Over-groomed metrosexuals are over as the razor-sharp - think Pitt, Gosling, Gyllenhaal - come over a bit barb-arian. Ahmed Zambarakji on how to grow the perfect beard
There are two aesthetic overhauls every man contemplates at least once in his life: shaving his head and/or growing a beard (sometimes they come as a combo). Both come with pitfalls and yet the latter appears to be the grooming statement du jour with a slew of A-listers (Pitt, Crowe, Gosling, Gyllenhaal et al) and many a Shoreditch fool sporting facial fuzz. The trend is even more prevalent in November, or rather Movember as it has been rechristened, the month during which men are encouraged to 'tache up to raise awareness of prostate cancer.
Beards are an international symbol of total defiance, a refusal to conform to society’s endless list of expectations and announce, as author Allan Peterkin points out in his book One Thousand Beards: A Cultural History of Facial Hair, that you’re “no corporate slave”. Growing a beard is an inherently rebellious act, one that continues to elicit a fair amount of suspicion because it functions as a mask of sorts. A bit of facial hair can hide emotion more effectively than any lie: that trembling upper lip – a reflex reaction to fear – can be completely concealed. Equally, a wry smile can go unnoticed. They’re a cunning way to keep everyone around beardy folk on edge.
However, with today’s flexible definitions of masculinity, a full-blown barb is less about sticking it to The Man and more about protesting the over-groomed "metrosexual" look of yesteryear (see "guyliner", men with dodgy highlights, general peacockery etc). In short, a beard is an easy way for men to reclaim their masculinity, to echo the cavemen and lumberjacks that came before them… but without having to get their hands dirty.
On an aesthetic level, beards are also a very handy way of hiding the jowly signs of age and an unforgiving gene pool. A small amount of growth can magically hide less-than-perfect features while a clean line following the jaw can instantly split a double chin in two. Conversely, baby faces such as DiCaprio and Beckham can add years by growing a bit of fuzz (provided they’re capable of doing so, obviously).
It is the shape of a guy’s growth, however, that will define him. The difference between an all-out chin strap and a short boxed beard will determine whether a man is mistaken for an Orthodox Jew, terrorist or indie rock god. Allan Peterkin notices that men generally tend to fall into one of two categories when they grow facial hair: “It’s either Santa or satanic. A lot depends on the cultural interpretations of facial hair, which flip flops from generation to generation.”
Indeed every Machiavellian anti-hero or barbarian (geddit?) in history is documented with some form of facial hair from Attila the Hun and Lenin to bin Laden. And, since the last thing you want is for your man to be mistaken for an Evil Underlord or a terrorist, it’s of tantamount importance that a gentleman obeys some hard and fast rules when it comes to grooming his barb. He can’t just sit back and let his follicles do the work – growing the perfect beard requires just as much attention and time as clean shaving.
Hair should never hang over the upper lip or grow below the neckline and therefore requires the regular attention of a wet razor or a dedicated trimmer for angling. A visit to the barbershop is essential, as is a regular shampoo and conditioner. Our tried-and-tested tools for beard sculpting are listed below. Failure to use them will just make a guy look homeless.
Fusion ProGlide Styler by Gillette, £20, www.gillette.com (good for goatees)
Styleshaver Pro by Philips, £100, www.philips.co.uk
Shaveworks The Cool Fix Ingrown Hair Treatment, £20, www.mankind.co.uk
Beard Lube Conditioning Shave by Jack Black, £18, www.mankind.co.uk
Dude No1 All-Natural Beard Oil by MCMC Fragrances, £50, www.carterandbond.co.uk (great for softening bristly or itchy beards… alternatively use a leave-in conditioner)
Walnut Complexion Scrub by Ole Henriksen, £26, www.feelunique.com (a super-dense mechanical exfoliant, ideal for releasing stubborn in-grown hairs)
Ultra Beard Shampoo by Beardsley, £18, www.carterandbond.co.uk
The Shaving Kit (Luxury Shaving Brush & Razor Set) by Molton Brown, £195, www.moltonbrown.co.uk
Gillette has opened The Best a Mo Can Get barbers on 10 Newburgh Street, London W1. The pop-up shop will be open seven days a week throughout the month, offering free tache touch-ups to participating Mo Bros.