For ancient Egyptians, it was a sign of wealth and status. Romans would cultivate theirs to signify mourning, while Gauls equated the loss of one with castration. To the 21st-century man, though, the humble beard is more a sartorial statement of intent than a status symbol.
In the past few years facial hair has morphed from money-saving ruse (it’s no coincidence that the rise of the beard ran parallel with the global economic recession) into the ultimate style accessory – and one that’s not just an adjunct to your overall look but an expression of the inner you, too.
Cheap, versatile and adaptable, facial hair can change the shape of a man’s face and completely alter how he looks in jeans and a T-shirt or a suit. A few whiskers here and there can make a baby face look older, draw attention away from a thinning thatch and hide a multitude of sins (or chins). In short, it allows a man to be the ultimate chameleon.
What’s more, despite the ‘peak beard’ protestations of clean-shaven style pundits and the wishful thinking big bucks razor manufacturers, the beard is very much here to stay.
In fact, a recent YouGov survey showed the popularity of beards has only increased since 2011, with over 40 per cent of British men now sporting some kind of facial fuzz, with a full beard remaining the most popular option.
What makes things different from the last time facial hair was in fashion back in the seventies isn’t just the sheer variety of styles men are now experimenting with or the number of products available to help them achieve them, but women’s attitude towards them.
Ten years ago a beard, goatee or jazz spot almost acted as a contraceptive, but the same YouGov survey showed that only a third of young women prefer men without some form of fuzz.
The fact that so many celebrities are also sporting facial furniture has helped, too. Try imagining the likes of Drake, Idris Elba or David Beckham without their signature beards and you’ll see how much it’s embedded itself into the public consciousness.
The only question a man has to ask about facial hair these days is which style to have. And that’s where this guide – covering everything from how to rock a smattering of stubble to how to tame a full on grizzly beard – comes in.
Whether you’re a facial hair aficionado who fancies a change of style or are currently clean-shaven and need a beard-growing battle plan, here’s are the best beard styles to suit both your face and your personality.
Back in the 1930s, stubble wasn’t quite the uber-cool style statement it is today. Back then it was a sign that a man was lazy or down on his luck (‘five o’clock shadow’ was a term concocted by a razor company to encourage men to shave twice a day so as not to appear slovenly).
Nowadays, it’s a widely accepted halfway house between being clean-shaven and rocking a full-on Seasick Steve.
Of all the facial hair styles available to man, stubble is the easiest to cultivate (you just have to stop shaving for a few days). It’s also the simplest to maintain; and the one that suits most face shapes.
Given that a study by Northumbria University found women prefer men with stubble and with research from grooming brand Remington showing that one in five men actually feel sexier with a few days growth, it might just be your secret weapon come that hot date, too.
Who It Suits
Perfect for guys with baby faces, a sprinkling of stubble instantly adds maturity and a sense of ruggedness, making it the ideal option for those who struggle to grow thick, full beards.
Stubble also tends to make weak jaws look stronger and provides good camouflage for imperfections like acne scars and uneven pigmentation.
Kept neat and trimmed, it’s a style that looks as good in the boardroom as it does in a bar. Keep an eye on the length, though: too short and it’ll look like you simply overslept; too long and you’ll just look scruffy. As a rule of thumb, three to four days’ worth of growth is optimum for most guys. At this length, the hairs will lay a little flatter against the face and will be less likely to cause ‘pash rash’ too.
How To Maintain
Stubble might be low maintenance, but that doesn’t mean it’s no-maintenance. To keep it on point requires regular trimming and conditioning.
- To keep stubble at the optimum length, use a beard trimmer on a 3-4 mm setting. Remove the guard or use a precision attachment to remove any hair from the cheeks or below the Adam’s apple.
- The pattern of your stubble may be unique to your face, but you can change the shape of that face by contouring the stubble. Known as ‘beartouring’ (beard contouring) it’s the perfect way to play around with proportions. To elongate a round face, take a tip from Drake and shave away the stubble in the lower cheek area, so the beard line appears lower. Graduate the length of the stubble below the jawline to soften the look and strengthen the jaw.
- Minimise the risk of painful ingrown hairs by exfoliating skin with a face scrub twice a week, paying particular attention to the area around the neck. This is especially important for guys with afro or naturally curly hair, which often grows back upon itself in the early stages.
