In 2014, experts said London had reached “peak beard”. The mainstream beard was dead, they said, numbers were sure to dwindle and soon only the weird would be bearded.
They were wrong. There has been no dwindle. Three years on, the beard has won. It infuses happiness in every corner of the city.
So we owe a debt of gratitude. No beard arrives like magic. It takes iron will and fortitude.
It begins with a humdrum look in the mirror. It is Saturday and a light hangover might be in play. What does the metropolitan man see? A pale face with soft, pink-grey skin. It has washed-up eyes. The man in the mirror is missing his mojo.
So he chooses not to shave — and by evening a faint shadow has stolen across his chin and, with it, a soupcon of mystery. By Sunday bedtime, he has visible sprouts but not much mystery. Any mystery is to do with hygiene — is he as dirty as he looks? But he soldiers on.
It is worse on Monday. No one mentions his beard at work because it isn’t a beard, it’s deplorable neck fluff. No one knows what’s going on. Has he been sleeping in the car?
On day five, ginger flecks emerge. He foresaw a rogue red element (a little russet is par for many men), but how rouge will it go? Very ginger is too ginger except for lions. In the dead of night he is prickled by his bristles pressing against the pillow. It itches. Yet his course is set and he needs to know how all this will end. Who will he become?
Two weeks on, his jaw is a quilt of brown, white and ginger fuzz. It is not God’s best creation ever, but it is a beard. And London is his oyster . . .
I grew mine as a cry for help. I was a 32-year-old intern struggling to achieve small tasks in the time available. I was busting a gut and the beard was proof — an intern with no time for his razor must be over-worked.
No one gave my beard much thought, I think, except me. Beyond the early phases, it became a boon. Bringing my beard into work was like bringing in a dog — something furry and loyal, something to stroke, a friend. It also puzzled my colleagues. Already the world’s oldest intern, now I looked even older — an old geezer but still an intern. It was sublime.
It has not been an easy ride since then. I have shaved — sometimes by accident, putting my trimmer on the wrong setting and mowing a runway up my chin, and sometimes just because it looked like summer outside. It’s always a disaster. If a bloke looks weird with his beard, he will always look weirder without it. That’s a rule. Freshly shaved, the chin shrivels and the nose extends into a startled beak. The face can take several days to relax into anything normal.
More profoundly, the beard is about who you are and who you hope to be. A man without a beard is still technically a man, but he is not reaching his potential. His smooth, cultivated skin flies in the very face of nature.
So put your razor in the bin and become the best version of you. Could a Russian queen have fallen for Rasputin without his beard? Could Tolstoy have written War and Peace without a beard to match it? Brian Blessed has a beard, so does Father Christmas and — clearly — so does God. How can a man be a wise philosopher without a beard to back it up? Or a pirate? Or a wizard?
It is true that not all beards are mystical and supreme. I am pleased Jeremy Corbyn has a beard (it’s partly why I voted for him), but his is not the coolest beard in London. It is curiously boring for a beard, in fact. Still the effort is commendable. If only Michael Gove, national treasure, cared enough about the country to grow some stubble. The raspberry pink Gove face is crying out for fur to take the edge off it.
It is also true that good men have lived and died without sporting a beard. Winston Churchill is one and everyone knows he looked like a newborn babe his whole life, poor fellow.
Mine remains a modest affair but I believe in a better future. Like London, I have not reached peak beard. And nor has the FT. Almost no one very senior has a beard, which is unmistakably sad. Fear not. In time, they will.
Alexander Gilmour is associate editor of House & Home; @AIMGilmour
Alexander Gilmour will be speaking at the FT Weekend Festival on September 2 at Kenwood House, London. For more information, visit ftweekendfestival.com
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