What Does Your Facial Hair Say About You? A Beard Expert Weighs In
During the First World War, soldiers were required by regulation to shave, given the fact that a gas mask would not hold tight enough to the face if there was a beard in the way. Afterwards, when soldiers went home, they were clean-shaven. When World War II rolled around, the only fashionable facial hair was a little toothbrush mustache. New beard look 2016.
By the turn of the 21st century, full beards were generally only associated with people we didn’t encounter every day such as biker guys and mountain men. Yet by the mid 2000s, the full beard became fashionable once again.
I live in Brooklyn, New York. All things considered, it must be one of the capitals of strange and/or extravagant facial hair styles in the world. If there is a place with more lumbersexuals out there, I have yet to find it. Facial hair is currently in vogue. From the lumberjack beard to the waxed and exaggerated mustache with the curling tips, we’ve come to see a lot of styles as normal that we would have been, well, maybe not shocked but at least surprised by 5-10 years ago. People are even learning how to groom their facial hair properly, shaping their beards to the geometry of their heads.
That being said, all trends at some time must fade. When we make a stylistic choice with our facial hair, we are exhibiting aspects of our personality. We are choosing to accentuate some part of ourselves over another. With this in mind, I spoke with noted beard expert (yes, that’s a thing) Allan Peterkin, on everything from what your facial hair says about you to more general style and self-grooming tips.
To give you an idea of why you should trust him, just know that Peterkin is a Toronto-based physician, author and university professor, having published 14 books, including The Bearded Gentleman: A Style Guide to Shaving Face and One Thousand Beards, A Cultural History of Facial Hair. He has also consulted extensively for grooming industry giants, including Dove Men+Care (Unilever), Braun, Philips and Wahl. Finally, he's also had the pleasure of judging the World Beard and Moustache Championships — twice, in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Portland, Oregon (October, 2014).
Basically, this guy is legit.
Beard styles and trimming
Peterkin began our conversation by telling me that the thing about facial hair today is that a man is free to make personal statements with his look. This differs from the past, where beards and other styles of facial hair were dictated by various authority figures such as kings, politicians, or clergymen. Styles indicated your social status or religious alliances. “Post-modern facial hair is generally playful, rebellious and sexy but you can't know what a man is actually intending/expressing unless you ask him his own associations to his furry growth,” he said. “And other folks read your face based on their own associations. I might see Santa when you see Satan!”
What I was really curious about was taking the idea that we represent ourselves through our facial hair choices, and seeing what, exactly, our facial hair communicates about us. So let’s get to it.
This is a look we all know, and one that seems to have made a comeback the last few years. So what does it say? “Typically a free spirit,” Peterkin told me, “who doesn't care if you read his stache as dodgy or sexually ambiguous (due to swinger/porn star/fop/gay/bi associations since the 1970's). Expects his MO to be a conversation starter.”
This one has some roots in the past, according to Peterkin. By and large, people will generally think you’re Amish or a Trekkie, so if that’s the look you want, go for it. Peterkin did make sure to emphasize, though, that this was “not a winning look for most men who are not in those groups.”
“Well-kept stubble is the look that works best on almost any male face and is the most popular style with men (and women) nowadays,” Peterkin said. I can’t disagree, and it’s not at all because that’s generally what I go with.
The full beard
Ah yes, a popular sight around Brooklyn. Once solely for lumberjacks or men of the wilderness, this look has come back with a vengeance. According to Peterkin, our association with it nowadays tends to be a hipster, professor, or mountain-man. I’m not sure that gives you a specific vibe you’re giving off, but it’s definitely quite popular at the moment.
“This was the most popular style when this cycle of facial hair growth hit in the mid-1990's,” Peterkin told me. It “was done to death worldwide back then, but is still popular with rural guys and country and westerners.” Let’s not forget Brad Pitt as well.
The neck beard
Now, some of you may not be familiar with this one… but it’s exactly what it sounds like. “Not a great look — a bit too hairy for most,” said Peterkin. “But bravo to the guy who can carry it off!” I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who could, to be honest, but there is always hope!
Peterkin told me that, historically, facial hair style was generally cyclical and that we are currently about 20 years into our current fashionable cycle of beard growth. He thinks we are headed back to a clean-shaven look being the more popular look within the next five years. That being said, he does think stubble will stick around, largely because it looks really good if maintained well.
There was one thing I couldn’t end our conversation without asking, though, and that was what was the weirdest question he had ever received as a beard expert. He didn’t disappoint. He told me it was, “Does the length and growth density of a guy's beard predict penis size and/or virility?” That being said, he was quick to follow up that the answer was a definitive no, although guys definitely can get beard envy.
Full beard shapes
As Peterkin noted in One Thousand Beards: A Cultural History of Facial Hair, early cave paintings have shown humans from the Stone Age plucking out facial hair with sea shells, which means that the decision to grow or not grow a beard may be as old as human society itself. According to him, going for that clean-shaven look seems to be the next trend on the horizon.
That being said, in 1972, the venerable Dr. Herbert Mescon, who at the time was a professor and chairman of the Department of Dermatology at Boston University School of Medicine, told The Spartanburg Herald that your average Joe will more than likely spend about 3,350 hours of his life shaving to keep that clean shaven look. Just to be clear, that’s the equivalent of 139 days. So get ready to carve some time out of your schedule, because if you want to stay on top of this style, you’ll need it.