Friday, March 15, 2013

The Bearded Man by The Wall Street Journal

No longer the sole province of lumberjacks, facial hair moves from Movember to mainstream

The Bearded Man
by Tina Gaudoin

GEORGE CLOONEY, Ben Affleck, Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper et al weren't sporting beards for the first time when they appeared at the Academy Awards last month. But the proliferation of facial hair among many of the globe's leading men was enough to spark a media trend alert. Jumping on the bandwagon this late in the day could be regarded as sloppy. But I'm less interested in the star wattage attached to this outbreak of hirsuteness than in the deeper psychological implications of what being bearded has meant since the look re-entered the male mainstream four or five years ago.

I blame the economy. That's an easy out. But from my front row seat at the financial crisis (The Wall Street Journal offices in New York), I witnessed an economy in free fall, taking with it the grooming habits of New York City males. In the space of a month, a city previously filled with energized, well-suited, clean-shaven men became a ghetto of sleep-deprived, scuff-shoed, wrinkle-suited, unshaven shadows shuffling through the streets in a haze of shock and disbelief.

Ben Bernanke
Fed chairman Ben Bernanke—who became a totem of hope, or at least the last bastion against the threat of another Great Depression—was bearded. The villain of the piece, Bernie Madoff, was not; appearing at all times clean-shaven and bespoke-suited. Suddenly looking less like a successful banker and more like a man who was up to a challenge on the mean streets wasn't only preferable, it was practically mandatory. In the space of a few short weeks, beards became symbols of empathy and humility, a rejection of the overt pursuit of the capitalist ideal. This was interesting, not least because, as any beard historian will tell you, during the Great Depression scrupulously good grooming was imperative—other than above one's top lip, where fulsome mustaches reigned.
Paul Giamatti

This is all armchair psychology at best, but consider that it's been a really long time since Lincoln beards were truly fashionable. The last time beards were this popular was during Edward VII's reign, when his own closely manicured beard was thought to be a distraction from what his mother allegedly regarded as his weak chin.

The new beard wave has what marketing people would call cut-through: It appeals to many different sectors of the male population. But that doesn't mean that all beards are the same. Kerry Hayden, a barber with London salon Atherton Cox who specializes in men's grooming and men's runway shows, says that the first real catwalk moment for men's beards was Alexander McQueen's "Gangs of New York"-inspired show in 2009. "That show sparked a lot of interest and meant that beards really became fashionable," she says. "At that time, they were a quirky step away from the mainstream."

Joaquin  Phoenix
Now, though, the beard has become so normalized that different styles are worn by different types of men. "There's a broad spectrum," Ms. Hayden says. "At one end, there's the media-type guy who can wear a looser, more relaxed beard; and at the other, there's the corporate, city-type with polished shoes and a very well-maintained, well-groomed, short, clipped beard."

Ms. Hayden points to Movember—the charity that encourages the growing of mustaches in November to raise funds for and awareness of prostate cancer—as one of the big players behind increased male facial hair. "Movember is the perfect excuse for men to trial facial hair, especially those who worry about not being able to grow a full beard or mustache," she says. "Suddenly everyone has an excuse to say, 'Well I wouldn't do it normally, but it's in a good cause.'" Once they've tried it and liked it, they keep it.

The natural extension of Movember (pun intended) is the trend toward handlebar mustaches, huge Father Christmas-style beards and lavish goatees. "These more extreme trends can only be worn by certain men," says Ms. Hayden. "They require a lot of upkeep and they also only work as part of an overall 'look.' Otherwise, they just end up looking scruffy and inappropriate."
Brad Pitt

Jonathan Berger, a partner in the media and entertainment group at London law firm Harbottle & Lewis, had been considering growing a beard for years. "I grew them on holiday, but they were never developed enough for me to keep them when I returned to work," he says. A three-week holiday in 2010 changed all of that. "I had enough time to grow the beard properly," he recalls. "When I went back to work, I did wonder whether I could be both 'beardy and corporate.'" Mr. Berger kept the beard, noting that at the time only one other colleague sported one. Now, he says, things are very different: "Four years ago, it looked extraordinary to be bearded in the corporate world. Now, nobody even notices or comments."

Four years ago, it looked extraordinary to be bearded in the corporate world. Now, nobody even notices.

Jake Gallagher
Mr. Berger's wife, the designer Anna Valentine, approves. "It looks more rugged," she says. "I think the trend is in part because more men want to connect with that rough-and-ready part of themselves." Ms. Valentine speculates that part of the trend is also the "holiday look." "It used to be that when men went on vacation, they kept their friendship bracelets on when they returned to work, as a wistful reminder," she says, positing that the beard is the new friendship bracelet. One thing she is very clear on, though, is that her husband's beard has to be well-groomed and managed. "If it comes up from the shirt and meets what is going down from the face, then it's a no-no," she says.

Ms. Hayden cautions that beards and mustaches take work to maintain. "Facial hair must be squeaky clean," she says. "The average goatee should be clipped every two to three days; beards, once or twice a week; and those extravagant mustaches take a lot more grooming than anything else."

Mr. Berger trims once a week and always keep his beard "above the Adams apple." He laments the lack of specific grooming products out there for beards. "You'd think by now there would be lots," he says.

Ms. Hayden suggests old-fashion grooming wax for mustaches, but adds that all facial-hair fans should consider their overall look before leaving the house in the morning. "It changes your whole appearance and you need to dress accordingly," she says. "If you get it wrong, you could end up looking like one of those men from a bad 1970s porno movie." And that is where I think we should leave it. — The Wall Street Journal

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