Over the course of the past few years men’s collective penchant for a full beard has grown from barely there to boldly uncompromising. The aughts’ designer stubble look has evolved slowly but surely to the point where a densely forested face worthy of a Spartan warrior is now perfectly socially acceptable – nay desirable – all the way from Salford to Shoreditch.
Spurred on by hirsute models like Patrick Petitjean and Ricki Hall, and celebrities including Leonardo DiCaprio and David Beckham, many of us have been inspired to try our hand at this key grooming trend – with varying degrees of success.
As with all things fashionable (read: cyclical), though, the beard’s bubble could be about to burst, with barbershops across the UK noticing a marked decline:
“We have seen a steady decline in bushy, fisherman-style beards,” says Bradley Stainton, founder of barbershop and eponymous grooming brand Pankhurst London. “Most men are now veering towards a clean shave, while those who are choosing to keep the beard are instead opting for a shorter, much more groomed style.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by the likes of The Telegraph and The Guardian here on home soil – both of which have run stories on the decline of the beard – as well as TIME and The Washington Post across the pond.
But what exactly has spurred on such a shift from the hirsute to the hairless? “The large beard really only suits a small percentage of people with a very specific personal style or look. At Pankhurst, we’ve tried to usher in a more groomed finish, which we feel suits a broader range of the men who visit us,” says Stainton.
So, are you tired of fishing last Tuesday’s Weetos out of your facial fuzz? Or concerned you’ve forgotten what your chin looks like? Then, it may be time to bid farewell to your beard.
Once you’ve made the decision to go sans stubble, it’s essential you shave your beard correctly, lest you end up with a red raw phizog resembling streaky bacon.
Step 1) Clipper Your Beard Down
When it comes to giving your beard the chop, we could be stating the obvious here but better safe than sorry: do not reach for the razor straight away.
“You’ll want to get your facial hair as short as possible with clippers first to avoid catching any hair follicles when you eventually do a wet shave,” explains Dominic Stables, head barber and manager at London-based Sharps Barber & Shop.
“Remove the clipper guard and carefully trim the beard down to as short as possible. Use a hand mirror to keep an eye on those slightly more awkward spots around the jaw line and ensure you catch all those less visible hairs.”
To do this and get the best results possible, you’ll want to invest in a quality set of clippers. Luckily, there are plenty of options on the market – whatever your budget.
At the higher end of the spectrum, there’s the Philips Beard Trimmer 9000, priced at £79.99. Boasting an aesthetically pleasing design, it includes waterproof blades and advanced features such as ‘laser guiding’, which will be especially appealing for those of a fastidious disposition.
More affordably priced is the Remington MB320C Barba (£28.99): a solid set of clippers that will still deliver decent results despite lacking the Philips model’s sophisticated features.
Alternatively, if you’re not 100 per cent confident of your ability or are feeling a little out of practice, you can always have someone do the dirty work for you, says Stables: “Consider visiting a professional for your first full-on shave; a good barber will always advise on the best products for your hair, face and skin type.”
Step 2) The Wet Shave
Gone are the days of buying a budget bag of disposable razors and hoping for the best. To guarantee optimal results from your clean shave, you’ll need to equip yourself with the right tools for the job.
Luxury grooming labels such as Czech & Speake and Pankhurst London offer beautiful shaving sets replete with all the essentials, including shaving soap and a real badger hair brush to lather it up with. Alternatively, more inexpensive offerings from the likes of Wilkinson Sword and the innovative King of Shaves (try the Hyperglide model) also guarantee good results.
It’s not just the razor that’s paramount though, your method is just as important, says Stainton: “First of all, you’ll want to moisten your face with a hot, damp towel in order to open the pores and soften the skin.”
Next, apply a quality shaving cream liberally (we suggest Geo F Trumper, Taylor of Old Bond Street, Baxter of California or Castles Forbes), massaging gently on to the skin, ensuring your facial hair is well covered.
Finally, brace yourself for the shave. People are often mistakenly taught to shave against the grain, but Stainton advises against doing so: “Always shave with the grain to avoid any irritations. Hold the razor at a 45 degree angle to the target area while pulling the skin taut with your other hand to deliver the best results.”
