Different beard styles and how to trim them. Cross: Taking it on the chin – yes, beards continue to polarize us, Ottawa Citizen

Top row: Tom Mulcair, Gandalf and Shawn Menard. Bottom row: Alexander the Great, Justin Trudeau and Sir John A. Macdonald OTTwp Chin beard.

What is this pogonophilia trend?

The current fashion trend of pogonophilia, the cultivation and admiration of beards and the people growing them – from pogon, Greek for beard – is polarizing. Pogonophobia is its opposite, the dislike of beards and the people behind them. There is no middle ground.

And it is a fuzzy world out there. Over the centuries there has been an ebb and flow in clip or grow. Alexander the Great banned the beard so it could not be grabbed in battle. The Romans imitated their emperors who were clean shaven. In the Middle Ages it was fashionable for the nobility to grow beards. The poor, as always, had more basic concerns than their looks.

During the Renaissance, it was back to the beardless look. But monarchs such as Henry VIII in England, and Peter the Great in Russia, placed a tax on beards – turning facial hair into a symbol of wealth and privilege. If you had the bucks you could have the hair.

The First World War was hard on beards. They wouldn’t fit under respirators and without a snug fit a soldier could be asphyxiated in a gas attack. Daily shaving was the norm until after the Second World War. Then came the Beatniks and Hippies and facial fur was back in fashion.

Men's goatee styles

And the various styles of facial hair, like hairstyles, are extensive. For example, there is the full beard either well groomed – think Santa Claus’s white avalanche – or flowing au naturel like one of the Swamp Men TV characters. Then there is the partial beard – think Van Dyke of Colonel Sanders chicken fame. Or the chinstrap barbe bretonne or, the Amish (all beard and no moustache) or, puffy mutton chops (a.k.a. sideburns on steroids). Then there is the scruffy stubble of a few days’ growth, leaving this observer to wonder if it is just a beginning beard or the bristly owner is too lazy to shave. As grandma used to ask, “Did you lose your razor?”

Daily shaving was the norm until after the Second World War. Then came the Beatniks and Hippies and facial fur was back in fashion.

Pogonophobia is alive and well. Roald Dahl, ace fighter pilot turned successful novelist and children’s short story writer, wanted to “do something against beards” because he hated them. So, he wrote The Twits in 1980. It opens with, “What a lot of hairy-faced men there are around nowadays!” Mr. Twit believes his beard, imbedded with bits of past meals, makes him appear “wise and grand” but everyone else sees him as a twit.

Beards have been, and still are, used to show political or religious affiliation and historically have been associated with wisdom, authority and strength – think Sophocles, Leonardo da Vinci, Edward Teach (Blackbeard), Charles Darwin and the Wizard Gandalf.

Currently, rapper Drake, Prince Harry, hockey player Joe Thornton and even cartoon character Yosemite Sam all sport beards. But not many politicians do so. Justin Trudeau once sported facial hair but not now. And Tom Mulcair and Jagmeet Singh, both NDP members, have beards. Hmmm. Sir John A. Macdonald did not have a beard back when they were fashionable. (Shall we hold that against him too?) In the recent Ottawa municipal election, many candidates had facial hair but only one fully-bearded candidate won elected office: Shawn Menard for Capital Ward. Some other winners have some facial hair. But moustaches are a whole other hair-raising display for comment another month.

Mens short beards

Facial hair is often grown to compensate for a bald pate as an “if it won’t grow on top of my head I’ll grow it out front” rationale. Many other guys claim their beard makes them look older and hides their baby face. They need not bother with that explanation. Most often it hides their sagging jowls and double chins. Women cannot avail themselves of this hirsute camouflage.

Then there is the argument that beards keep the face snuggly warm in winter and protect it from cancer-causing UV rays in summer. A scarf and sunscreen will also get the job done. Then there is the “I grow a beard because I can” statement. Yes, you can, but should you?

Even the Canadian Forces is going pro-beard and not just the navy. In a bid to attract recruits and improve morale, they recently announced that personnel in all branches will be allowed to have beards after they complete initial training. The facial hair cannot be “shaggy hipster style,” must be neatly trimmed and “shall not exceed two centimetres in bulk” with both neck and cheekbones shaved. It would seem a lot simpler just to shave the whole thing off.

Obviously, I am not a fan of this current pogonophilia trend, but not a raging pogonophobic either. Some men do look good in a beard. However, keep it neat guys, and spare me the Karl Marx look.

L.D. Cross is an Ottawa writer whose spouse is clean-shaven.

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