I’ve recently read several books about outlawry and crime during the first years of this century. In all the mug shots included in these books, the sides of the heads of the arrested are shaven about one inch above the ear, and there is a front shot and a side shot. Also, I remember being in a San Francisco bar several years ago that was decorated with mug shots and police files from the first three or four decades of this century. In those pictures, too (though I won’t swear for all of them), the sides of the heads of those pictured were shaven above the ear.
Question: why? My guess is that it has something to do with the Bertillon system of identification used by the cops way back when. According to that system, exact measurements of all of an arrested person’s visible body parts were taken in an attempt to be able to identify him in the future. IIRC, the Bertillon system antedated fingerprinting, and it stopped being used in the '30s and '40s when it was replaced by more modern techniques. A very important part of the Bertillon system was the ear–ear types were classified in many different ways and it was thought that the size and shape of the ear would identify a person. So my guess is that the hair above the ear was shaved in order to make the ear more visible in the mug shot.
On the other hand, was this the fashion at that time? (Contrary evidence: I’ve seen a lot of non-police photos from that time and haven’t noticed anyone with his hair shaven above the ear. On the other hand, I haven’t seen too many side-of-the-head shots of my relatives, and besides, they were all wearing hats. In addition, it does seem that it was the fashion then to wear the hair very short.)
Does anyone else know anything more about this? I don’t know where to look to find out more information.