For our anniversary, my husband took me to our favorite steakhouse. It’s a place near the water, fancier than our normal date spots. I love it for the food, and I love it for the people watching.
There, I saw such a wide range of couples. Many were dressed up. The women had curled their hair and wore statement necklaces and little black dresses, the men in dress shirts, their facial hair neatly groomed. And that’s where I first noticed it: the sheer prevalence of beards among those men. They were among the older, distinguished men, the middle-aged career men, and the trendy, younger crowd, too.
Beards are undoubtably popular right now.
In fact, 55 percent of men were sporting facial hair worldwide in 2012—and that was at the beginning of what has since been dubbed the “Beard Boom.”
Take the L train from Williamsburg any morning, and you'll swim in a sea of lumberjack-chic hipsters smelling freshly groomed...
This boom may be due to a two factors. First, the season. Naturally, there is an upswing in beards during the colder months: beards provide an easy layer of warmth for men, especially those who work outside or commute through the elements (and we can’t forget No-Shave November). Perhaps seeing how accepted beards are becoming in public and in the workplace, they keep them come spring.
And two, the science. Research in the journal Evolution & Human Behavior finds—at least in a study of 154 species of primates—that when in large, more “anonymous” organizations (a corporate office, for instance), males tend to up —and diversify—their beard game.
But, as with all peaks, a decline is eventually expected. For the beard, some think it has already arrived, while other believe the facial hair trend is merely evolving. We’ll have to consult the experts for their take on what’s next.
Before we can truly assess what’s next in beard-dom, it’s best to understand what came before now—a brief history of beards.
“Beards have had many uses during the history of mankind," says Ange Picone, the national director of 18|8 Fine Men’s Salons. "Early humans grew beards for warmth, ... protection, and even to intimidate. In current times, they have been used to show masculinity, royalty, fashion, and status. Today, I look at this revival of beards as a lifestyle choice, a mindset, and an expression of a ... style statement.”
Throughout history, beards have been a prominent form of male expression, whether in dominance or style. Egyptian royalty opted for false beards, while it was popular in ancient Greece to grow long beards and curl them. Ancient Rome swayed towards a trim, well-maintained look—and in their realm, we saw one of the first barbershops.
The first prominent decline of beards happened during the 7th century, when Christianity required clergy to shave; later, William the First initiated a law that required shaving. The Crusades led a beard revival, and since then, facial hair choice has followed more of a style trend than a survival one.
Daniel Levine, a public speaker who studies trends, sees the current fashion statement of beards on display everyday. “Take the L train from Williamsburg any morning,” he says, “and you'll swim in a sea of lumberjack-chic hipsters smelling freshly groomed with organic, vegan beard oils.” What a visual! And oh-so true!
Picone identifies many beard icons through history: “When I think back to bearded influencers of the past, a few men come to mind immediately: Statesman, Lawyer, and sixteenth President of the United States, Abe Lincoln; New York Knicks NBA star and Hall of Famer, Walt Frazier; American actor “Dan Haggerty,” who portrayed the famous California mountain man, ‘Grizzly Adams’; and Dusty Hill and Billy Gibbons of the legendary rock band, ‘ZZ Top.’”
Today, Picone notes, “There are so many bearded icons. I feel that with any fashion push, we are all influenced by celebrities, musicians, and sport figures. So my list would have to include film and screen stars like Jake Gyllenhaal, Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Hugh Jackman; sports figures like Houston Astros hurler Dallas Keuchel, San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton, NBA [guard] James Harden and soccer legend David Beckham; ... music icons like John Legend, Justin Timberlake, Drake, and producer, singer-songwriter Calvin Harris.”
Even more than names we easily recognize, it’s important to note the platforms we recognize too—like the beards of Instagram. In fact, with the extreme influence of social media, perhaps places like Instagram is where we’ll see the next best thing in beard styling.
But what do the beards of the beard boom actually look like?
Picone sees a very diverse pendulum among the beards of today.
“... the full, scraggly beard, like that worn by a hunter or woodsman, is one I see on guys that are very comfortable in their own skin," he says. "This guy never worries about others opinions of him as he is just fine being himself."
"The closer, cropped beard of the distinguished gentleman type [is another beard I see]," says Picone. "He is one that keeps his beard impeccably groomed. He knows his place in this world and has the confidence to prove it.”
If that doesn’t capture the current trend, I don’t know what does! I’ve seen both, and I completely understand how men tend to fall into one camp or the other.
