Coming soon to a town near you, and possibly into your personal space, is a new breed of beard and a man attached to it. If it hasn’t happened already I’d be surprised, because it’s feeling a little like a beardyman takeover. On the West Coast, as in London and Brooklyn, they are everywhere, and mandatory in Portland and Reykjavik.
To be honest, I’m not entirely certain how I feel about full facial hair on a guy. My first response is apprehension, and probably has something to do with the fact I inadvertently stumbled upon a copy of The Joy Of Sex when I was far too young to see it. Horrifically, the image of that bearded man burnt onto the back off my retinas and if you’ve ever seen it you’ll know what I’m talking about. I’m trying to move on; there are men who look amazing in beards, and they continue to show up on unexpected faces. I even had a husband with a beautiful red beard. The clean-cut boys of yesterday are really going with it and the trend may be with us for a long time so I’d better get used to it.
I’ve been a little taken aback at how many friends now have big bear beards when I used to know them as fresh faced types. On every Main Street there’s a retro barbershop and a market awash with grooming products – its a brave new world but a throwback to an old one which I think makes it so interesting.
I may be thinking too much about beards, but I asked the First Man, and by that I mean my dad, not Adam or god the father. There’s a classic family photo of him with a beard (I have no memory of my dad ever sporting a beard although he was always right on fleek with his hair and glasses) and when I asked him why he had one, he told me the men of the town decided to grow beards (an early troop of Movemberists but without the fundraising) to mark the centennial of the small town in Canada where he lived at that time. My parents had moved there from the north of England and the townsmens choice to grow beards was their way of honouring the pioneer settlers. How fitting, as my dad was, in his own way, a pioneer, leaving behind his old world to make a life in a new, wild and rugged one. His response to my question gets to the heart of the matter I think, uncovering one of the reasons why “modern man”, who is probably a city dweller and upwardly mobile, stops shaving and becomes an Urban Lumberjack, a “manly” man.
Of course there’s no one reason for the changing fashions of follicle growth, but there are a number of factors I think have contributed to it. These are my opinions only, please feel free to add some of your own.
We are currently being culturally bombarded by images of men as vikings, adventurers, kings and warriors, which equals beardies. On the telly, the big screen, in mags, we are enjoying (or not, depending on your preference) a cultural feast of male imagery which hasn’t been as beardy since the late ’60’s when it was all the rage as an anti-establishment stamp. Quite simply put, it’s now fashionable to have a beard and all the lads are doing it!
There’s no denying that sporting a beard makes a man look more rugged, and it’s a bit more “don’t care” than the designer stubble look. All in all a beard is more “man” than “boy” and maybe that’s what those baby-faced fellas I know are up to.
As a makeup artist I come across beards more often than you’d think; my world isn’t all lipgloss and lashes. Some guys grow them out of insecurity, using a beard to disguise something about their faces they don’t like, usually a failing jawline. Beards and stubble can also make a guy look more youthful. Contrary to the image of old bearded professor, it does work.
I think there’s something in the argument that having a beard is a way of claiming your masculinity in a world where it’s all but vanished. It’s part of the ‘ruggedness’ argument but goes a bit deeper than that. Men are gathering in barbershops in a social environment which has modern meaning culturally but also cavemen tendencies. And good luck to them, the ladies have been doing it forever and it’s better than hunting.
There are of course religious and cultural reasons for having full beards; the rule of Kesh in Sikhism is the practice of allowing hair to grow naturally as a symbol of respect for the perfection of God’s creation.
Other guys grow beards because they hate shaving every day, which does a number on their skin if it’s sensitive. How nice it must be not to have to spend the time every morning and to avoid a number of skin problems that can come with shaving. The new breed of barbershop offer old school close shaves with straight razors, and while I see the attraction in the ritual of that and having a man-only den to go to for pampering I get that it must be great to dispense with it altogether.
Which is not to say that growing a beard means ignoring grooming and beard care. Far from it! The shelves are filled with grooming stuff for good-looking beards, not only at the barbershop but at Sephora and Tom Ford and men are buying them up at a fast pace. I made my way to a local barbershop to investigate further. According to Miles Bigelow at Barber & Co in Vancouver, which has five locations in the city, men are taking good care of their beards because their women insist on it and sales of grooming products are high.
Behind, or next to, many beards, are women (or men, lets say significant others) who either love them or hate them or at the very least, may have had issues with them. The beard trend indirectly affects the ladies. I speak from personal experience. The beard in my life (not my own, that’s a different story) has caused me a few concerns, which is another reason I stopped in at Barber & Co. I began to have break-outs on my face when I haven’t for years, and being poked by sharp moustache hairs in romantic moments is not that enjoyable. In fact it’s quite painful, so I went to shop and to get some advice. Talking to Miles was very informative, and I got some products for my guy to guinea pig on your behalf.
There’s lots to choose from and Miles helped me pick some essentials.
Did you know that a full beard takes about five months to grow? That means there’s a lot of in-between stage when grooming is important to get it to it’s best and healthiest. And don’t forget there’s skin under there to take care of.
This is where the boar-bristle beard brush comes in. Brushing the beard twice daily, morning and night, with medium-strength natural bristles, will exfoliate the skin underneath the beard, spread the natural oils around the individual hairs and capture loose hairs, allowing better blood flow to the facial hair roots, so the beard (or “man mane”/”chin sweater”, whatever you will) grows well, gets nice and soft, and the face doesn’t suffer (for the wearer or significant other). The length of the bristles is important, so beard brushes are purpose made, sturdy and a good size for man hands!
A beard comb does not do as rigorous a job as a brush but refines the beard’s shape and untangles any knots. It also removes leftovers so have one tucked in you man’s pocket for an after-lunch grooming. Blimey, who knew having a beard was such hard work!
Then there are the actual grooming products: a variety of balms, oils, shampoos and conditioners. Interesting fact I learnt while researching this post.. for the first time ever, in 2013, men spent more on male-specific toiletries than on shaving products. Conclusion: as a whole men are shaving less but spending money on other toiletries. I’d wager a bet that a large chunk of it is on beard care stuff.
Beard oils and creams moisturise the skin underneath and the facial hair while softening it and preventing “beardruff”. Oils and creams make the beard more manageable, and will add a sheen or keep it matte, depending on which product he uses. Oil gives a little shine and cream or balm doesn’t. Beard oils moisturise better and longer than creams. Beard balms are a kind of leave-in conditioner which give medium hold to keep unruly hairs in check and smell rather nice too.
There’s shampoos, conditioners, moustache combs and scissors. Trimming the moustache to just above lip level is the most desirable length and trimming the beard itself is important to keep it looking nice and healthy. Whatever they say, a Rasputin is not that attractive.
I came away from the barbershop with two balms, a lighter one for day with a yummy minty scent, and a richer one for night, and a brush (he already had a comb) all put together in a fab cigar box, thanks to being in the right place at the right time.
The handsome human guinea pig has been using it all with great results, and no more breakouts for me. His chin jumper will eventually get to the right length and be soft and luxurious, and only then will I call myself a true pogonophile! Look it up.
And that, my friends, is Beard 101 and a guide to beardy bloke stocking-stuffers and gifts for the beard in your life. Merry Beardy Christmas! And remember, a beard is for life, not just Movember.
Here’s another company I discovered while writing this. It’s really worth checking out, a Canadian dedicated-beard company making all-natural products, and a great, informative website : www.alwaysbearded.com