Seán Moncrieff: Beard-wearers have too much time on their hands
Perhaps the popularity of facial hair is hiding a little male nervousness
Having a beard seems to involve a lot of hassle for relatively little pay-off. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto
For some years, style journalists have been speculating that that the beard is finished. Fads like this usually last a year or two, and given that the fashion for face fur has been around for a decade, it’s bound to die off sooner or later.
Not so far though.
The same journalists, by the way, have all penned articles along the lines of “what’s really behind the beard craze”, which singularly fail to explain what’s really behind the beard craze.
All they can say is that it started with hipsters and seems to be of a piece with wearing tweed and listening to vinyl. If the look is pulled off correctly, it projects the vague impression that the wearer is a poet or something creative; that they eschew materialism and spend a lot of time hugging trees; even though they would be manly enough to chop them down.
I have neglected to shave for long periods of time. But this seems to make me look troubled or ill
When it doesn’t work, it’s often because the hair doesn’t grow evenly around the chin. It resembles a fungal infection. Or it’s unruly, making it look like the grower is just back from an Islamic State training camp or is a member of a Dubliners tribute band. Or they look like a 12-year-old trying to grow a beard.
Full disclosure: never had a beard. Never wanted one. On occasion, out of laziness, I have neglected to shave for long periods of time. But this seems to make me look troubled or ill. When I’m unshaven people keep asking me: what’s wrong?
I did do the Movember thing once and it was horrible. It felt like I had sandpaper welded to my upper lip, while I also discovered that my beard hair is ginger. It looked like a bad disguise. People kept pointing at me and saying: I know it’s you under that! What’s wrong?
Having a beard seems to involve a lot of hassle for relatively little pay-off. It makes me suspect that beard-wearers have far too much time on their hands – especially the ones with the twirly moustaches who look like baddies from the old Batman TV series. Or they are hiding something.
They often are. Pro-beard propaganda websites claim a beard will conceal a weak chin, poor skin and excessive youth, that it will protect against gum disease; counterintuitive, given the huge possibility for crumb retention. You could have a disassembled pizza stuck in your facial hair for months.
Financially emasculated men grew beards to compensate
But the number one reason given is that the beard is loved by the “Laydeez”. Apparently you girlies go wild for bear-wrestling masculinity that facial hair implies. Being kissed by men with beards may be another matter. I have no research on this, other than anecdotes, and I’m told it’s like snogging a yard brush.
But it would be reductive and unfair to say men grow beards just to boost their mating chances. Like any other gender, they do it to feel good about themselves. But this need may grow or shrink depending on the tenor of the times.
Some studies claim a link between the rise of the beard and the economic crash of 2008. Financially emasculated men grew beards to compensate. Similarly, studies in Britain have found an interesting correlation in historic beard growth. Beards were significantly more popular during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II: all women.
Beards came back into fashion during the suffragette movement, again during the sexual revolution of the 1960s and they remain popular in the era of #MeToo. Perhaps the beard is hiding a little male nervousness.
Okay, calm down. This doesn’t mean men with beards are automatically insecure or sexist (though one US study claimed exactly that) or that in some future feminist dystopia, the beard will be banned. It could happen. You could have unshaven men protesting, chanting My Body, My Choice.