Designer Stubble: the Bane of Regency Book Covers

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the hurdles I’d jumped over (and, on occasion, fallen at). while republishing vintage books. Some of you may have noticed that the covers for my four Aikenhead Honours books did not feature any heroes.
The dreaded designer stubble.

Aikenhead Honours covers without designer stubble

No designer stubble in sight?

Portrait of Duke of Wellington, painted by Goya, 1812-1814

Duke of Wellington, by Goya. No stubble.

Designer stubble, I contend, is the bane of a cover designer’s life, if she’s trying to create something that’s reasonably faithful to the Regency period.

Regency men often had side-whiskers, but their chins were clean shaven.
Today’s cover models? Not so much.

In fact, hardly at all.

Try typing “Regency gentleman” into any site that offers stock images — places like Shutterstock, Adobe, and so on. I bet that at least half of the images that come up will show a male model with designer stubble. Or a beard. On some sites, almost every single so-called “Regency gentleman” has chin hair of some kind. Even Period Images has lots of them. (That organisation boasts that clients will not end up with a Cover image of models wearing cheap Halloween costumes. But see my rant on boots, below…)

How, I ask you, would a Regency gentleman have created designer stubble, anyway? Don’t think a cut-throat razor would cut it, do you? [Sorry, couldn’t resist]  He might stop shaving for a few days, but he couldn’t keep his stubble designer-length, I don’t think. He’d have to shave it off and start again. Unless you know better?

Stubble to the fore (or two, at least)

Two "Regency" men (with stubble) and a lady in a garden

The two “Regency gentlemen” in this image are both sporting shirts that are a little reminiscent of Darcy after that famous swim, but Darcy did not have stubble. A five o’clock shadow, perhaps, but that was after a long hot journey to Pemberley. (That was why he went for a dip, wasn’t it?)  Eye-candy below 😉

Colin Firth as Mr Darcy without designer stubble

By Source, Fair use, Link

BBC costumes for Elizabeth Bennet and Mr DarcyAm I a purist and/or unreasonable to object that Regency males didn’t have beards or stubble?

Darcy has me thinking about that seminal BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. The BBC goes to enormous lengths to get costumes right. They employ historical costume consultants. How many of the males on screen had a moustache or a beard?
Not any that I can recall.

On the right are some of the BBC’S costumes for Lizzie Bennet and Mr Darcy (from a Bath costume museum exhibit). You can see that Darcy has side whiskers but NO stubble.

BBC Pride and Prejudice double weddingThe Beeb was showing us how Regency men dressed. And shaved.BBC Wickham and officers with ladies

The officers at the party above (Wickham and co) have long sideburns (though they weren’t called that at the time). They don’t have other facial hair. It would have spoiled the look of those splendid side-whiskers, wouldn’t it? Mr Darcy had side-whiskers, too.

BBC Lydia Bennet and WickhamBBC Mr Darcy's side-whiskers but no stubble

Interestingly, the Wikipedia article about the BBC’s P&P says this about the male actors’ appearance:

[The producers] instructed all male actors to let their hair grow before filming and shave off their moustaches.

I think I rest my case.

And before stubble, we had boots

Ah yes, boots. Specifically, long riding boots. In practically every cover image that shows the model’s lower legs. Worn with every kind of Regency dress, including evening dress for a ball. I’ll spare you the examples, but you’ll easily find them on the image sites using the links I’ve included alongside the Iron Duke (above).

Gentlemen did wear riding boots or top boots for day wear. But not all of them. You’ll see top boots sitting on the right in this Tom and Jerry cartoon called “Jerry is training for a Swell” from 1820. But his friend on the left is wearing pantaloons and slippers without heels.

Tome and Jerry cartoon 1820 Jerry training for a Swell

In the cartoon below, depicting Tom, Jerry and Logic at Vauxhall in 1820, I don’t see any boots at all. I see lots of knee breeches, with silk stockings and low shoes. And some men are wearing pantaloons instead of breeches, a fashion favoured by Wellington from about 1805. (He was, famously, barred from entering Almack’s because he turned up at the door in pantaloons instead of knee breeches.) The producers of cover model shots do not seem to be aware of the dress code for Almack’s, or any other evening venue, sadly.

Cartoon 1820 Tom, Jerry and Logic at Vauxhall Gardens

All is not lost? Boots, yes. Stubble, no.

For covers, it’s usually possible to crop the image so that the pesky boots don’t show.
But how to get rid of the designer stubble? I’m struggling with that one. Hence this rant.

For my hero cover, I think I might be forced to go into decapitation mode since I’m determined to have a live model, not a Regency print. Do you have better sources of male cover models where the images don’t flout so many Regency dress conventions? Do please share.

Joanna, the hair-tearing

14 thoughts on “Designer Stubble: the Bane of Regency Book Covers

    1. Joanna Post author

      Sounds a brilliant solution, Fi. If one happens to have a tame professional photographer about the place. Sadly, I don’t.

