Beards are back, said the Sydney Morning Herald which charts the beard's progress from an "indie, hipster thing" to more of a mainstream accessory.
And, evidently, perhaps in an effort to reclaim masculinity that the metrosexual movement undermined, "the fashion is for full-on, Ned Kelly bushes".
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It seems that growing a beard is a competitive sport. The next World Beard & Moustache Championships, where "[b]eardsmen compete for world titles", is scheduled to be held in Germany in November.
For the purposes of this event, beards are divided into three sections: Partial Beards (which includes the Natural Goatee, Fu Manchu and Musketeer), Full Beards and Trend Beards - which are "short trimmed ... with designs or patterns etched into the beard". Unsurprisingly, this website claims that "[t]here is no doubt that beards are trending worldwide".
Accompanied by a photograph of a bearded George Clooney and Ben Affleck, Why are beards back? Face fuzz makes a big comeback explores the phenomenon: the "Baftas in London were overrun by actors who'd mislaid their razors, but what is behind this need among men to make their facial hair apparent"?
The article continued with: "It would be silly to say that the beard is back because it has never gone away, but it is certainly in vogue in Hollywood". The authors said there were three reasons for growing facial hair: laziness, vanity or "in compensation for a lack of the stuff up top".
In What Your Beard Says About You?, the writer confessed to growing a beard as part of the "Postmillennial He-Man Beard Epoch" and wrote that the "beard - a traditional signifier of age and wisdom in most cultures - had become a symbol of youthful rebellion".
But, of course, beards have long been recorded in societies and eras other than that of contemporary New York. As explained in Beards: an archaeological and historical overview, "facial hair played a significant role in past societies. Through time beards have been ascribed various symbolic attributes, such as sexual virility, wisdom and high social status, but conversely barbarism, eccentricity and Satanism." Some Vikings used to plait their beards and one German knight used his as a belt. Beards may also be a hallmark of Sikh men, Orthodox Muslims and Orthodox Jews. Throughout history beards have been "dyed, beaded, braided, painted, oiled, perfumed, woven with gold threads" and "dusted with gold".
The beard is many things to many people. It can be fashion statement, competitive endeavour, symbol of both conformity and rebellion - and an expression of someone's religion and culture. In some hands it's also a work of art; Isaiah Webb, a man known as Incredibeard, coaxes fantastical shapes out of his beard. See the striking "ramen beard" created by this "beard enthusiast". And, yes, that image is now indelibly branded onto my retinas, too. Sorry about that.
Have you noticed the proliferation of beards? What factors do you think are driving it? Are beards hot or not?