“To keep stubble and skin soft and conditioned (also to reduce the risk of inflicting ‘pash rash’ on a partner when kissing) ensure you start with a clean surface,” says Sam Norsworthy, store manager at Ruffians barbers in London’s Marylebone.
“Exfoliate dead skin away with a facial scrub, leaving the skin underneath fresh and ready to absorb a daily moisturiser designed to soften skin and condition hair.”
Short on effort, big on style, the goatee has long been the facial hair choice for rockstars, intellectuals and those with a wayward, rebellious streak.
Essentially, this refers to any style featuring hair above the lip and on the chin only, sometimes connected to create a frame for the mouth. In short, it’s the artistic, slightly villainous brother of the beard.
Who It Suits
The bad boy’s facial hair of choice, goatees are great for adding a little edge to your style, or to affect an air of the alternative. They’re also perfect if you struggle to grow a full beard or find that when you do it’s patchy and uneven.
Goatees look especially good on slim, angular faces (but don’t let them grow too long or they’ll make your face look too lean) and can make a round face look slightly slimmer – a trick used by goatee guru George Michael.
They’re great on guys with short hair but come into their own when worn with long, slightly dishevelled hair.
How To Maintain
You’d be forgiven for thinking that, at a fraction of the size of a full beard, a goatee would be easier to look after, but you’d be wrong. Good goatees require precision management, not to mention a steady hand.
- Allow your facial hair to grow to a length you feel comfortable with and maintain this with a beard trimmer. Use the trimmer’s edging blade to trim whiskers so they sit on or just above the edge of the upper lip and to trim down the sides.
- Use your jawline as a guide as to where to end your goatee. The best place is often just beneath the jawbone. Otherwise, you end up looking like a Billy goat.
- Use a razor and a shave gel or an oil to keep skin clean-shaven around your goatee. Transparent products like these allow you to see where you’re going with the razor so you can create even, better-defined lines.
- Goatees are a bit like pizza toppings – there are endless variations, and you won’t know what you like best until you try a few. Experiment by removing the sidebars to leave a ‘stache and a jazz spot for a Mustakeery ‘Dartanian’ look, or lose the lip furniture altogether to recreate Robert Pattinson’s goatee style of choice.
“Take your time, you can always take more off,” says Norsworthy. “Shape your goatee when bone dry – hair expands and relaxes when wet, contracting to its original length when dry.
“If you shape it when wet and you may find you’ve cut too much off.”
Falling somewhere between stubble and a full beard, the beardstache is a hybrid where the moustache is kept longer and fuller than the surrounding hair.
It’s a polarising style that has been called everything from the hot new thing to the facial hair equivalent of a mullet, but when done right it oozes masculinity.
Those who have experimented with the style include everyone from designer Patrick Grant to actor Jamie Dornan and model-turned-DJ Chris Camplin.
Like the standalone ’stache, there’s something inescapably 1970s porno about the style, but it’s fun, shows you have an experimental side and there’s a practical aspect too since it’s the perfect lightweight alternative to a full beard come summer.
Who It Suits
In the same way it straddles two facial hair styles, the beardstache looks just as good on a lumberjack as a suited city slicker, instantly adding a hyper-masculine ruggedness to any face.
It works well on most face shapes but requires thick facial hair and looks best on guys with a wider philtrum (the stretch of skin between the top lip and nose) and a prominent chin due to it drawing attention higher up the face.
How To Maintain
Maintaining a beardstache is like looking after two very different kids – just adjust your maintenance strategy to accommodate both.
- Allow the beard to grow until around 1-2cm, keeping hair neat with the help of a beard trimmer. Opt for one with an edging blade or built-in laser guide for pinpoint accuracy. Always trim just outside the line of your beard – that will leave you room to tidy it up properly with a razor.
- Use a wet razor to remove any stray hairs on the cheeks and to keep the lower neck area smooth.
- Instead of ending the beard exactly on the jawline (which can be unflattering, especially for guys with a couple of surplus chins), remove it just after the natural line of the jaw or adjust the length of your trimmer by small increments as you work down towards the Adam’s Apple for a graduated effect.
