Life and Style columnist for the NZ Herald

Lee Suckling: Why are beards sexy?

Hollywood hunks Ryan Gosling, Jared Leto and Bradley Cooper realise the allure of sexy facial hair.
Photo / AP
Hollywood hunks Ryan Gosling, Jared Leto and Bradley Cooper realise the allure of sexy facial hair. Photo / AP

When did we fall in love with the fuzz?

Not since the 1970s have beards on men been so popular. They're prevailing everywhere: on your lumberjack-styled barista, on suited lawyers and accountants, even on once baby-faced pretty boys. And the beardnaissance, we'll call it, is making us all swoon.

Charles Dickens. Photo / Creative Commons
Charles Dickens. Photo / Creative Commons

Beards have been favoured throughout history, though there was a prominent explosion amongst the big thinkers of the mid-19th Century. It started in Europe with Charles Dickens, Benjamin Disraeli, and Karl Marx, among others, then moved Stateside to Abraham Lincoln, who had the first-ever presidential beard.

Karl Marx. Photo / Creative Commons
Karl Marx. Photo / Creative Commons

The 20th Century saw a definite decline in hairy-faced men, save for an overflow from the Victorian era with the likes of Sigmund Freud. American films pushed a clean-shaved agenda as war heroes and tough guys appeared on screen - with crew cuts and strong, bare jawlines - heralding a worldwide decline in fuzzy faces.

The Mad Men-esque advertising boom of the 1950s helped companies such as Gillette Safety Razor Company sell its products, conspiring in decades of short hair and clean-shaven men.

Full beards emerged again in the late 1960s and boomed throughout the 1970s, largely owing to the rock, soul, and folk musicians of the day. Beards were on everyone - from university students to businessmen, and also gained huge appeal within the emergent bear sub-culture from the Gay Liberation movement.

The 1980s came, and facial hair died. Men wanted to emulate David Hasselhoff (who was only hairy from the neck down), while Miami Vice proved beards and turquoise blazers don't mix.

'Mad Men' star Jon Hamm.
'Mad Men' star Jon Hamm.

Not until the end of the 2000s did beards return. Gillette and Braun, the evolution of the company that first marketed shaving to the mainstream, says the decline is largely because of the Global Financial Crisis.

That's right, shaving just got too expensive. "Sales across the shaving industry were actually down in the UK and US last year for the first time because of guys not shaving," says Jon Moeller, chief financial officer of parent company Proctor & Gamble, "...partly because of the recession."

George Clooney. Photo / AP
George Clooney. Photo / AP

Additionally, Moeller argues, the beardnaissance owes to the rise of the "celebrity beard". Brad Pitt and George Clooney, repeat winners of Sexiest Man Alive polls, were some of the first to get fuzzy. Prince Harry tried it on, as did Ryan Gosling and Chris Pine. Even ex-Disney heartthrobs like Zac Efron went bushy-faced.

The average male picked up on the trend/cost necessity quickly. The flow-on effect of ubiquitous beardedness is that men, suddenly, became a lot better looking.

Chris Pine. Photo / AFP
Chris Pine. Photo / AFP

According to a study by the University of New South Wales, the optimal beard length corresponding to attractiveness is "heavy stubble" (around 10 days' growth). The study concluded, "both women and other men" believed bearded men to be more appealing than clean-shaven.

Here's why. Full beards, according to the study, imply high parenting ability and healthiness. Such virility and protectiveness is detailed: "Our findings confirm beardedness affects judgments of male socio-sexual attributes and suggest that an intermediate level of beardedness is most attractive while full-bearded men may be perceived as better fathers who could protect and invest in offspring."

Zac Efron. Photo / AP
Zac Efron. Photo / AP

Beards have health benefits too. They do away with irritation and ingrown hairs, block 90 to 95 percent of UV rays, and can help prevent asthma symptoms by preventing dust and pollens from going up the nose.

Even if you're not looking to father children or avert hay fever right now, beards are perceived as incredibly sexy and you'll do better on the prowl with one.

Perhaps more importantly, beards are authentic; exemplified in the gay community where the beardnaissance is prevalent. Johnny Skandros, founder of gay geo-dating app Scruff, puts it down to popular culture.

'Will and Grace' star Eric McCormack.
'Will and Grace' star Eric McCormack.

"In the 1990s, gay mainstream visibility was really Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Will and Grace, and it was images of men who were very clean-shaven, very coiffed and very tanned," he says.

"I think gay men, especially, said, 'This isn't me. There are hundreds of thousands of gay men across the US - across the world - that don't fit into that representation.'"

No matter your sexuality, if you've got a beard in 2014, you'll likely pull potential partners easier than without. Even if, for no other reason, beards facilitate a strong jawline for those who don't naturally have one.

Despite more prosperous economic times ahead, the beardnaissance shows no sign of slowing. Various Tumblr pages are even dedicated to fuzz love, such as Better With A Beard and Attractive Bearded Men Wearing Suits.

For the men who struggle to grow beards (this writer included), there are other options, including facial hair transplants to fill in the bald spots.

But not all of us want to resort to beards to increase our desirability just yet. Beardedness has its drawbacks, particularly in hot climates. And there's definitely nothing desirable about a face covered in crumbs after every meal.


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Life and Style columnist for the NZ Herald

Writer Lee Suckling pens his opinionated thoughts every Wednesday, covering issues surrounding Generation Y, New Zealand's gay community, and the ethical dilemmas presented every day to those living in a tech-centric modern world. Outside of the New Zealand Herald, Lee writes for a range of magazines and newspapers across New Zealand, Australia, and the UK.

Read more by Lee Suckling

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