What lies behind our new found love of beards (and tips on keeping them in shape)

Fashion and the economy have long been linked (although they’ll never admit to it). 

What lies behind our new found love of beards (and tips on keeping them in shape)

One goes to extremes and the other profits from it. From a spike in lipstick sales during the fabric-rationing 1940s to the the swinging hemline index of the 60s – both trends accurately reflected the fiscal health of the times. Symbiotic? Perhaps, until one takes it a bit too far.

Despite our current post-recession status, recent data from Euromonitor suggests an uncharacteristic dip in the sales of men’s razors across Europe and America.

The desire not to be fleeced isn’t just about income disposability but rather a clear and present pursuit of the hirsute. Beards are growing – and fast.

Let’s be clear. This is not the stuff of groomed goatees or five-day stubble; we’re talking about the full Paul Bunyan. Prodigious barbs worthy of the most virile lumberjack are the modern man’s accessory of choice. Jake Gyllenhaal, Adrien Brody and Leonardo di Caprio; not to mention our own Paul Galvin, Shane Lynch and Conor McGregor have all become poster boys for the movement.

Despite rumours of society having reached ‘peak beard’ (follicular supersaturation); not to mention Jeremy Paxman’s glabrous exclamation that facial fur is ‘so 2013’; facial hair is most certainly here today and not gone tomorrow. Such is the ubiquity of the beard that in 2013 Remington created its own de facto facial hair index based on 470 men of influence (Groomingguru.co.uk). And the survey says? 54% of men wear a beard. Can’t argue with those facts. So just what is the appeal?

Cork model and blogger ( www.Facebook.com/TheStyleCouncilCork ) James McDonald, who started growing his beard five years ago, believes it to be a matter of evolutionary psychology. “Men see a beard and think ‘manly caveman’; women see a beard and think ‘rugged and sexy’,” he says. “It’s really a primal instinct. Therefore it’s a powerful marketing tool.”

Indeed. Such is the sexual currency of the beard in contemporary culture that it has spawned two new epithets: Lumbersexual and Metrojack. Think check shirts, hiking boots, tight jeans and a tonne of tats; or Ned Kelly drinking a half-fat latte.

Many view this paradigm shift as reaction against the hyper-groomed metrosexual, the conservatve clean-shaven and the much maligned hipster. Whatever the motivation, the end game is clear. The semantic value of the 2.0 beard is one of mystery and masculinity.

Let’s not forget sex appeal. Even the fashion industry has cottoned onto the novelty of the rugged male model with Bill Huxley and Ricki Hall (Kelly Osbourne’s other half) gaining international kudos for their stylised ‘pretty punk’ look. Brands like Penneys, Asos.com and Topman, known for their Zeitgeist appeal, have all included fuzzy-faced fellas in their websites and ad campaigns.

And then there’s Ben Dahlhaus - the inscrutable Swedish newcomer who has almost broken the intent (move over Kim K) with his middle-distance stare and lustrous blonde face mane.

It’s not wonder that beards have sparked their own dating sites with newly-founded Bristlr providing a Tinder-like niche for bewhiskered singles looking for love. As the site blurb frankly states: “There are many people with beards who like to have them stroked. And there are many people who don’t have beards, but would like to stroke them. Bristlr is the link between the two.”

Stylist and personal shopper Mark Kelly who’s been growing his beard for five months is well-acquainted with the novelty factor of a flocculent face. “Only the other night in my local pub I was stopped at the bar by two women and one of their boyfriends who all wanted a stroke of the beard and inundated me with questions on care, maintenance and how long it took to grow.”

As any man will attest, growing a beard is a lot like trimming bonsai – it’s as much a challenge as an aesthetic pursuit, one that requires regular pruning and man-scaping. In other words, natural beauty only finds its truest expression in human hands.

That means a routine of combing, beard products, trimming, shampooing, conditioning and having it professionally groomed. Words like ‘patchy’ and ‘beardruff’ have no place in the bearded lexicon. Heck, even Santa’s beard gets groomed. How do you think it stays that glossy?

The real question is whether the novelty factor can be sustained; or will beards – once the remit of revolutionaries, artists and creatives - eventually become the new normal?

According to Biology Letters (Royal Society Publishing), the popularity of beards may be affected by natural selection. As with any fashion trends, once it filters out from the margins into the mainstream, it has effectively lost its cache. Similarly, the more populous the barbate, the more women will go in search of a clean-cut mate.

Opinion it seems is divided as if by a sharp blade. The popularity isn’t exactly dyed in the wool. Roy Keane, George Clooney, Michael Fassbender, Gordon Darcy and Joaquin Phoenix are just a few of the more vilous stars who’ve recently opted for a smoother look.

Maybe it’s the first world problems (expostulated by many a BuzzFeed post) which can play interference: eating messy food, being randomly checked at airports; discovering there’s an ecosystem growing on your chin.

Or perhaps it’s a more basic instinct – like a 2.0 replacement for penis envy? If October’s World Bead and Moustache Championships in Portland are anything to go by, then the pressure is on. Overall winner Madison Rowley’s voluminous growth could possibly be the Dirk Diggler of beards (longer, thicker, shinier).

So, although razors may be on the decline, Darwinian selection may well, over time, weed out its bearded dilletantes. Only the strongest will prevail.

So, for those of you toying with some face thatching in the colder months, remember: a beard isn’t just for Christmas; it’s for life. Just ask Santa...

ASK THE EXPERT

Brendan the Barber gives his top tips on keeping your beard in good nick. (www.brendanthebarber.net)

DAILY:

Comb beard oil through your beard daily. Be sure to get to the root of the hair; not just the surface. This helps condition the skin underneath and keep it healthy. Use 3-4 or 7-8 drops depending on the size, coarseness and condition of your beard; then flex the beard perpendicular to the face and comb it back to ‘shape it down’. This helps avoid knots and maintain volume. Repeated use helps soften it up and gloss it like a conditioner.

WEEKLY:

Follow the neck and face lines made by your barber. Shave the neck up to the line your barber has left. With your cheek line, take away the stray hairs and leave a clean line down the face. Invest in a bristle beard brush (horse and badger hair are preferable) and brush your beard once or twice a week to release sebum from the hair and gloss it up. Shampoo once or twice a week (depending on the length) and rinse well or your beard will become dry and agitated.

BI-MONTHLY:

Get your barber to control the length and sculpt the shape of your beard every 2-3 weeks.

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