I admit: I have a beard because I am lazy. Some people do it because it makes them feel more masculine or gives their face more definition. I just hate to shave.
The current hip term for good-looking guys with beards is “Lumbersexual.” I am not a Lumbersexual. What I am is lucky I have a wife, because I look like Robin Williams in “Jumanji,” and that does not get you dates.
But there is no denying the beard is in. Everywhere you look, some new beard-centric storefront or website is opening up, a celebrity is sporting a new lumberjack look, or some weekly rag is pumping out a new story about how great beards are. In fact, judging from the posts featured on the average person’s Facebook page, I am certain that whoever wishes to beat Hillary Clinton in the next presidential election need only grow a beard, weave bacon into it, and he or she will receive 100 percent of the American voting support.
The appeal may be more than just the world’s newfound love of memes. In fact, there is at least circumstantial evidence that we are hardwired to like beards.
In a 2008 study by Northumbria University, researchers took photographs of clean-shaven men and gave them varying amounts of facial hair via the magic of Photoshop. The manipulated photos were then shown to a group of 60 women. In every instance, the men with more facial hair were given higher ratings in masculinity and dominance, with the longer beards increasing the perceived levels of manliness.
“I love a bearded man,” said Des Moines hair stylist Brianne Cummins. “I’ve always had a kind of lumberjack fetish. There’s just something about a beard that looks right.”
Cummins is not alone. Biologically, studies suggest that beards translate into the perception of better health, increased levels of aggression and dominant behavior, and a more protective personality. In short, men with beards push all the biological buttons that women have looked for in mates for centuries.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s groomed or not,” Cummins continued. “Trimmed, ZZ Top, whatever. I love it all.”
Cummins recently became engaged, and you can bet that her betrothed comes equipped with a beard.
“I’ve seen pictures of him without it, and I don’t even recognize him,” she said. “Of course I’d love him either way, but I definitely prefer it.”
But man’s propensity toward beards is not all about getting laid. In a 2009 study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, Dr. Caroline Blanchard hypothesized that a man’s beard can even operate as a defensive shield, similar to a lion’s mane, and actually protect us from blunt force attacks to the head and neck. Indeed, when the heavily-bearded fighter Kimbo Slice joined the ranks of Mixed Martial Arts, there was much debate centering around whether his facial hair provided a tactical advantage against punches. Beards are officially banned by the International Boxing Association, though the exact reason is left unstated.
But come on.
Even if all of that is true — and there is only superficial evidence in either direction — that can not explain why there are so many beards out there, can it? It is not like every dude who grows a beard gives himself a satisfied look in the mirror and thinks, “Good. Now I will be sufficiently protected in hand-to-hand combat.”
So I set out to find out a little bit more about beard culture here in the capital city. To speak to a few men who love their beards and women who love their bearded men. To get to the bottom of why so many of us fellows walk around unshaven. I mean, we can’t all just be lazy, right?
Chad Willey, president, Bearded Brethren Facial Hair Club
“I just got lazy.”
I’m sitting in Smokey Row with Chad Willey, Dallas Gamble, Andrew Leroy and Jonathan Croce, four of the five men who make up the Leadership Committee for Des Moines’ Bearded Brethren Facial Hair Club. The club was founded in 2010 by a then-Des Moines resident named Patrick Davis, with Willey being one of the club’s early members. Eventually, Davis moved out of state, and Willey stepped up to take on the mantle of president and keep the club going.
“It was started as just a fun social group for people with facial hair,” Willey explained. “We did a few meetings here and there, then (member Greg Waldrop and I) decided that we wanted to make it more community-based. We couldn’t do that alone, so we brought in Dallas, John and Andrew to help make up the Leadership Committee.”
The reason for the meeting this day at Smokey Row is to discuss the Bearded Brethren’s latest project: a fundraiser for one of their members. Des Moines resident Brett Lovelady’s son, Koby, was recently diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, and the Brethren are putting together an event to raise money for his care. A fund raiser has been set up on www.youcaring.com, and if they can pull in $2,500 by April 12, Bearded Brethren members have volunteered to shave in the name of charity.
Willey hopes to have more community-minded events like this in the coming months. He envisions the Bearded Brethren as being a way for men in the community to be social, gather around a mutual interest, and maybe do a little good locally.
But, yes, his own beard came about because he is lazy.
“I got tired of shaving,” he reiterated. “I shaved in October, and I’ll never do it again. I think shaving is a crock of shit. Not shaving is the way a person should be, but society has shunned people from growing beards for the longest time. You know it’s been 122 years since we had a bearded president? Since then, it’s all been baby-faced.”
At the moment, the Bearded Brethren are small. The group’s Facebook Page has nearly 1,200 likes, but lists only 36 official members. However, applications are being taken.
“There are some stipulations that you have to go through,” Willey explained. “To be a Bearded Brethren, you have to have an actual, full beard.”
For those with just mustaches and muttonchops, there is a secondary “Facial Hair Club,” but the Brethren are few in number, and photographic proof of facial coverage is required.
“Dallas is going to be the guy who actually investigates everyone to see if they fit in,” Willey continued. “And we’re not allowing chin strap (beards). That’s just ridiculous.”
How good is your beard?
There is a schism among beard wearers, and it has nothing to do with style. Rather, there is a healthy debate raging around how, exactly, one should groom a beard.
