When I decided to grow out my beard in the summer of 2011, I had only a little idea of the phenomenon I was becoming a part of. I’d had some sort of facial hair since college, but the first hint of a midlife crisis made me wonder what a bigger, fuller beard would be like. So, besides finding a new job, a trip to India, and starting a family, I put my razors away.
What I quickly learned was that there are people with some facial hair, and those with serious beards. People started making comments about my beard right away: some supportive, some skeptical. But what I learned even sooner was that I was not alone.
In fact, beards and mustaches have been rising in public opinion ever since the nineties, but they’ve really taken off in the last five years. And as more men grow beards, their reputation has changed as well. No longer is a full beard and mustache only for lumberjacks and vagrants. Facial hair has truly become the realm of the stylish.
As I embarked as a bearded entrepreneur, I noticed this phenomenon even more. I’m a city dweller who wants to look good, and I knew my beard could fit that lifestyle, but I was surprised by how much support and interest I received, both from people I knew and changing trends.
Since I started my company, Beardbrand, in 2012, to provide stylish grooming products and accessories for what I call the “urban beards-man,” times have changed even more. Major corporation Gillette has engineered the Gillette Fusion ProGlide Beard Trimmer and Styler, specifically for those who want tailored and sophisticated facial hair. Although those seeking truly full beards will discard trimmers altogether, this major release specifically for facial hair goes to show how it’s risen in the world.
And, of course, beards becoming “fashionable” does nothing to change their status as a statement of masculinity. In fact, this is one of the best things about urban beards-men: they can be fashion-forward without losing their manly sexy appeal. This is what my wife tells me, at least, but we could also point to British model Ricki Hall, who has become an icon of big-bearded manliness. Sporting a dark, long beard and over a hundred tattoos, Hall’s popularity in campaigns and with female fans on the Internet should be an encouragement to any potential beardsman.
Hall has called the look “a weapon of a beard” and says that the look has helped him to book jobs, adding exponentially to his visibility. In fact, he attributes much of his female attention on social media to the beard itself, setting him apart from other models and celebrities.
While Hall’s full beard may represent the rising niche culture of fashionable facial hair, beards have made their way into the mainstream as well, which can only help the cause of the urban beards-man. Actors and other celebrities who were consistently completely-shaven have begun wearing beards regularly. Character actors like Zach Galifianakis sporting beards may not be big news, but the look has made its way to the top names.
Movie star and director Ben Affleck showed off his beard while accepting the Best Picture award for Argo at the 2013 Academy Awards. George Clooney wore a fuller salt and pepper beard and mustache to the same event, and Jake Gyllenhaal has worn one off and on for over a year. Scruff has been popular for several years with a wide variety of stars, but these big names wearing serious beards makes a big statement about the popularity of the style.
Online publications like Esquire and GQ have run features about imitating the facial hair styles of stars, from the slight stubble of Ryan Gosling to the chutzpah-required commitment of a Galifianakis. And while I’m not exactly out to become just like actors, it doesn’t hurt to have some media support behind me and the rest of the bearded strong.
Of course, one of the biggest engines fueling the beard revolution is the urban scene going on in places like Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, and especially Brooklyn. In these stylish cities, cutting-edge beards worn with tailored suits, bow ties, and the occasional fixed-gear bicycle have become the norm. While this, too, is a niche community, it’s these cities that influence trends for the country. They’re the cities our movies are set in, and they have representatives in the worlds of music and buzzed-about TV.
A recent article in the New York Times about Williamsburg, currently the most famous and trendy neighborhood in Brooklyn, featured its author trying to integrate into the particular world of the borough. When he walks down Bedford Avenue, its central street, he describes the population as “a veritable ocean of beard.” This is only one neighborhood, I know, but it’s become so famous that its trends are now nationwide. While I could take or leave lumpy plaid sweaters, beards are here to stay.
Google Trends, which tracks “hot searches” to see what’s popular on the Internet, reports that searches for beards reached an all-time high in March 2013, after skyrocketing in 2012. This spike isn’t restricted to trendy cities, either: the searches at least are sweeping the nation, and beards are sure to follow.
What has this meant for me? Well, I grew out my first serious beard for a year, party to make a statement and partly to see if I could. Though I’m not growing it out anymore, It’s still a pretty big beast. I get to make a living making beards better, with everything from mustache combs to woodsy-scented beard oil. This also means it’s my job to spread the word about the magic of the bearded lifestyle, whether bow tie-adjacent, Oscar-winning, lady- or man-killing sexy statement, or otherwise.