Step 3) Post-Shave Care
The beard is gone. Repeat after us: the beard is gone. So, take a step back and enjoy that glorious fresh-faced virile specimen of masculinity for a minute.
Done? Now, for your face to remain looking this good, you’ll need to take care to ensure your skin stays adequately nourished.
“After you’ve shaved, immediately wash down with cold water or drape a cold flannel cloth on your face,” says Adam Brady of London- and Edinburgh-based Ruffians Barbers. “This will close up your pores and soothe the skin after its trying ordeal. Then, apply a generous helping of moisturiser or alcohol-free aftershave balm to ensure your skin stays hydrated.”
Ruffians offer their own Daily Facial Moisturiser, which contains natural ingredients such as aloe vera and ginkgo extract and offers first-rate results, while Truefitt & Hill Trafalgar Aftershave Balm is also a good – albeit more traditional – option.
The Complete Package
There’s no real need to drastically change your hair or clothes just because you’ve shaved your beard. But if you feel like switching up other elements of your personal style to match with your grooming gearshift, then consider a haircut, especially if you’ve been rocking a dramatic pompadour or disconnected undercut when bearded.
“If you’re looking for a lower maintenance style, grow your hair out on top and ask for a textured haircut,” says Brady. “The bulk and weight of the hair on top will contrast with your new clean shaven look.”
However, you can still keep it classic: “Ask for a short back and sides and you’ll have two ways to style it: forward for a French crop, or to the side for a side parting.
This is a versatile haircut which is perfect for someone who doesn’t want to make a huge statement but still wants to look smart.”
Additionally, if you’re after a subtle wardrobe tweak to team with your newly groomed look, then it’s best to pare things back a little, according to Hunger magazine’s menswear editor Chris Benns:
“With the recent ‘devolution’ of the beard trend, a slicker look tends to go hand in hand with a clean shaven face. A sharper, tailored approach is advisable but to keep things contemporary, try to steer clear of that very tailoring-heavy ‘buttoned-up’ aesthetic that’s been around for so long now.”
Think a slim-fit suit worn with a crew neck T-shirt and leather sneakers rather than a dress shirt, tweed three-piece and brogues:
If you want to keep it slightly more relaxed, try swapping tailoring for denim and off-duty wardrobe staples. Skinny or slim jeans in a darker wash are ideal, with sterling options available from Acne Studios, Uniqlo, A.P.C., Topman and Levi’s.
You’ll want to ditch the check shirt though – the ubiquitous ‘lumberjack’ aesthetic is on its way out with the beard. Instead, try a luxe sweatshirt, simple Oxford button-down or classic blue chambray shirt:
Leaders Of The Pack
Take a look at some of the leading men already cutting a sharp figure with clean shaves.
A man of many guises. Proven to hold equal appeal with the opposite sex whether he’s bulked up as Batman‘s Bane or slimmed down for Inception, Hardy’s taken to the cleaner look with the greatest of ease.
Blessed with a strong bone structure, British actor Strong looks strikingly good with a closely shaven head and face. Couple that with his killer style and you’ve got yourself a winning combination.
This musician’s modish leanings allow him to pull off this cleaner look with aplomb. Super sharp silhouettes and a palette of neutrals work to complement his closely shaved face too.
In spite of always being branded as something of a menswear enthusiast, Ronson’s never given in to the beard trend. He looks top notch sporting a fresh face, whether he’s donning slick streetwear or block-coloured tailoring.
What can we say? This gentleman was something of a pioneer back in the 1970s and 1980s and truly changed perceptions of what it is to be a man, paving the way for a world where it’s OK for guys to take pride in how they present themselves.
The return of shorter facial hair and closer shaves marks the end of an era for the beard. And while we’re sure it’ll no doubt be back at some point, now’s a good time to try your hand at a new, fresher appearance.
Will you be giving your beard its marching orders? Or do you feel a clean shave lacks a sense of ruggedness? Perhaps you will opt for a happy medium: stubble?
Whatever your thoughts, comment below to let us know.