Virtually everyone who has a beard performs at least basic maintenance on it: combing, trimming and washing it in the shower. But the big question among Des Moines’ bearded is: to oil or not to oil?
“There’s a line in the sand between guys who use product in their beards and guys who don’t,” Willey said. “They fight back and forth about who’s manlier.”
Those who do use a beard oil or pomade in their beards say that it makes the hair easier to comb, softer to touch, and more pleasant to be close to. Those who use nothing in their beards say that anything other than a man’s natural body scent is just window dressing.
The debate will rage on, but for those in Des Moines who choose to oil their beards, they increasingly turn to one man: Dan Good.
Good, an Urbandale resident and former Army MP, started growing his beard in 2013 after his discharge from the Army. His wife was not fully on board to begin with but was willing to give the beard a chance.
“My wife was a strictly a 5 o’clock shadow lady,” Good said. “As it’s grown, she’s gotten used to it, but her big thing was that she didn’t want to be scratched. She didn’t like the texture, and she didn’t like the smell. Because, by the end of the day, your hair starts to kind of smell like whatever you’ve been doing for the day. So I started using beard oil, because then your beard can smell however you want.”
He looked around town for beard care supplies but couldn’t find anyplace locally that carried the products he was looking for.
“One of the biggest problems that I found was that the products I could find were all online, and I couldn’t smell them or sample them,” he explained. “It’s hard to pay $30 for something that you might not ever use because you don’t like the smell.”
So, after doing some research, he started making homemade oils in his house for himself and a couple of friends. As word got out and demand started to increase, he officially launched GoodBeards Beard Oil last September. He now sells beard balm, homemade soap, and beard oils in four different scents.
“It was a lot of trial and error,” he says of creating his oils. “What you’re looking for is a blend of oils. So it was a lot of research into carrier oils and oils exclusively for scents and mixing.”
“I like to think of it as an all natural skin and hair conditioner,” he continued. “My wife uses it after showers. I know one of my customers uses it on his eczema. It’s the same concept as a baby oil.”
As for his own beard, Good says he originally grew it for the same reason that a lot of ex-military men grow theirs: because they suddenly can. After years of being told exactly how to look, a beard is usually the first and fastest way of reclaiming a bit of control over your own identity. Now, Good says he can’t imagine his face without it.
“I like the way it makes me feel, the way it makes me look,” he said. “Because of my PTSD, I get uncomfortable in public. So throughout the day, I’ll find myself just stroking my beard. I love my beard now.”
The debate rages on
The concept of style is an ever-changing thing, and beards are not immune. Large sideburns saw their last big wave of popularity in the 1860s. Since then, full beards, lone mustaches, chin straps, soul patches and goatees have all seen their stars rise and fall throughout the decades. Outside of basic fashion, social acceptance has come and gone as well. In the 1960s, beards were generally associated with lazy, shiftless non-conformers and frowned upon. Since then, there’s been a gradual easing of the social norms, with beards maintaining a fairly high level of popularity for the past 20 years, though the past five seem have brought the concept to critical mass.
Still, trying to get a grasp on society’s perception of beards can be a difficult task. As previously mentioned, sociological studies have shown beards to be accepted as signs of strength and dominance, but a 2008 study showed that Human Resources executives still preferred to hire candidates with clean shaves. Additionally, as Willey pointed out, while men with beards may be anecdotally perceived as being better leaders — and even though the state of Iowa has clearly shown that we are perfectly comfortable with a mustache in power — the United States has not elected a bearded man to the Presidency since the end of the 19th century.
So in the end, the proliferation of beards may actually come down to the two most basic of male desires: sex and lethargy. Of the two, it is a safe bet that the latter desire is not going anywhere. I know I will never want to stop being lazy. And so, just as the success of VHS tapes over Betamax in the 1980s was driven by the porn industry, whether or not beards flourish through the land may come down to how much the ladies like it. And while women like Cummins (and my own wife) will never go away, their numbers are always flexible. An article published by Huffington Post in December 2014 cited a Cambridge University study saying that clean-shaven men are becoming more attractive, due in large part to scarcity.
Come on, guys. Grow it. CV
Just like there is more than one way to skin a cat, there is more than one way to wear your beard. The question is, what’s the best option? Well, that depends on what you’re going for.
The Chin Curtain: Hair that runs along the jawline and is left long enough to hang freely below the chin, like a curtain hangs from a rod. Upkeep is both minimal and optional.
Where you’ve seen it: Abraham Lincoln, hipsters.
The Chin Strap: Similar to the chin curtain, but much thinner, closer to the jawline and usually highly cultivated and manicured. Mustache optional.
Where you’ve seen it: Literally every douchebag you know.
Friendly Mutton Chops: A pair of mutton chop sideburns, connected by a mustache. Trimming optional. I have no idea why the mustache suddenly makes the chops friendly.
Where you’ve seen it: Motorhead bassist Lemmy Kilmister; people who won’t shut up about “Sons of Anarchy.”
The Van Dyke/Goatee: Some people will say these are the same thing. Those people are fools. Chin + Lip = Van Dyke; Chin alone = Goatee.
Where you’ve seen them: 1996.
Full Beard: About as basic as it gets. It’s the hallmark of the lazy man. Length, thickness and level of upkeep are all completely optional, though too much shaping can push you into “I can’t go near schools anymore” territory.
Where you’ve seen it: Everywhere. CV