The Oxford dictionary defines mutton chops as the whiskers on a man’s cheek which is shaped like a meat chop such that it is narrow at the top and round at the bottom. However, mutton chops are also known as sideburns and are triangular in appearance. The history of the mutton chops is quite well documented.
It can be quite hard to believe but the origin of the mutton chops can be traced back as far as the era of Alexander the Great. He has been depicted in the pages of history as having quite the penchant for keeping thick sideburns. But it just doesn’t stop there. Traces of this style have also been unearthed from the Napoleonic era.
But, the credit for kickstarting the trend of the mutton chops goes to General Ambrose Burnside. He was a general in the American civil era, who was renowned for sporting especially thick sideburns that met his floating moustache and kept the chin clean shaven. Thus, the mutton chops were born.
The mutton chops are typically grown from the ears to one’s jawline. But there is no hard and fast rule regarding this and it is often mixed and matched with other facial hairs like a moustache or a goatee. And, this style of beard was quite the rage among men. The mutton chops or the sideburns have been sported by all classes of people and at one point in time they quite the fashion statement
It was a way of not only exhibiting physically one’s masculinity but also class and intellect. Elvis Presley made the sideburns his own and so did the legendary John Lennon. But it wasn’t just limited to the world of the singers.
The literary genius and sci-fi writer, Isaac Asimov sported sideburns of his own. The famous actor Bill Murray was also seen sporting the same. The 1970’s and the 1980’s saw the look being sported by dancers and cops. And even more recently it was popularized by Hugh Jackman in the X-Men franchise.
Now, there are various types of mutton chops. Broadly speaking there are the European style mutton chops and the American style mutton chops. The European style mutton chops are thicker and come with longer sideburns while the American mutton chops are shorter and are attached to the moustache. Then there are the bowler chops and the red mutton chops which are nothing but mutton chops with ginger coloured hair.
However, the popularity of the mutton chops has been waning in recent years but this style of beard harks back to a grand old era, one characterized by masculinity and excess. In recent times, the Balbo beard style has gained popularity. The plain and simple moustache or the goatee is deemed much cooler than the more extravagant mutton chops. But then the mutton chops do occupy a special place in the history books. And that too as a symbol of aristocracy, if not power. In a later era, it came to characterize coolness. With the times, it has slowly faded away but it remains a great cultural symbol of a bygone era.