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Beard is the New Black

January 21, 2010

Did you see the Golden Globes? I’ll confess that I didn’t, but I had it on good authority that many of Hollywood’s golden boys arrived sporting enough facial hair to put a rabbinical conference to shame. Intrigued, I investigated, and there it was. Jon Hamm, whose face is now listed in Wikipedia under “1961, handsome,” could match chinny chin chins with Andy Gibb. George Clooney, possibly the only man on the planet I would tongue kiss, apparently has a hair line that begins at his eye sockets. William Hurt is either filming another Civil War epic or trying out for a hush-hush Muppet Movie remake. The list of the handsome bearded is legion now, friends. When did this happen? When did it suddenly become à la mode to go au sauvage?

It’s fair to say that the hair that grows on our heads plays a pretty important role in most cultures. Depending on your dress (or hat) it’s almost always visible, out there, available for public scrutiny and judgment. For men and women hair length, hair style, hair color (from Senator Silver to Neo-Goth Green), are instant-read thermometers, social signifiers if you will, whether you’re letting your freak flag fly or keeping it high and tight.

How much more so the beard? Stylish scruff, whiskers, five o’clock shadow, The Unabomb (my dad’s personal choice) – they all have something to say about us. When I was a boy, nearly every man in my parents’ generation had a beard or a mustache. Their fathers, who came of age in the Depression and into their full manhood in the clean-cut 1950s were, to a man, shorn. It’s an understandable choice; if I grew up during in the 1930s I, too, would avoid any style choice that made me look more like a hobo and less like a banker.

Sometime in the 1980s styles changed and the only young men you could find who wore beards were following the Grateful Dead. (These are forgivable outliers inasmuch as they weren’t really aware which decade they were in.) When I was able to sprout my own real whiskers not one boy in my school wore more than a wispy Fu Manchu, and I’m pretty sure that kid had a Robitussin monkey on his back. Observers more astute that I have noted that the 80s were the 50s all over again, only with two-tone jeans, leggings, and oversize Frankie tee shirts. On the whole, cheeks went bare.

In the 90s, Grunge arrived and liberated young men from the razor – to some extent. My memory may be cloudy (those were wild times, children), but if I recall correctly being unshaven was pretty commonplace, but going the Full Grizz was almost unheard of. Stubble, yes. Goatee, sure. Unshorn, though, pretty much equated to unwashed. I’ll be straight with you: I grew a goatee in the 90s. I’m not proud of it, but I can’t take it back anymore than I can my Flock of Seagulls bangs from 1986.

Somewhere close to the turn of the millennium, by whichever reckoning you choose, I shaved it all off. I don’t remember my exact reasoning at the time, but if I had to reconstruct it I’d say that it had something to do with the fact that every man my age and approximate station in life had a goatee. It was also about as much of a hassle to carefully shave the cheeks and neck every morning as it was to just scrape the whole damned face. There was another feeling in the mix as well, more akin to an awakening of character. I had spent close to twenty beard-growing years in careful consideration of how other men were shaving, wondering what it meant if I was clean-shaven (or not). What was the right length for a beard? How many days could I go without shaving and still go to work? Did the goatee make me look like a douche? Was shaving clean selling out? As I approached thirty I began to draw near to that blessed, nearly paradisiacal state of Not Really Giving a Shit. At least as far as my beard went. I was still pretty concerned about what my car meant about my social status.

And now, the beard is back. I didn’t time it with the decade, though looking back I seem to have. Why did I stop shaving, again? To be honest it began largely because I was nearly unaccountable for most of the holiday season, alone at my desk while the gentiles were away on holiday, or off traveling to visit family and friends. By the time real life returned in full swing the beard was in full bloom, and frankly I couldn’t be bothered to shave it off. Aside from sheer laziness as an alibi, I’m a Jewish man of a certain age, and while wearing a beard is hardly requisite for a Jew of my exceedingly liberal extraction, my rabbi always gives me a happy grin when I show up with more than a day’s growth. In the end though, it might just be that I’ve wandered farther into the promised land of Get Stuffed, that I care even less how any passerby might assess me based on the state of my facial follicles, that I’m becoming more of who I am and less of how I groom.

Then again, looking more like George Clooney never hurt a guy much either.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 22, 2010 8:48 am

    Clooney ain’t got nothin’ on you, monkey.

    I’d like to extend the warmest of Internet welcomes to you and your beard. May you grow long and prosper!

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