Bloke With A Beard Reacts To Modern Beard Fashion

On February 21, 2016 by Tim Newman

Beard Fashion Is Old

Having had a beard attached to my face, more often than not, for the past 17 years or so, I have found this latest beard craze quite fascinating. Previously, my beard signified little more than a lack of shaving, rather than a pointed effort to cultivate a beard; this view point has now been forcibly altered.

Thinking about the latest beard fad has led me to ask questions about social psychology, our ancient brain and the evolution of herd mentality.

The fact that the simple act of not cutting some of the hair on your face can be deemed fashionable got me thinking. My thoughts on the origin of modern day facial fashion have swollen into an overarching opinion on human conformity and the weakness of Homo sapiens‘ brains.

All from a set of untrimmed follicles. Perhaps I have too much time on my hands?

The Ebb and Flow

Beard Fashion Is Old - Anthony van Dyck

Like everyone else in the Universe, I know full well that fashions ebb and flow, they come and go. That’s a given, and beards have, of course, been fashionable in the past. Ancient Mesopotamian men took great care of their beards, Egyptians wore and dyed their beards and a strap on metal beard was the sign of royalty.

Indian beards have been revered for aeons; in fact, a public scything of chin locks in India was deemed a serious punishment. China, Iran, Greece, and on and on. The beard is no stranger to civilised cultures.

Even as recently as the 70s, the hippy crew in the West were beards a-go-go, and in the 80s we had “designer stubble” or, to give it a more correct description – “stubble.” George Michael was only too keen to lead that particular parade.

However, during the 90s and 00s, the beard was absent from fashionable circles. Because the West’s collective memory is short, the fact that beards had ever been regarded as popular, or even normal, was forgotten.

Because of these short memories of ours, the reappearance of the beard within fashion was met with much pomp and ceremony. The resurgence in beard popularity was heralded with such vigor, it was as if we had only just discovered that simply not shaving produced a facial adornment.

A New Phase of Beard

Beard Fashion Is Old - Jefimowitsch_Repin

It shouldn’t be a surprise that beards have come back into vogue, but, I am surprised. Five or six years ago it was pretty normal for beardies to be stared at for having a beard; around one year ago, things started to shift, beardies were looked on with disdain for following the “hipster” fashion (which isn’t even a real thing, if you ask me).

Now, beardies are riding comfortably in the mainstream. I will enjoy this moment of peace.

The worst thing about the beard’s rise to fame is that in another year’s time it will have stopped being fashionable. I expect, seeing as I’ve been sporting one for so long, I will continue to have a beard after its fall from favour. This means that rather than simply being strange-looking, as I was two years ago, I will appear severely dated. Oh well.

I don’t think I’ve ever held the inside track during a shift in fashion before. It feels weird, and a little unnerving. But, rather than congratulating myself on being fashionable for once in my life, entirely by mistake, I have watched the shift with a sense of palpable intrigue.

The act of not shaving has spread through the male population like a virulent strain of hairy mumps.

Subliminal Beard Lies

Beard Fashion Is Old - Bassano

If you meet a man who has only recently grown a beard for the first time, and ask him why he has grown it, he won’t say it was for reasons of fashion; no, he will say that he just decided for himself to grow a beard, or that he always wanted to grow one, but recently, out of the blue, (but independent of the current craze), decided to finally go for it.

This is either a magical coincidence: 20% of all Western men decide to sprout their facial fungus all at once, or it is the insipid and all pervasive power of subliminal fashion.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not casting aspersions on these guys. I don’t think they are lying about having “just felt like growing one.” I’m sure that genuinely is the thought process that they think they went through.

To elucidate my point I would like to remind you of Ross Geller. Yes, that fella from Friends. At the time, Mr Geller was the living embodiment of normality, he was average, erring on the side of dweeb. His clothes were inoffensive and “neutral”. To our eyes we saw nothing about his fashion sense that could ever become dated. He was the definition of normality. Now, when we look at him, we can only see that 90s vibe rushing through him. He wasn’t average at all, he was an average product of the palatable fashion of the time. A midpoint within the milieu.

In his normal chino garb, Ross is magically dated and embarrassingly easily to time stamp. That baggy red shirt of Geller’s is today’s beard.

Although beards are just uncut hair and untrimmed follicles, in 10 years time, they will date any first-time beard-wearers to the year either side of 2016. We will not be able to believe how ridiculous we all looked. Except for me and my stalwart beardies who will, once again, be looked on with a touch of distrust, disdain and dismay.

Rinsing The Beard Fad

Beard Fashion Is Old - Portrait of a Bearded Man Bassano

As men become more prone to caring about their appearance, the advance of the beard makes a nice little added earner for the peddlers of hair care products. That’s no problem with me, if you want to buy a beard straightener or beard lubricant, be my guest, it’s all part of joining in with the latest craze and doing your bit to perpetuate the new-found way of beard.

Beard baubles, beard guides, beard books, beard shampoo. These things were all available prior to the craze but wow, what an avalanche of beard-related goodies we see before us now. Beards are so on point these days that their health benefits have even prompted funding for scientific research.

To conclude: why have I written this? Well, I think the whole beard fashion thing has opened my eyes to the hidden flexibility of humanity’s flimsy sense of self and sense of “normal.”

Maybe I’m late to the game, but it strikes me as mighty strange that something which (quite literally) turned girl’s stomachs two years ago is, all of a sudden, hugely desirable.

Don’t you think that’s incredible? In 2014, one particular girl might have thought beards were “icky” and “gross.” Roll on 2015 and all of a sudden she finds them “manly” and “ravishing.” What changed in that 12 month slot? The beard is the same and the girl still has the same brain between her ears.

The answer is, of course, culture. Culture has shifted, and with it, so have our likes, desires, sexual preferences and, to a certain extent, prejudices. Her feelings of visceral revulsion have been totally flipped on their head. It’s more than a mindful acceptance of fashion, it is an automatic shift in emotional response.

Not long ago, the football-swilling, beer-kicking herd would have happily rained fists down on a beard-wearing stranger, simply for wearing a beard. Those same thugs now sport a beard with pride because “well, I just fancied growing one.”

What I’m getting at here, through the stretched metaphor of beards in fashion, is that humans minds are so much more flimsy than we think. Our opinions are so incredibly malleable, but, our conscious brain isn’t necessarily informed about the decisions we make.

We are, to a certain extent, robots under the control of culture. We can side step it of course, but most of us don’t bother. Our overriding desire to fit in with the herd (whether we like that definition or not) is powerful and has been with us and our ancestors for millenia.

Not standing out of the crowd means you are less likely to get picked off by a predator. Not standing out of the crowd means you are more likely to be protected by the group if trouble arrives. Not standing out of the crowd means that you won’t be left out in the cold, come winter. These long evolved urges are sat deep in our psychi. We don’t even realise they’re in there, constantly ticking over.

Last year’s disgusting chin mould is this year’s dreamboat addition because culture tells our deep brain that’s how we are supposed to respond. Our conscious brain can invent as much of a backstory about “always wanting/liking beards” as much as it likes. The truth is, our old brain just wants to fit in.

If humans spent a little more time asking themselves why they felt a certain way about certain things, rather than constantly defending their positions, we might give the human race a fighting chance.

If everyone slowly began to realise that their thoughts are not their own and that prejudice and an overwhelming desire to conform is at the heart of our decisions, we could begin to override our caveman brain and make sensible, reasoned, non-prejudiced decisions.

We are all loads less clever than we think.






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