Grooming Trends Over Time
“Like history, trends tend to be cyclical ... [They reappear but are] presented in a new way when they reemerge," Tom Twellman Jr., of Hair Saloon says. "Take, for instance, the long hair in the 70s. While it was a ‘hippie' and tie-dye [trend] in the 70s, the long hair of the 80s was about hair bands, latex, and glam. And when the long hair reappeared in the 90s, it was 'grunge' and flannel. Again, same trend, but just presented differently.
Transitioning that thought to beards, Twellman states, “I don't think what we see today is a trend as much as it is men rediscovering good grooming practices and an expression of self.”
That expression of self Twellman speaks of marks much of what we see among the bearded men of this season.
“Every man who can grow one has worn a beard at some time in his life," Levine adds. "If he hasn't, he is missing out on one of the great pleasures and advantages of being a man.”
Twellman, too, sees men claiming their style through facial hair: “Facial hair is an easy way for men to show off their individuality because of how quickly and fast you can change it as well as the many ways in which you can wear it: ... tightly trimmed, long and loose, mustache, goatee, and ... many other ways in-between.”
Whether you have a beard now or are considering one, know this: beards aren’t going away, they’re just evolving.
“Beards are not facing oblivion … just an overhaul in the form of neater and shorter," shares Constance Dunn, writer at Practical Glamour. "Expect to see fewer of the long, bush-type beards—except among the most diehard beard lovers—and more clean-shaven dudes.”
“The push for beards in the last five years or so is linked to facial hair as a potent visual signifier of classic or traditional masculinity," she says. "There are many men who tried the beard look, enjoyed the look, and are now evolving their beard game to more-sculpted looks such as the boxed beard, a tidy style that falls along the sideburns and chin, sometimes linking with the mustache along the sides.”
“At the end of the day, [most] men want to look good for women, and women don’t really love the big, bushy beards," shares Claude Baruk of Claude BARUK Salons in Las Vegas. "Plus, men don’t like to feel like they’re part of a ‘trend,’ and having a huge beard isn’t distinctive anymore. Now, men are going to a more classic look, but it is a reimagined look from the 1930s and 1940s, the ‘flip,’ but made modern with clean lines and two-to-three days’ growth on the beard.”
Levine chimes in on the beard trend, too: “Beards remain as common as ever on the streets of Brooklyn and beyond, though they will cycle in-and-out of style on any particular man. For some men, they are serious fashion statements. For others, they are simply the most [they] can have dressing up."
With the lumberjack beard retiring and the boxed beard and a kickback to the 30s and 40s on the horizon, I’m guessing my date night dinners will become even more of a chic affair. Then again, if the cat’s tail beard swaggers into the table next to me, you better believe I might crack a chuckle!
But regardless of what beard style you choose, everyone believes that taking care of your beard (and the skin underneath) is of the utmost importance.
“My advice for anyone considering a new look or attempting to grow a beard ... find a grooming regimen that is comfortable for you," says Twellman. "Discover a look and style that fits your face shape, and if you need advice, ask your neighborhood barber.
"... then, no matter what style, look, [or] amount of facial hair you have, " Twellman continues, "take care of it. Grooming oils, beard balms and other products are out there. Find what works for you.” Picone concurs, “Beards don’t just happen. They take commitment and up keep.”
With his expertise in facial hair grooming, Picone outlines some steps for the current and upcoming beard crowd:
"Keep your skin and beard clean. Beards are a landing place for food, dust and dirt, so regular shampooing to remove any unwanted dirt and bacteria will keep your beard and skin healthy."
Follow that with your favorite beard oil or beard balm to keep it tame and softened, Picone says. Product wise, Picone recommends Anthony Brands’ Pre Shave and Conditioning Beard Oil, Reuzel’s Scrub Shampoo and Beard Foam, and Esquire’s Grooming Beard Oil.
“Most important,” he says, know that, “regular trimming and shaping is essential, but not something I would attempt on my own. Seek the advice and help of [an] expert. Consult your favorite stylist or barber to guide you on alternative styles and to keep your beard trimmed and under control.”
Picone offers a fantastic recap on the beard boom and what’s next: “Over time, we have seen beards, mustaches, goatees, and side burns come and go. I don’t think that pattern will ever change. What’s in today may be out tomorrow, but the true beard devotees will keep the spirit alive because for them, it’s a lifestyle ... .”
So, there it is. You decide. Is a beard a lifestyle you’re committed to, or is it more of an occasional fashion statement you’d like to play around with? Let the answer guide what you do tomorrow morning when you look in the mirror to shave.