Love them or hate them, Sideburns are a bread and butter component of facial hair growth. The Sideburn’s etymology is particularly intriguing and dates back to the American Civil War. Union General Ambrose Burnside wore a luxuriant beard that descended down the cheeks and met as a moustache. Today, we call these Friendly Mutton Chops from the Imperial beard family but back then, they were known as Side Whiskers.
Despite defeat at the Battle of Fredericksberg and ineffective leadership at the Battle of Antietam, his beard earned him fame. In 1866, the Philadelphia Evening Telegraph referred to the beard style as “Burnside Whiskers” and it became official. The beard style was enormously popular internationally. World leaders such as Franz Josef, emperor of Austria, were famous for their take on Sideburns.
Meanwhile, Victorian London between 1840 and 1870 referred to hair grown down the cheeks as “Mutton Chops” or “Piccadilly Weepers”. After “Side Whiskers” transitioned to “Burnside Whiskers”, the press corrupted the expression even further with simply “Sideburns” from 1875.
Sideburns in the 20th Century
However, Sideburns experienced a decline during the early years of the 20th Century. The waning of Sideburns and beards alike during this time is partly due to the 1st World War. In order to properly seal a gas mask in the trenches, men had to have clean shaven cheeks. However, the brought on a renaissance for the moustache.
Sideburns would come back full force in the 1950s with Marlon Brando and Elvis Presley launching a new craze. Between the 1950s and 1960s, Sideburns quickly became associated with bikers, greasers and rockers as well as hippies and skinheads. Sideburns transitioned from a military and conservative hallmark to an icon of rebellious anti-establishment virility by young men. A particular style of Sideburn known as Lambchops emerged in the 1980s as an emblem of Californian gay club subcultures. These were recognised by the Sideburns descending the cheeks and coming out at right-angles along the jawline.
In the 1990s, large Sideburns became synonymous with the British indie rock subculture revolution. Oasis’ Gallagher brothers, for instance, would sport large Sideburns, which were inspired by The Beatles and 1960s rock-and-roll fashion. Mutton Chops have also witnessed a renaissance and are associated with countryside pub culture and vintage enthusiasts. Note that Mutton Chops today are a close relation to Friendly Mutton Chops. However, unlike their Imperial cousins, Mutton Chop Sideburns don’t connect via a moustache.
Sideburns are more-or-less omnipresent in tonsorial fashion since man learned to shave. After all, they are the most common feature between a clean-shaven and bearded gentleman. For the bearded, the Sideburns’s width and length go hand-in-hand with the beard’s style. For the clean-shaven, Sideburns define the way the hairline finishes under the temples.
Today, they can range from Ice Picks, very thin and tapered short sideburns, to big and bushy Mutton Chops. However, unless opting for statement looks such as Mutton Chops, modern gentlemen should aim for a type that are coherent with his hairstyle. Omitting Sideburns entirely and shaving above the ears renders the hairstyle unfinished and isolated yet can work on rare occasions.
A Sideburn’s shape and finish can vary. For example, the aforementioned Ice Picks complement skin Fade hairstyles. Wide Sideburns can also be straight and trapezoid or curve with the hair’s natural cheek line. On the other hand, narrow Sideburns can feature flat finishes or be slightly angular and parallel with the jawline.
How Long Do You Shave Your Sideburns?
Using the ear as a scale in length, medium Sideburns are typically level with the Tragus, the small bump that covers the ear hole. Short Sideburns length is anything above this point. Finally, long Sideburns are anything that extends beyond the lobes.
However, never actually use the ears as a reference when trimming them. As faces are rarely symmetrical, this can provide wonky sideburns. Instead, their final length use central facial features such as the nose or mouth when comparing them.
There are many arguments for an against long Sideburns. Some may argue that long Sideburns are not in style and that shorter lengths are safer options. However, if a gentleman has the confidence and poise to sport Mutton Chops, that is is his prerogative.
If a man simply wants to know what length his sideburns should be for his hairstyle, consider the details and how they complement and contrast with the ensemble. There is a plethora of options to determine the shape, dimensions and width of your Sideburns. The length and volume should balance and be coherent with the hairstyle.
You can dictate the Sideburn length by the hairstyle’s length. If the wearer wants his Sideburns to only be coheren with his hair and not any particular style, they should increase length with the hair. Furthermore, they should become thinner as the length increases. However, the Sideburns’ are best gauged according to a face shape rather than solely the style.
How To Style Your Sideburns For Your Face Shape
Sideburns are invaluable framing devices for a gentleman’s face shape. Much like Imperial beards, they can be used to adjust and balance out facial proportions. Their length can be used to elongate or shorten the face. Mutually, the thickness or follicle length can be used to build width. In either case, the objective should be to strive for structural harmony and balance.
We have listed 7 individual face shapes, which are used to assess whether a particular style will suit men. If you aren’t yet familiar with yours, we strongly recommend you quickly follow our face shape identifying guide before you continue reading this section.
Diamond Face Shapes
Diamond face shapes can make use of Sideburns to soften their angular characteristics. If the Sideburns are short, they are best trimmed to avoid widening the cheekbones any further. However, long Sideburns used with volume provides texture, which softens their chiselled features.
Heart Face Shapes
Heart faces may struggle to find the perfect style that complements their shape. Offset the narrow jawline with the wide forehead whilst strengthening the chin. Longer sideburns curve across the face and emphasise the small chin so modest, short styles are safest. Keep them well-trimmed to maintain the face’s harmony.
Oblong Face Shapes
Oblong shaped faces can use short and wide Sideburns to reduce the face length. Applying volume will widen the face whilst long and thin Sideburns will elongate it. For the adventurous, full Mutton Chops can be used to increase width. Tapering the top short to blend into the temples will emphasise squareness with soft angularity.
Oval Face Shapes
Oval shaped faces have greater flexibility. However, exaggerated volume can create excessive fullness, which is best avoided. Nevertheless, Tragus-height Sideburns with trimmed hair length can frame the cheekbones, which emphasises the jawline.
Round Face Shape
Round face shapes greatly benefit from longer, straight Sideburns that are trimmed to a short hair length. A structured finish creates a strong frame that straightens the cheeks and elongates the face length. The face is rendered squarer and the jawline becomes stronger. Avoid voluminous or short Sideburns, which may increase the face width.
Square Face Shapes
With their balanced and pronounced features, Square face shapes can experiment with a variety of styles. Nevertheless, Sideburns that extend as far as the earlobes frame and emphasise their proportioned facial structure. The resulting texture attained from extra volume can also soften the features but should be curbed not to incur roundness.
Triangle Face Shapes
Short and wide Sideburn styles can offset the wide jaw on a Triangle face shape and provide width to the cheekbones. Alternatively, longer lengths can provide texture to the larger surface available. Nevertheless, trim down the hair length to avoid overly widening the face shape.