverine is usually depicted and portrayed with mutton chop sideburns, adding to his tough and aggressive persona. Sideburns gained new connotations in 1960s hippie subculture: the struggle of a New Jersey youth to wear sideburns to his public high school graduation made a newspaper article in 1967[6] and in the late 1960s and early 1970s among youth subcultures such as hippies and skinheads (usually to the jawline or shorter in the late 1960s).[7] Sideburns also became a symbol of the gay club scenes of San Francisco and Sydney, primarily Lambchops. Because of their multifarious history, sideburns may be seen as stuffily Victorian and ultra-conservative, a sign of rebelliousness,[8] or merely an artifact of current fashion.

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  1. ^ "AskOxford". Retrieved 2007-06-27.
  2. ^ Goolrick, William K. Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville. p. 29.
  3. ^ Joaquín García Icazbalceta. "Vocabulario de mexicanismos : comprobado con ejemplos y comparado con los de otros paises hispano-americanos". Fundación Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes. Retrieved March 1, 2013.
  4. ^ "President Grows crop of Sideburns: Mrs. Roosevelt Laughs Heartily as He Arrives at Campobello". The New York Times 28 July 1936. Retrieved 9 September 2008.
  5. ^ "Sideburns a la Presley Aren't Ivy; Dern of Penn Quits Track Rather Than Alter Appearance". The New York Times, 9 February 1957. Retrieved 9 September 2008.
  6. ^ "Youth With Sideburns Is Graduated in Jersey". The New York Times, 13 June 1967. Retrieved 9 September 2008.
  7. ^ "Mod to Suedehead". Styleforum.
  8. ^ In the 1965 novel For Kicks by Dick Francis, one character advises another that, to go undercover as a disreputable stable lad, "Then, if I might suggest it, it would be a good idea for you to grow a couple of sideburns. It's surprising what a lot of distrust can be caused by an inch of extra hair in front of the ears!" Francis, Dick (1990). For Kicks. New York: Armchair Detective Library. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-922890-59-0.

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