To beard or not to beard, that is the question

Is facial growth still cool or are we just a whisker away from reaching peak beard?

"Hipster” used to be a term for a specific social group; men and women in their teens and twenties, obsessive trend-watchers with an appetite for counter-culture, progressive politics and the obscure. Through the passage of a decade or so, the public’s perception of the male hipster has been contorted into a negative cultural stereotype of a shiftless, superficial millennial obsessed with his personal appearance – specifically, his beard.

The beard has never been so on-trend. It is perceived by many wearers to be more flattering than what lies beneath. “I have a beard because I think I look better with it than without,” says Kerry musician Ross Brassil, who sports impressively long red bristles that are 18 months in the making. “The hipster thing bugs me a bit, as I am not one. I’m not cool enough for that, but often get labelled [as one].”

Writer Dave Rudden happened upon his (also impressively red) beard. “I started growing it in my first year of college to look theatrically haggard for a role in a play, and then realised I looked much better with it. Never shaving again.”

Beards have historically – in the last century or so at least – been emblematic of the politically and socially unkempt: think hippies, bikers, beatniks and metalheads. But a turning point has been reached, and the beard is in danger of being hopelessly oversubscribed. Barbers are reporting a constant upward surge in beard trims, and beard care companies are selling oils and washes at a steadily accelerating rate.

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The male fashion cognoscenti are conspicuously sporting facial topiary. Fashion buyer and street style star Justin O’Shea is recognisable by his beard as well as his impeccable suits, while fashion director Nick Wooster has a meticulously maintained white beard that is just that little bit too long to be considered stubble.

Film stars such as Tom Hardy, Michael Fassbender and Jamie Dornan are beard chameleons, changing shape and length like their female counterparts do with hairstyles. When rugby player Gordon D'Arcy shaved his beard, he had to update his Twitter profile to reflect the change.

Beard care involves a considerable amount of due diligence. “It takes a bit to maintain,” says Brassil. “I have special shampoo-conditioner that I use once a week, but the rest of the week I have this organic beard wash that I use. After a shower I towel dry it, put some beard oil in and brush it. And to finish I put some wax in my moustache to keep it out of my mouth and give it a bit of style. I also go to a barber every two months or so to get rid of split ends and tidy it up.”

That seems like a lot of upkeep? “I suppose I’ve got no hair, so it balances out.”

The big draw for the May bank holiday Festival of Finn in Corofin, Co Clare is the All-Ireland Beard and Moustache Competition, which is now in its third year and has an eye on eventually linking up with the World Beard and Moustache Championships. It draws a diverse spread of entrants from all corners of the country. There are six championship competition categories, with the All-Ireland Champion winner crowned in Corofin.

But are we approaching peak beard, with every office, playing field and pub stuffed to the gills with the selectively hirsute? After all, something that provokes extreme love will also provoke hatred. There are those who would have the beard disappear. But those people will have to wait a little longer than they would like, because these beards are not for shaving.

  • The All-Ireland Beard Competition takes places at the Festival of Finn, Corofin, Co Clare, on May 2nd. festivaloffinn.com