How to have a great looking beard

How to have a great looking beard

Q. I have always been taught to shave every day, but so many men seem to let their beards grow with no concern. I am considering growing what essentially would be my first beard, while it still will have very little gray. What is appropriate facial hair, and what is just men seeing how shaggy they can get?

A. I have never been a big fan of beards, but there certainly are better-looking beards and terrible beards.  There are also faces that gain from some facial hair. Tom Selleck without a mustache is barely recognizable. On the other hand, David Letterman’s huge new bushy beard just comes across as looking ridiculous. 

Certainly, beards are more common today than they were a few decades back . . . and as common as they were a couple of decades before that. Beards are generally cyclical; they come and go in popularity.  In the 19th century through the early 20th, facial hair was so common that 9 out of 11 presidents (beginning with Lincoln) had a beard or mustache. There has not been one since. One thinks of the “Greatest  Generation” during World War II as either clean-shaven or with a mustache, and no 1950 television husband sported a beard. In the 1960s most business men were still clean-shaven, but certainly Woodstock was filled with beards. In the 1970s things turned worse with massive sideburns. The Wall Street world of the 1980s saw a significant return to the clean-shaven man. While Grunge Rock was a scraggly look (one that I suffered through watching New York Fashion Runway shows in the 1990s), the bearded look has really become more of an office staple in the last several years.    

The decision to go from clean-shaven to some variety of hirsute involves a few decisions. Is there a significant other who would have an opinion (keep in mind, they don’t all love beards)? Are you in a work setting where this might be an issue or perhaps even an enhancement? Will you look good with the change (which may relate to your facial structure) and/or be comfortable with it? Will people wonder why you made the change? Many men suddenly are confused about what grooming is necessary, where do they trim, and how often? You mentioned hair color; often a beard turns gray significantly earlier than other hair and dyeing adds to the considerations. Do you really want to add one more complication to your life?

All of the above are questions only you know the answer to, or can find out. I suggest you wait until you’ll have a few days to start, without too much time around other people who will judge. A Friday unshaven before a 3- or 4-day weekend (or a vacation) can pass as casual Friday and can give you a good sense on the next Tuesday or Wednesday morning of how things are proceeding.

So, what type of beard should you grow if you do? You may have a sense after those few days, and I cannot give you a best answer. If you have a barber you trust, it makes sense to ask there. Also, I suggest you try to bring him a photograph of someone with the specific type of beard you are considering rather than trusting to merely describing it. Ask if this will fit with your face and/or if your beard will grow in that way – facial hair is quite different based on your ethnicity, hair color, and other factors.

I can tell you what are and are not considered appropriate looks in different workplaces.  Obviously, the more conservative the industry you are in, the simpler and more traditional your facial hair should be . . . maybe just a mustache.  If you do decide to grow a beard, my strong preference is for something short and tapered. While most men won’t end up looking like George Clooney, still, he certainly sets a good example. 

To sum up, your facial hair should be very specifically planned, and then kept carefully trimmed. It should have a recognizable shape. It should add to a man’s attractiveness. It should not look as if it just happened by accident or as if, as in Letterman’s case, it appears to have gone wild. Everything that a grown-up adult wears, from his clothes to his grooming, contributes to and becomes part of his image. We are all able to control much of what the world sees. Why not make sure that what it sees of you says only positive things? 

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