BYU's Beard Ban

What is Brigham Young University's policy on students having facial hair?

The university's policy prohibits male students, faculty, and employees from having a beard. It does allow mustaches if they are trimmed and do not extend past the corners of the mouth.[1]

When did this policy begin?

In July 1969, BYU President Ernest L. Wilkinson[BIO] sent a letter to the parents of students outlining new dress and grooming standards, which included a prohibition on beards.[2] In September, J. Elliot Cameron,[BIO] the dean of students, warned students that they could not register for classes if they had a beard.[3]

Before then, did BYU allow beards?

Yes. Before July 1969, beards were relatively commonplace among male students[4] and faculty.[5] In fact, beards were officially deemed acceptable even as late as April of 1969.[6]

When did the move away from beards begin?

Starting in the mid-1960s. Wilkinson frowned upon the "grimy" look of "beatniks" and warned that the university would not tolerate students involved with the counterculture of the decade.[7] By 1968, he began to express a desire for male students of BYU to be clean-shaven.[8]

How did students react to the new policy?

It appears that most students accepted the new standard without any problems.[9]

Why did Wilkinson single out beards in BYU's dress and grooming standards?

During the 1960s, beards were counter-culture and often worn by hippies and recreational drug users.[10] By discouraging beards, Wilkinson and his successor, Dallin H. Oaks,[BIO] hoped to encourage a conservative, corporate grooming standard.[11]

Does this prohibition apply to Church employees generally?

Possibly? Full-time male employees of the Church are expected to uphold Church standards,[12] but internal Church employee guides on a beard policy are not publicly available.

Does the Church teach that beards are evil or sinful?

No.

Are Latter-day Saint men generally allowed to have beards?

Yes. There is no general prohibition against beards.

What about for bishops?

There is no official policy requiring bishops or other local leaders to be clean-shaven. However, it is not unusual for higher authorities (such as the Stake President) to encourage new bishops to remain clean-shaven.[13]

In general, how do BYU students feel about this policy?

There is no reliable surveying data on the general attitude toward beards among the BYU student body. Anecdotally, most students seem fine with the policy, though there are mixed opinions.[14] Some have staged protests against the policy.[15]

Is there any indication that BYU may eventually remove the beard rule?

No, there has been no indication of this policy changing.[16] However, there have been adjustments to the Honor Code before,[17] so it's always possible that things may change.

Does BYU grant exceptions to this rule?

Yes. Students may obtain a "beard card" that exempts them from this policy under certain conditions, such as medical needs or religious reasons (e.g., for Muslim men).[18]

Do other universities have dress and grooming standards?

Yes. It is not common in the United States, but a couple of universities do.[19]

Is it legal for universities do this?

Yes.[20]

Some People Say . . .

"If someone doesn't like the beard policy, they can go to a different school. No one is forced to attend BYU."

— overheard in Sunday School

The Facts

  • President Wilkinson disliked the "hippie" culture of the 1960s, and he thought beards represented this culture.

  • Students with beards were not allowed to register at BYU for the 1969 fall semester.

  • There are exemptions for medical needs or religious reasons.

  • This policy remains in place today.

Our Take

Rules that seem to regulate something unimportant can seem unnecessarily restrictive and stupid. When “the Lord’s university” doubles down on a no-beard policy, it raises valid questions. Is this an inspired policy? Is it outdated? Does this policy have some positive effect on campus, or is this just a holdover from a different era and now is just about tradition or control?

The beard policy was put in place in a time when wearing a beard often had a particular cultural meaning. Today, beards usually don't really mean anything in particular. So yes, the intent behind this original policy isn't very relevant today.

However, private schools often have dress and grooming standards, and BYU seems to believe that their current grooming policy creates the kind of environment they want for their campus.

So it’s okay to think the beard ban is an outdated policy and is an unnecessary authoritative control BYU is placing over its campus. It’s also okay to think the beard ban is a valid decision from BYU and that the positive effects are worth the price of having this unusual policy in place.

What's Your Take?

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These takes are curated for a general audience and may contain minor edits when posted.
  • Tom W
    "The rules are subject to change, and I would be surprised if they were not changed at some time in the future." –Dallin H. Oaks https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/new-era/1971/12/standards-of-dress-and-grooming?lang=eng
  • J Quinn
    I don't care about beards... But I do hate that BYU culture seeps into the rest of the church as if it's the "higher law." That's exactly how many BYU grads see themselves, by the way. Or maybe just the ones I know who state that overtly. I'm not just paraphrasing.
  • Brianna W
    This is similar to me to dress standards like shorts or sleeve length. The negative way to put it is policing your body or appearance, but the positive of it is creating safety and cleanliness and the kind of vibe where learning and also faith study happens.
  • Aaron K
    Jesus had a beard, right?
Footnotes