  1. Liz Fielding

    I totally sympathise. I don’t write historical romances but there was a time when, for Mills and Boon, even if you gave your hero a beard or designer stubble it never appeared on the cover. Now they seem almost compulsory, There’s been a real change of facial hair fashion in the last few years.

    1. Joanna Post author

      You’re right about the change of fashion, Liz. Also lockdown has encouraged more men to give up shaving, some of the time. I don’t blame them for that. But producers of cover shots should, in my opinion, be faithful to the period. Also, if it’s a bespoke shoot, the producer should find a model who fits the bill. Didn’t happen for me with Mills & Boon either. My very first cover changed my hero from dark haired to blond and had my heroine playing a harp. Need I add that there was no harp in the story 😉

  2. Elizabeth Bailey

    Tell me about it! I will say that lately Period Images seem to gave woken up to the fact that Regency men were ckean shaven. There are far fewer dedigner stubbled models now, thank goodness. I have asked my designer to remove as much of it as she could on the past.
    However, the liberties taken with female dress are almost as bad, especially on “hot” cover images. Don’t get me started!

    1. Joanna Post author

      Thanks, Liz. Yes, I have now found a clean-shaven model for my cover. Phew. But I agree on the female dress. Apparently a high waistline = Regency in these images, even if the skirt is all wrong and (possibly) overlaid with an overskirt that looks like a tablecloth. Sigh.

  3. Sophie

    I suppose it would be possible to imagine a cover scene with Regency gentleman be-stubbled. Hero surprised at his toilette by heroine falling through the ceiling while escaping a Fate Worse Than Death, maybe? Though I suppose that would involve a lot of other images not widely available, now I come to think of it.

    After all those decapitated ladies, much favoured in romance covers a few years ago, I’d be sorry to see the chaps go the same way, I must admit.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Love your through-the-ceiling idea. Not absolutely sure how to make it work 😉 but it made me smile. You’ll be pleased to know that I have found an image for my cover so I’m not about to do the Madame Guillotine bit on him. Have also found a cover for my next book which does include a bestubbled man but, luckily, his head is turned away towards the heroine so the stubble is discreetly hidden.

  4. Elizabeth Hawksley

    I agree with you, Joanna, 100%. I have a theory that it’s to do with feminism. The modern woman now wants a fair share of the top jobs, together with equal pay, etc. They are removing various important practices which previously signified the superiority of the male sex – and that’s tough, if you’ve been used to ruling the roost. BUT – and this is where the beard comes in – only a man can grow a beard – or stubble, and that is something that no amount of legislation can alter. Could this explain why so many men now flaunt their facial hair?

    1. Joanna Post author

      Interesting theory, Elizabeth. There may be something in it. Think of all those Prophet Elijah beards in the mid-Victorian period. Charles Darwin, anyone? But I also think that men, like women, follow fashion trends. Designer stubble is definitely in fashion. Leaf through any magazine and almost every youngish man in an advert — eg perfume — has designer stubble. And, to be fair, some men get a skin reaction from shaving so they have to have stubble or a beard.

    2. Elizabeth Rolls

      I hate to say it, but those of us over a certain age (Yes, I’m looking at YOU, Elizabeth Rolls!) are quite capable of producing an embarrassing amount of chin fluff! I suspect the lack of shaving with men these days is a realisation that they don’t have to do it if they don’t want to. Possibly they have taken this lesson from their female colleagues who would rather opt for another 15 minutes in bed over pfaffing about with make up. Last time I visited London (and Italy) I carted a bunch of make up all the way from Australia. Didn’t use it once.

      1. Joanna Post author

        Sympathise Elizabeth. Not doing the slap bit myself much these days, though I do put on makeup to zoom. Because I have to see myself on screen 😎

        And I agree about blokes deciding there are better ways to spend time than shaving. Still think it’s different for cover models though. For them, it should be a matter of professional pride to get their look right.

  5. Jayne Davis

    I asked my cover designer to get rid of the stubble on my hero’s face. The poor chap ended up looking like a waxwork, so the stubble was reinstated and I told myself that the image was of him at the end of a long day’s journey on horseback. It was just about thin enough to be a five o’clock shadow.
    And Period Images – I really wish they’d take a few more shots with a back view of men in without them in that legs wide apart stance that’s probably intended to show you how alpha male they are, but looks a bit like they’ve just filled their nappy!

    1. Joanna Post author

      Welcome, Jayne, and thank you for making me laugh. I do agree about the back views, too. In fact, I’ve found an almost back view that I’m planning to use for one of my covers. You can see a little bit of his chin, with stubble sadly, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to delete it. But I take the warning about waxworks. If that happens, the stubble may have to be restored, as in your case. And I’ll be cutting off the alpha-male and/or nappy legs.

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