- To keep your beard looking and feeling its best, apply a good beard oil and distribute throughout your beard with a natural bristle brush.
- Grow your beard to your own personal peak beard length (you’ll know when you’ve hit it).
- Use a beard trimmer on a long setting to maintain the length, combing through with a beard brush first, and always trim when dry.
- Be patient if your beard appears patchy at first. Gaps often fill in naturally as hair grows to cover them.
- Keep your beard glossy and conditioned with the help of a beard oil. Since facial hair draws up moisture, the skin itself beneath can become particularly dry and flaky (hence the dreaded beard dandruff) so use your fingers to ensure the oil gets right beneath the hair, too.
- Use a beard comb or brush daily to minimise the risk of tangles and evenly distribute your beard oil.
- To increase the bushiness, try blow-drying your beard using a hair dryer on a cool setting. Take a small comb or beard brush and gently tease out and downwards as your dry.
- Have your beard professionally shaped by a barber every once in a while to give it a shape you can follow at home.
“Beardstaches tend to look better when the difference between the two parts isn’t too great,” says Norsworthy.
“If you go too short with your stubble you can run the risk of starting back at square one. Use the guard on your clippers to guide you, usually a difference of just two settings is a good starting point.”
The Short Beard
A dialled-down, neater and altogether less lumberjacky version of the full beard, the short beard is a more versatile, understated and office-friendly alternative – perfect if you’re fending off a boss who’s phobic of facial hair.
Guys like Ryan Reynolds, Jon Hamm and George Clooney have all used this style to add gravitas and insulation to their faces in recent years (and look what it’s done for them).
The ideal hirsute middle ground – kept tidy, but not overly preened – a short beard sits just as comfortably alongside a suit during the nine-to-five as it does down the pub at the weekend (where everyone will definitely have #BeardEnvy).
Who It Suits
A neatly trimmed beard will suit most face shapes, though you may need to tailor the angles to emphasise your best features and downplay your worst.
If you’ve a round face, for example, you might want to reduce the length at the sides slightly to elongate the face. Similarly, leaving the sides slightly longer can help add width to a thin, narrow face. Blessed with a double chin? Try taking the beard down all the way to the Adam’s Apple to disguise it.
If in doubt, ask a barber to tend to your beard with your next trim, then keep up the shape at home.
How To Maintain
Unlike the big, bushy hipster beard, the short style is minimal and precise. With neatness key, a decent beard trimmer is essential. A wet razor will come in handy, too.
“If you’re bald or are sporting a short military crop, prevent the jarring ‘beard line’ towards the top of the ears by tapering the cutting length to give a more gradual transition,” says Norsworthy.
“Also continue this on the underside through the neck – this will create a stronger jawline and keep you looking smart at work.”
Growing a full beard is a rite of passage up there with learning to drive, drinking your first pint (not at the same time, mind) and buying your first ‘grown-up’ watch.
But like skiing, losing weight or shooting hoops, it’s one of those things that’s decidedly harder than it looks. The fuller the beard, the more maintenance it requires and the more problems you’re likely to encounter.
Take time to look after it, though, and you’ll always have something to stroke when the dog’s not around.
Who It Suits
Of all the beard styles, the full beard is the hardest to rock, partly because it’s such a statement. Guys with oval faces will have no problem making it work, but if you’ve any other face shape, you may need some creative trimming to ensure it flatters.
Slim, angular jaws and narrow faces can be softened and rounded out by keeping the sides slightly longer, while round faces can be elongated by growing the hair at the chin longer and keeping the sides shorter. You can also make a rounder face look thinner by growing the hair on the front of your face slightly longer than the stuff around the sides. Think of this crafty contouring as whisker magic.
How To Maintain
More than any other beard style, you get out what you put in with a fuller growth. Society finally accepts this shape as something that’s acceptable for more than just shopping mall Santas, so don’t ruin it for the rest of us by heading out with a wiry, matted mess hanging off your face.
“The larger the beard, the higher the risk of you looking like you’ve just returned from a long trip at sea,” says Norsworthy.
“Regularly nip away at the odd rogue hair and keep it smooth with an oil or balm. If you’re an older guy concerned about random grey patches, touch up the offending areas with a special dye designed for the tougher hair found on faces.”