How did "beard" come to mean "sham marriage".

At least that is what I assume it means - when a gay male star marries a willing gal to squash rumors of homosexuality. Or maybe its any sham marriage for publicity purposes, I am not sure.

This thread title , which is actually about a stars facial hair, got me thinking about how that term came into place. Its sort of odd.

Is this gay slang or just Hollywood insider talk (I only have heard it used for actors). And is it the marriage that is called a “beard” or is it the wife?

A “beard” is a superficial thing that a man can do to emphasize his masculinity (rather like a lot of teenagers will grow a little scraggly beard or moustache as soon as they can just to prove they have testosterone). The slang use of the word “beard” started for much the same reason: it’s a “fashion accessory to prove manhood”, or “Liza with a Z” to her friends.

I have heard the term “bonnet” used for lesbians who marry, but it’s not as common.

VH1 had some newer gay slang I’d never heard, incidentally:
Trivia: one reason ancient Greeks almost invariably had beards was to prove they weren’t eunuchs. Alexander thought this was idiotic, but that’s a long story.

Incidentally, I forgot to answer part of the question: a person is a “beard”, not the marriage.

“Elsa Lanchester was Charles Laughton’s beard” is more correct than “Charles Laughon’s beard was considered happier than most real marriages in Hollywood”.

In gay slang, a beard is a woman who accompanies a gay man publicly, therefore implying that he’s nongay. It doesn’t necessarily involve celebs or marriage. The term has been around for several decades, but only recently has it become known by the general public.

In the reverse situation isn’t he known as the handbag?

I’ve always heard the terms Beard (for a woman) and Merkin. I don’t remember what I first heard it in relation to, but I do remember I had to look it up.

A hijack if you don’t mind.

On the show Totally Gay linked above, it was mentioned that there is some interest in the penis or phallic
symbols in part of the lesbian community. It wasn’t said in a “lesbians just haven’t found the right man” kind of way. Any info?

I’m not convinced that the term is limited solely to the gay community – indeed, I guarantee it’s not. The term is generally used to mean anyone who’s pretending to be romantically involved with someone to protect that person’s reputation. I’ve heard it used among straights to refer to someone who goes out with a friend’s mistress so the friend’s wife doesn’t get jealous. (Most famously in Broadway Danny Rose, where Danny (Woody Allen) beards for his friend Lou (Nick Apollo Forte) with Lou’s girlfriend Tina (Mia Farrow) so Tina can come to Nick’s show at Ceasar’s Palace without his wife getting suspicious.) The term was certainly in moderately wide use in the 70’s and 80’s, and it sounds to me like it’s probably something from the 50’s at least, if not earlier.

It seems likely that, since the term is not limited to people protecting closeted gays, that Sampiro etymology is not correct. (Beacuse if there’s anyone who doesn’t need a fashion accessory to emphasize his virility it’s someone who doesn’t want his wife to know he’s got something going on the side.) I think it’s simpler than that – a fake beard (hooked around the ears or attached with a little spirit gum) is the classic simple disguise. Don’t want someone to know you’re following them? Put on a fake beard. Don’t want someone to know you’re gay or that you’re seeing a married man? Get a fake paramour.

I imagine that the term has become prevalent in the gay community over the years because it’s more common there.


Of late the term “beard” refers to either a male or female, gay or straight that accompanies someone non romantically to a social event. I;ve heard it used say when a straight woman or man without a date will accompany a friend to avoid going stag.
But the term does seem to be more prevalent in the queer community. (and yes I would know) :wink: