The big, bushy beard is back in a big, bushy way.
The three-day stubble, the elegant goatee, the humble moustache, the soul patch (think Howie Mandel) have all been replaced with creations that would not be out of place among the members of ZZ Top, or on the set of a Ned Kelly movie, or perhaps even among a gathering of Chassidic Jews or devout Muslims.
This is not “I’ve forgotten to shave for the last week”, this is throwing out the razor for the year.
Just this week, standing on the train platform, was a young man with a neatly combed head of hair, below which he wore a black beard in the shape and thickness of a straw broom. As the wind picked up and the train approached I thought his beard might actually drag him off his feet.
Other beards are so long, they risk tripping up their owner, some so deep they might hide an illegal stash of drugs or a small mammal or bird.
I am seeing these enormous hair explosions everywhere, on the ‘suits’ that take the train into work, on latte-sipping hipsters perched on cafe stools, on baristas and on fashion designers. They’re peering back at me from album covers and magazine covers, and on the footie, rugby and soccer highlights. They’re flowing out of bicycle helmets and motorcycle helmets and waving out of the windows of utes and station wagons.
These facial fiascos seem especially popular among young twenty-something blokes, who seem intent on making themselves look they’re ready to receive a government pension (Even my sixty-something father-in-law shaves his wildman beard off after a few months in the bush).
Girls say no
I’ve done my research – girls don’t find these hairy adornments appealing or sexy. None of them are keen on getting up close and personal with a man that has the equivalent of a German Shepard’s tail attached to their chin.
Growing up Jewish, I always associated beard with learned and slightly fearsome rabbis. They would grow long, pointy ones, or if they were elderly – grey and white things that also sprouted out from ears and nose. But this wasn’t fashion, this was piety (or so I was told).
But beards are now being used to sell men’s clothing: here’s the lumberjack look, courtesy of Apparel Clothing
Hollywood has certainly played it’s part – George Clooney, Ben Affleck, Jake Gyllenhaal have all grown beards of various lengths at one time or another, but nothing like the enormous facial explosions that are being dragged around town these days.
Earlier this year, Fairfax journalist John Bailey interviewed barbers and male groomers about the rising popularity of beards. There explanations were as varied as they were creative: a movement against shaving, to create an edgy look, non-conformity, to show dedication, to show maturity.
Some claim that a beard shows a rejection of the instant gratification “me generation” hooked on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Beards take time and commitment to grow.
But, really, let’s be honest, the big beard is just a fashion statement gone wrong. Looking like a hillbilly, yokel, rabbi, wise old man or dodgy criminal is not very cool, unless you really are one.
Thankfully, it seems the fad has peaked and is in decline.
Research carried out by the University of NSW of the reactions to beards found that they had reached their saturation point – in short, what may have seemed for a time cool and edgy is now mainstream, boring, and uncool.
If you’ve grown a big beard to look cool, hip or even rebellious, it’s time to shave it off, or at least trim it to something that still shows the contours of your face.
Of course there are exceptions and I include myself, possessor of a somewhat rounded face that some have unkindly likened to a “soccer ball”.
I grew a beard and moustache at my wife’s suggestion while we went back-packing around the world in 2010 and have kept it ever since.
At its most unruly, I was mistaken – much to my amusement – as a fellow Arab while wandering around Cairo, but it never got completely out of control, it never resembled a curtain of hair.
The thing is once you’ve had a beard for a while and then you shave it off, your own clean-shaven appearance can frighten you half to death: who is this scary pink creature looking back at me?
“Give me back my hairy complexion?” you scream out, “I’m hideous”
So mine will stay long after the fad gives way to something less ridiculous.
Perhaps it will be the return of clean shaven look, as Canadian beard expert Allan Peterkin, author of One Thousand Beards: A Cultural History of Facial Hair suggested might happen in five year’s time – inspired by shows like Mad Men.
Let’s hope its a lot sooner than that.