I was a bit of a late starter when it came to facial hair. In fact I was over 30 before I had to start shaving more than once in a blue moon. I was actually quite upset by the sudden onset of face fuzz if I’m honest. It seemed like a definitive end to my years of folly and fresh faced youth. If the twin responsibilities of a new baby and a mortgage weren’t enough, I suddenly had to start scraping hair from my chin on a daily basis. It all seemed decidedly unfair at the time.
Like most men, I’ve always wondered what I would look like with a full beard, but I have to confess that I’ve never managed more than five days of full growth before slicing it all off. This is partly because I can’t stand the infernal itching but mainly because my wife would don an electrified chastity belt and start wielding a cattle prod if I ever approached her with a face full of hair.
I have to admit that I understand her feeling in this matter. Back in my younger days of sexual experimentation, when I happily took partners from both sexes, I was never keen on beards myself. I recall one snog with a particularly bearded bloke that felt like a hemorrhoidal Wookie was using my face as a relief cushion. So I must confess, from the get go, that I’m no expert on the subject of beards, and I’m an even stranger candidate to write a defence of them. Even still, I’m going to try.
Back in 2003, while writing an article for a dance music mag I stumbled across an odd statistic. At the time facial hair wasn’t very common in the UK (or indeed the rest of the world). The statistic claimed that of the 100,000 or so men that sported full grown beards at the time, 70% of them didn’t have a girlfriend. What’s more, 90% of those 70% without girlfriends, had never had a girlfriend in their lives. So back in 2003 growing a beard was basically a declaration of celibacy. It was like admitting that you were never going to get within ten feet of a real woman so you might as well just stop shaving and washing your armpits and develop an addiction to World of Warcraft instead. What a far cry that seems from today.
Over a decade later, walking down the high street as a clean shaven man, is like strolling through a nudist camp with a three piece suit on. It seems that just about every bloke is mothballing his razor and reaching for the moustache wax. Although this is perhaps the most unforeseen developments in facial fashion, I’ve come to believe that it is in fact the most important in a generation.
Before I explain why I believe this, I’m going to pause for a moment to discuss generation gaps. When I was a tiny toddler, I saw men my father’s age tell the last of the dwindling hippies to “get their f***ing hair cut!” A few years later as a six year old boy I witnessed the seismic effect that Punk had on my parent’s and grandparent’s generations. So I, like many people my age, grew up expecting that each new generation would outrage the previous one with its music and fashions.
I was part of the chemical generation, who took PacMan as our role model and spent weekends chasing lines of pills down darkened club corridors that throbbed with an endless electronic beat. This was a significant, and welcome, release for those of us who came of age at the end of the 80s. We felt as though we’d grown up our whole lives being told about what an amazing party everyone had in the 60s and 70s. How there was nothing but free love and mind blowing drugs. Then, when we’re finally old enough to join in, we turn up at the venue to find the whole place has been boarded up and plastered with posters of Nancy Regan telling us to “Just Say NO!” and that we’re all going to die of AIDS and ignorance if we ever have sex.
So when the original rave scene suddenly hit, it felt like a return to what we’d all been promised. This was a whole new movement that was uniquely ours. We had our own new drugs and a musical sound that had never been heard before. We moved from public phone box to public phone box, along motorways strewn with police cars, staying one step ahead of the lawmen so we could dance in the dawn to an illegal sound system in a field in Dorset. We were the first generation in the Western World to have our whole cultured outlawed when the British Government brought in the Criminal Justice Bill of 1994.
When we finally got old enough to have receding hairlines and advancing waistlines, we never expected to be let down by the subsequent generation. We thought they’d have shocking new hairstyles and fashions. Instead we see that comb-overs are now fashionable for young men without bald patches and this year’s head gear is the sort of woolly hat that was once worn solely by mentally challenged soap opera characters like Benny from Crossroads. Instead of a new musical culture, everyone’s into endless rehashes of Opportunity Knocks and Come Dancing, programmes that were so naff in the 70s and 80s not even your Gran would admit to liking them.
I’m not saying my generation are without fashion blunders that will haunt us for the rest of our lives. We wore clothes so baggy you could rent out your trouser leg to a family of asylum seekers and still have room for pocket change. Even still, it caught us by surprise to look at the next generation not with outrage, but mild embarrassment.
Then, like the refreshing scent of new grooming products first thing in the morning, the beard makes a surprise comeback. The beard has become to this decade what hair was to the 60s. The beards were neat and well trimmed when they first appeared, like the Beatle bobs of the the early 60s. Yet they were quite distinct from the prissy hipster goatees of the 90s. They weren’t the sort of facial hair Martha Stewart would have grown after a hormone treatment.
Next, just as the love generation’s hair grew over their shoulders, beards began to reach to men’s chests for the first time in a century. There hasn’t been such a proliferation of whiskers since the early Edwardian era. Not since the days of George Bernard Shaw, W G Grace and Mark Twain have men lavished such care and affection on their face fur.
This means that, for the first time in living memory, young men are reinventing the lost art of moustache waxing and beard grooming. What’s more, this is a trend that originated completely with the current generation. It belongs to them, even if it’s spread to older generations. They were the generation that rehabilitated facial hair and reclaimed it from the whiskery domain of tramps and fishy fingered sea captains. As this article by Will Self from the New Statesman attests, it’s the first time this generation has done anything to seriously outrage the once hip from former generations.
So while it might sound, quite literally, like bare faced cheek for someone as beardless as me to say this, I’m still going to raise my tin of moustache wax in silent salute to my bearded brethren.
Gentlemen, your beards have redeemed you all in the eyes of history. Trust your Uncle Jasp on this, you know it makes sense.
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