It’s official: beards are still growing on us
- Credit: SIMON FINLAY
If we thought the beard had reached its peak several years ago, it would seem that it is yet to descend from that summit. Ahead of International Men's Day on November 18, we look at the continued shunning of the razor.
Some of us thought it would be a furry-faced fad, but the beard revolution seems set to stay.
The facial hair explosion (literally, in the case of those to whom grooming is a foreign concept) started to creep from Hollywood to British streets in 2013 after the Oscar and Bafra season showcased a plethora of bearded celebrities such as Bradley Cooper, George Clooney and Ben Affleck.
In mid-2011, research revealed that 37 per cent of men had some form of facial hair, by late 2016 this figure had risen to above 40 per cent, with 44 per cent of men sporting full beards (up 29 per cent from 2011). This figure rises as age drops: in 2017, more than six in 10 18 to 39-yer-olds had some form of facial hair compared to four in 10 in 2011.
At the same time, British women now disapprove less of men with facial hair – in 2011, two-thirds of women said they preferred the appearance of a man without a beard, but in late 2016, this figure had dropped to 46 per cent.
Only a third of women aged 18 to 39 say they prefer the appearance of a man without a beard, less than half the level it was in 2011.
Before I continue, I must nail my colours to the mast: my husband is a beard wearer and I prefer the way he looks with it than without it, although obviously he is devastatingly handsome either way. As somewhat of a dandy, he has embraced the Cult of Beard fully and has a range of grooming products to ensure top-top topiary of the facial variety – a scented beard oil is far more exciting to receive than a pair of socks at Christmas.
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His beard grew – literally – from the decision not to shave on a trip to Paris and he has never looked back, when I look at photographs of him before the beard, I barely recognise him.
If you're new to the beard-wearing game, the key in being the owner of impressive facial topiary is to resist all urges to trim or style your beard for the first four to six weeks of growth – this means your beard will grow in more evenly and means that when you've reached the six-week stage you can pick a style which suits your face.
One size most definitely does not fit all: if you have a square face, look to grow a beard which is shorter on the sides and fuller on the chin, rectangular faces should do the opposite and rounder faces should have longer hair on the chin and shorter at the sides.
The owners of oval faces have the easiest style guide of all: all styles suit this face shape, so grow with wild abandon. Keeping your beard to the shape of your face and jawline will accentuate the best parts of your face without covering it like a hairy shroud.
'For the base of your beard, put your thumb on your Adam's apple and that's where your beard line should start,' offers Jonathan Van Ness from cult makeover show Queer Eye, which he claims is a foolproof way to get a natural-looking line.
Beard-wearer David Lane, 36, however, disagrees: 'I was told the same method and then you add two fingers' width and you have the perfect line, but for me, it's neither! I think you have to see what suits you and getting it right can take some time.'
The Norwich-based pianist and piano teacher first grew a beard when he around 19.
'I grew a beard as soon as I was able to grow one which was convincing. It started off as a goatee and then grew as I got older. I just think that it frames my face – I've been through several phases of having a beard, but it's always been there,' he said.
'Without a beard I looked so young – I worked at The Job Centre in Hunstanton and you need a bit of gravitas to deal with people, not look as if you're a 15-year-old from school offering advice. Plus, I couldn't get served wine without the beard…
'If you're not going out or doing anything special for a few days you can just leave the beard alone, but if I am, I'll tend to hack at it for a bit until it looks as if there's a dead mouse in the sink. I recently had my beard trimmed professionally for the first time and it was great.
'It's been interesting to chart the popularity of the beard in the last few years as someone who has had one for ages. First it was a bit of stubble, then full-on hipster beard, now it's a closer cut. I think that we kept hold of a lot of Victorian hang-ups about being clean-shaven and it's taken a long time to shake them off, but for me it's not a fashion thing, it's just the way I want to look. Just as your hair makes a huge difference to your appearance, so does facial hair.'
Mark Young owns Swagger and Jacks, an independent grooming barbershop in Norwich. Master barber Mark has worked in the hairdressing industry for 35 years and has been operating in Norwich since 2013, having worked in London at Vidal Sassoon, Toni and Guy and Michaeljohn in Mayfair.
'I think we can definitely say that beards are here for the foreseeable future,' said Mark, whose own beard is a glorious feat of grooming ('we call it 'Arctic Blond' in the salon' he says, of beards which lesser mortals might describe as 'grey').
'I've had mine for five years now and it hides a multitude of chins. I couldn't imagine myself without it.'
Mark said that he had witnessed a sea-change in attitudes towards beard-wearing in the past few years at his salon, which is based on Orford Hill in Norwich city centre, a pendulum swing from men convincing women they should have a beard to the other way round.
'At the very beginning of the popularity for beards, we had wives and girlfriends coming in and they were the ones who needed convincing that their partner should have a beard, now it's the other way round. They come in with pictures of George Clooney and ask us what we can do!' said Mark.
'Beards are a commitment because they require grooming to look their best: you may find it takes longer to look after a beard than it did to be clean shaven. If you think it's the lazy option, it certainly isn't. People have that image of the geography teacher with a feral beard, that unkempt look, but a proper beard is a thing of beauty: definitely not for someone who doesn't want to make any effort with their appearance.'
(The geography teacher comparision is eerie: I've asked three people, we've all been taught by one. Is there an agency for bearded geography teachers?)
Mark believes that beards are becoming far more acceptable in professions where they were once frowned on: one of his clients is high up in the police service and now has 'an amazing beard' in a profession where being clean-shaven was once the norm.
And there are more practical reasons why growing a beard is a great idea.
'At this time of year when it's getting cold and windy, a beard keeps your face warm,' said Mark, quickly adding, 'but they also keep you cool in the summer – you lose heat from your cheeks not your chin!'
A beard is for life, not just Christmas. Take note, Santa.
The bare facts about beards
• Beards last reached peak popularity in 1892 after 40 years of fashionable sideburns
• In 1917, the facial hair to be seen with was the moustache
• Cardiff and Birmingham are the beard capitals of the UK (London is a close third)
• In the primate world, beards function as attention-grabbing 'badges' to give males a competitive edge
• It takes British men around 67 days to grow the 'perfect' beard
• Someone who is afraid of beards is a pogonophobes
• Clean-shaven men are three times more likely to harbour the antibiotic-resistant MRSA bug than those with beards
• Beards can help their owner repel colds – moustaches which reach the nasal area may stop allergens going up the nose
• Beards block out up to 95 per cent of the sun's harmful rays
• There is a special dating website for those who have beards and those who love beards: Bristlr.
Norfolk's championship beards
The county triumphed in the recent British Beard and Moustache Championship 2018 held in Blackpool with two Swagger and Jacks' customers bringing home silverware for their luxuriant facial manes.
Graham Smith came second in the Full Beard Under Six Inches with Styled Moustache while Brian Mahan came third in the Full Beard Under Twelve Inches with Natural Moustache category.