Ah, the Brad beard. It’s back! After abandoning his hairy self for Terrence Malick’s Palme d’Or-winning The Tree of Life, Brad Pitt has regrown his facial hair just in time to be the poster boy for a trend. Flip through any men’s magazine: from the editorial paeans to actors George Clooney and Jon Hamm to portraits of sportsmen David Beckham and Andy Murray, as well as advertisements for Ralph Lauren and Bottega Veneta, it’s beards, from beginning to end. Is it any wonder that John Lewis is reporting sales of beard trimmers up 61 per cent week-on-week?
“The image-makers working for magazines and fashion advertising campaigns were tired of teenage boys looking gangly and gormless in photo shoots,” says Jeremy Langmead, editor-in-chief at the online men’s wear site, Mr Porter. “We all found ourselves in the midst of a ginormous global economic crisis, and it was going to take men, not boys, to clean up the mess, so we decided to look like men.”
The interest in beards is, says Patrick Grant of Savile Row tailors E Tautz, “part of the whole swing away from frivolity. Men want to act like grown-ups and dress like grown-ups. Plus, there is a long tradition of aristocratic beards – in years past, pretty much every elegant and well-dressed man sported a beard.”
A man’s ability to grow a beard, is a classic symbol of manliness. “Facial hair signifies sexual vigour and asserts masculinity,” says Lucy Beresford, a psychotherapist and adviser at L’Oréal. “Growing a beard is a very easy way to assert your masculinity and some young men like the fact that a beard often makes them look older.”
This summer, many men will follow the example of Richard Ewing, sales director of Opta, a sports data business, who grew his beard on holiday but has maintained the look in a neater, shorter version back in the office. “I enjoyed the banter it created,” he says. “Most people say it looks pretty good, although a few have suggested that it’s some sort of mid-life crisis.”
Tim Prizeman, who works in communications for professional services firms, grew a beard that he describes as “longer than stubble but not [rock band] ZZ Top-style” six months ago while on a snowboarding trip, and kept it. “I do get compliments about it, whereas I didn’t previously get many about my appearance,” he says. “I’ve also noticed that I’ve won more business pitches since I’ve had this beard, whereas 15 years ago a bearded colleague who gave a new business presentation to a potential client was told that he was the first man with a beard who had ever presented to them.”
However appealing the prospect of avoiding the daily ritual with the razor might be, maintaining a beard takes effort, says Brendan Murdock of barbers and grooming studio Murdock. “Beard maintenance is important. We’ve moved from just a few days’ growth or a shaggy beard to a more defined look, shaved above the cheekbones and around the jawline. You need to wash your beard with a good shampoo a few times a week and exfoliate it regularly. You also need to moisturise your skin where you’ve shaved around the beard.”
Some thought is also required about what sort of beard is best. “Men are looking to different styles to define their look,” says Murdock. “If you work in the City, for instance, you need something smarter.”
According to Beresford, “Beards can also be grown as a mask, much like a female hiding behind her make-up. If a male has a public job or is under scrutiny, growth of a full beard can often act as a barrier against the public eye.” Think of both Prince William and his father, who grew beards after they left college and joined the navy, or actor Robert Pattinson who, when off-duty, has appeared bushily bearded and with dark glasses. Even Al Gore, after the humiliating failure of his presidential campaign in 2000, metamorphosed into that rare species: a bearded US politician. Beards provide privacy and can even add a certain je ne sais quoi to an image.
“You can quickly sum up a clean-shaven man,” says Richard Ivey, head of new business at advertising agency OgilvyAction, and a man with a neat, clipped beard. “A beard, on the other hand, hints at something else: a bit more character, in a mysteriously positive way.”
Facial hair in the workplace
‘My grandfather used to say, “You can’t trust a man with a beard”’
Robert Polet, 55, was chief executive of Gucci Group from 2004-2011, and spent 26 years at Unilever before that
“As soon as I started working, I began growing a beard when I went on holiday. To me, it was a statement of freedom.
The crucial ingredients were: my family, two T-shirts, two pairs of shorts, my slippers, and a beard. Then, when I returned to the office, sometimes I would keep the beard for a while, and sometimes I wouldn’t. It was fascinating to see the difference it made. Quite amazing, really.
There are so many preconceptions about men with beards. First, people think: does he have something to hide? My grandfather used to say, ‘You can’t trust a man with a beard.’ I must have heard him say it about 50 times, and I never understood it. I think it has to do with the fact that having a beard makes it harder to read someone’s facial expressions.
Others think that if you have a beard, you are shy. Either that, or you are trying to make a statement; or you are in the midst of your manly menopause. For me, it just seems very natural: if you don’t shave, your hair grows! It’s not like you are stitching something extra onto your body.
Beards are also a tribal signifier: they suggest you are part of a group. I think that is certainly true with the fashion world, and creative industries in general. Beards are harder to carry off in what I would term more traditional or old-fashioned boardrooms, where facial hair (or the people who have it) are looked upon as slightly strange. Although to me, that’s a good reason to keep a beard. It’s true, though, that I tended to wear a beard more when I was at Gucci Group than when I was at Unilever.
In the end, I always shaved it for a simple reason, and it had nothing to do with my job; rather my three girls – my wife and two daughters – started complaining. It comes down to this: you get more cuddles when you are clean-shaven.”