Cognizant of history and perhaps eager to stake his place in it, recently installed Speaker of the House Paul Ryan sensed an opportunity upon returning to work on Capitol Hill this week unshaven.
Ryan, a 45-year-old Wisconsin Republican who was his party's fresh-faced vice presidential candidate three years ago, mused on social media whether he was the first speaker in a century to sport a beard.
Turns out, according to the House historian, it had been only 90 years since Rep. Frederick Huntington Gillett (honest, that's his name) of Massachusetts and his whiskers served in the role.
But that's still quite a stretch, long enough to make one wonder at least momentarily — for Ryan could literally cut this off at any moment — about the relationship of leadership and hair.
Is it just a fashion statement or more meaningful? Does it affect the way the bearded and/or mustachioed are perceived?
Scoff if you like, but political hair in this country gets a lot of attention. There are risks in leading with his chin.
Ryan's office told The New York Times that his scruff is the byproduct of "deer camp" weekend and its fate is not subject to public opinion but rather he'll keep it until his wife, Janna, vetoes it.
You may recall that Ryan, a national GOP star, was initially hesitant to throw himself into the race for speaker earlier this year.
That led some to note the rarity of going from that position to the presidency, with James K. Polk being the only man ever to have served in both jobs and not successively.
Not counting Richard Nixon's 5 o'clock shadow arriving at 3 p.m., there hasn't been presidential facial hair since 1913, following the failure of William Howard Taft and his handlebar mustache to win re-election.
Taft's predecessor, Teddy Roosevelt, had a mustache. So did Grover Cleveland and Chester A. Arthur, while Benjamin Harrison, James Garfield, Rutherford B. Hayes, Ulysses S. Grant and, of course, Abraham Lincoln had beards.
As fate would have it, Lincoln and Garfield were assassinated. But like Taft, Harrison was not re-elected. Hayes chose not to seek a second term. Cleveland lost his re-election bid but returned to the White House four years later, defeating Harrison.
Throw in the bushy sideburns of one-termers Martin Van Buren and John Quincy Adams, and it doesn't speak well for a man with aspirations.
Some in fact contend that New York Gov. Thomas Dewey's mustache was part of why he fell short in his bid to unseat incumbent presidents as the Republican nominee in 1944 and 1948.
(I mean, he practically won in '48, it was super close.)
If Dr. Ben Carson isn't deterred from facial hair while running for the White House, then Ryan shouldn't be either, if and when he hits the campaign trail again.
What's on top may be a bigger factor than what's upfront.
There haven't been a lot of bald or balding presidents in the television era. Gerald Ford served but was never elected, and Dwight D. Eisenhower was the only one to succeed at the polls.
The jury is out on Donald Trump and whatever is going on up there. Vice President Joe Biden's decision to not run means the subject of hair transplants does not have to be revisited.
It is enough to say the campaign lights and cameras are not forgiving of bald spots.
But whatever mistakes former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani may have made in his failed presidential run of 2008, shedding his comb-over was not among them.
Vanity historically has not been seen as a virtue, as it suggests misplaced priorities and focus on superficiality. Yet appearances matter.
Remember the uproar back in 1993 when President Bill Clinton got a controversial haircut while aboard Air Force One from a pricey Belgian tonsorial artist known as Cristophe on the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport?
Intrigued, I booked an appointment with Cristophe at his Beverly Hills salon shortly after to see what a couple hundred bucks could do for what was left of my hairline.
Short answer: Not enough.
The highlight was that actress/model Kelly Le Brock pulled Cristophe aside while I was in the chair. They chuckled over something, and I chuckled too because I didn't want to be left out. Good times.
But I digress.
Youthful vigor is expected of our leaders of all ages and hair colors.
On the presidential campaign trail in 1968, it did not escape notice that Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey's hair was a lot darker in the August sun than it had been in January. It was never going to save his candidacy.
President Ronald Reagan, who had one of the best heads of hair in presidential history, always denied it was ever dyed. Kitty Kelley's 1991 unauthorized biography of Nancy Reagan, however, told of her hairdresser coloring her husband's hair in secret beginning in the late 1960s.
But back to beards. It is interesting to note that the most famous one ever on a president was not a factor in his election.
"You would look a great deal better for your face is so thin," Grace Bedell, age 11, wrote Lincoln in the final weeks of the 1860 race, making the case for facial hair.
"All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husband's (sic) to vote for you and then you would be President," Bedell wrote.
Lincoln was noncommittal. "Do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affection if I were to begin it now?" he wrote, but he allowed it to start growing in right after Election Day.
F. Scott Fitzgerald once observed that "the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function."
The challenge for Ryan, as it was for Lincoln on a far greater scale, is to bring together a group of splintered beliefs and interests. A beard is an affectation, but it's also a statement.
Said a clean-shaven Lincoln in 1858: "A house divided against itself cannot stand."
Said Le Brock in a 1980s shampoo commercial: "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful."
Margin call: The Chicago Tribune 74 years ago Friday published an expose of President Franklin Roosevelt's secret plan to prepare the United States to enter the war against Adolf Hitler in two years. FDR must be stopped from sending "American soldiers to die overseas," the paper argued in an editorial published three days later, the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.