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To Beard or Not to Beard

By Jamal Swift • Aug 6th, 2013 • Category: Features

To beard or not to beard — that is the question that many men face today. Once upon a time, When you needed to up your machismo, a beard would do the trick.  Now it’s about fashion, and the beard has become an accessory.

The growing popularity of facial hair can be seen from Hollywood to the ‘hood. Celebrities are sporting the hirsute look everywhere from the stage and silver screen to the red carpet. Even fashion models, for whom beards have long been considered taboo, can be seen wearing them in major ad campaigns and on runways.

“Our research and development say beards are more prevalent in the mainstream and with the younger demographic,” says Heather Lee Lindbergh, director of media and public relations at the skin-care company Epicurean Discovery.

Amir Toos, who has been a fashion stylist for 28 years and also rocks a beard, is captivated by the trend. He remembers a brief time in the 1970s, when body and facial hair were popular across America. But in the 1980s and ’90s facial hair became largely unpopular.  ”Hair has always been a no-no, because it doesn’t translate well on photographs,” he says.

About four years ago, Toos began to see a shift in how facial hair was perceived in the industry. He credits Tom Ford, an American fashion designer and film director, for pioneering this latest trend of man-scaping. “Tom was the first designer to show models with chest and facial hair in his ads,” he says. “It sparked a new way of thinking about beards.”

Toos also believes fashion has influenced different industries. “I now see bankers with beards, but before it was rare to see business men with them,” he says.

As the beard trend grows, not all beards grow the same. They come in different styles and sizes, and they are worn for different reasons. Variations consist of the scruffy, “I’m not trying too hard to have a beard” look; the fully-grown, “I’m more distinguished than the scruffy guy” look; and the long lumberjack, “I can kick the scruffy and grown beard guy’s asses” look.

John-Mark Owen, a stage actor, has the long lumberjack beard. He has had it for most of the past three years but shaves it off completely once a year for work reasons. He grows it back as soon as he can because of its benefits. “I originally grew it because of an insecurity with my overbite,” he says. “But the feedback was so positive. Men are jealous of it and women think it’s alluring.”

Andrew Glassner, a marketing executive, grew his beard because of a lack of time and energy. “I’ve had it for two weeks because I was too lazy to cut it off,” he says. “It wasn’t intentional, but I might keep it because the girl I’m dating wants me to.”

For some men, being cost effective was the reason they grew a beard in the first place.  “I think it’s a fad because it’s cheap. A messy beard being cool, made my life easier. I don’t worry about grooming anymore, I just get up and go,” says Jesse, a bartender in the East Village.

To see the popularity of beards first-hand, you needn’t go further than the Made Men barbershop in Chelsea.  Out of the three barbers working at Made Men one recent Tuesday afternoon, two sported beards.  Justin, who has worked at the shop since its inception, says the fad as having reached across many demographic groups and ethnicities.

The beard has even made it into the hip-hop scene, where, historically, they have not been common. There have been exceptions, such as Freeway and Quest Love of the Roots, who has donned a beard for over 20 years. But today, dozens of rappers wear beards, and leading the way is the thick-bearded Rick Ross.

The hip-hop fan base has followed suit. Shane Day, a self-described hip-hop head, says, “I like the look, it adds to the style. It fits what hip hop is about; it can be tough and stylish.” He is less enthused when referring to how difficult it is to maintain a beard. “It involves more trips to the barber shop and combing it,” he says, adding that “it looks like it’s easy but it’s not. Some guys just let it go but if you want it to look good you have to take care of it.”

Some longtime beard wearers have a less-than-rosy view of the new trend.  Naser, a resident of New York City’s East Village, does not want his beard confused with the current fad. “We are Muslim. We don’t have beards because of trends,” he says. “For us it’s our religion, it’s about piety but it’s not a requirement.” His friend Egad ads, “Yes I see many men with beards now, but when they shave we will still have ours.”

Kirk Wydner, a teacher in Manhattan and long-time beard enthusiast, believes that beards will eventually go the way of stonewashed jeans and leather pants, but he welcomes the decline of the trend. He believes that the proliferation of facial hair has devalued the beard. “Our beards do not stand out anymore,” he says. “When this trend is over, the beard can get back to being special.”

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