Listen up guys, the word on the street is that beards are over and it’s time to grow a moustache. Pat Fitzpatrick asks the expert
I gave my wife a beard for Christmas. It was December 2008 and the beard was on me, grown in a hurry, when it became clear that the actual present I’d ordered on-line wasn’t going to make it before the 25th.
I knew she liked beards, partially because her Dad had one, which was a bit beard-weird, but I grew one anyway in an attempt to save Christmas. It worked and I’ve had the beard ever since.
Ten years later, I started to get sick of it. I usually trimmed it myself when the itchiness became too bad — I got out of bed one night at 3am to give it a trim, because the itch was stopping me going to sleep — but six months ago, I let it grow wild, no trimming, no nothing, just to see what would happen.
People started treating me differently, that’s what happened. They’d stare at me anxiously for a few seconds and say things like “you’re growing the beard, so”, while glancing around for an escape route in case they needed one.
More than one person told me I was having a mid-life crisis. I replied no, I’m just a bit bored and they said that’s the same thing.
Whatever it was, I couldn’t just keep chasing the full Tom Crean, Antarctic Explorer look. Some of the people giving me funny looks also employ me, so something had to be done.
I could always turn it into a moustache.
A recent article in the Daily Telegraph noted that beards (Bradley Cooper) were outnumbered at the Oscars by a variety of moustaches (Christian Bale and Mahershala Ali.) Apparently the beards are all a bit 2013 now and there is talk of the dad-tache coming back. Jesus, run for it.
I call TV presenter and trend guru, Darren Kennedy, to double-check if this is actually true.
“We’ve reached peak beards, that’s for sure”, says Kennedy.
“It’s less about the scruffy, long, bedraggled beard now and more about loose stubble. Over the past couple of years there’s been a trend for 70s inspired clothing and a cowboys and western kind of vibe, and they have merged now for men’s clothing and this has trickled through to facial hair and styling, I think that’s why the moustaches are coming back.”
Does he think they’ll catch on?
“I think so, ya. I dabbled with a moustache myself about a year ago and ended up looking like a 70s porn star, and not in a good way. Maybe it won’t catch on like the beards, that was overkill I think, but I’ve seen guys going around with moustaches now that you wouldn’t normally expect to wear them.”
I’m not too bothered about the porn star look. My problem is Liverpool. A lot of their all-conquering teams in the 80s had moustaches, players like Graeme Souness and Mark Lawrenson, who made this Man United fan’s life a misery every Monday morning, when I had to face a gloat of Liverpool fans in school. (Gloat is the collective noun for Liverpool fans.)
Anyway, I ran the moustache idea past my wife. I can’t tell you what she said in a family newspaper, but I won’t be growing a moustache. (I’ll give you a hint, she said “a moustache screams ---- ---.” Answers on a postcard.)
I decided to seek professional help for my beard. I’d heard about Tom Winters Barbers on North Main Street in Cork, not least from my brother-in-law who was virtually hopping with happiness one day because he finally managed to get an appointment for a haircut.
So, I popped my head in there one day, and found myself on the set of a western.
Three old school barber’s chairs faced out to the door, a beaming customer in each one being tended by three barbers dressed as gentleman gamblers from a gold-rush movie set in the 1890s.
I recognise the owner Stephen (the shop is named after his father, Tom) from his Instagram page and tell him I’m trying to figure out what to do with my beard. He tells me I need a beard trim for starters and books me in for 8:15 am the following day.
It’s a measure of the beard-rush in Ireland, not mention the popularity of Tom Winters, that I need to come in early before the shop is open. Stephen is booked out five weeks in advance, with the other two guys working there booked for at least three weeks. There are no walk-ins as such.
I arrive in the next morning and Stephen asks me if I want a whiskey. I mumble no thanks, awkwardly, because I wasn’t expecting him to say that.
When I ask if other clients say yes to breakfast whiskey, he points me towards an elegant glass cabinet full of empties.
Stephen, a carpenter in a past life designed and built the interior of the shop from scratch. It’s got a vintage, under-stated feel that wouldn’t be out of place in a boutique for men.
I get the attraction here. It’s not just that Stephen, who has been cutting hair since he was 14, has built a strong-word of mouth reputation for being the go-to guy in Cork for beards.
The old school, Wild West saloon aesthetic is a throwback to a time when men apparently found it easier to be men. Even a weekend feminist like myself can enjoy one hour a month pretending to be Clint Eastwood.
Stephen lies me back in the chair, close to horizontal, puts a hot towel over my forehead and eyes, and turns his music play-list to Mississippi Delta Blues. The next 40 minutes or so is a pleasant blur of hot towels, shaving and songs about drinking, whoring and broken hearts.
At the end, Stephen pushes me upright, and faces me away from the mirror for a last bit of fixing (the mirror is for the barber, not something for the client to stare into for an awkward half an hour, according to Stephen.)
He spins me around and I’m back in love with my beard. I no longer look like a Montana survivalist trekking into town to buy 400 tins of beans and a fresh Make America Great Again cap.
It’s just the right amount of hipster, with weight around the chin, thinner up the sides and tapered in a bit.
Now all I have to do is look after it.
When I asked Darren Kennedy about beard care during my moustache consultation, he mentioned a hydrating beard oil from his own range, Kennedy&Co.
“It’s Irish made, with natural botanical oils and cooling menthol. A lot of guys grow a beard and end up with flaky skin, you need a good beard oil to nourish the hair and the skin.”