Noelle McCarthy: Men and whiskers

By Noelle McCarthy

12 comments
Hairy guys Jared Leto, Michael Fassbender and David Beckham. Pictures / AP Images
Hairy guys Jared Leto, Michael Fassbender and David Beckham. Pictures / AP Images

Why do men wear whiskers? They're uncomfortable to grow, and they can look silly. I speak as observer rather than owner, although I did once have a moustache in a passport photo. I was 16 and my hair was dark and curly. It produced not only a shadow across my top lip, but also a weird, beardy effect around my shoulders. My mother still calls it the Taliban photo.

That was my only brush - ahem - with facial hair personally, but I've seen enough of it lately to know that beards are having a moment. More than a moment, an epoch, even. There was an article about how we've reached peak beard in the Guardian recently.

It wasn't always thus. You'd have been hard pushed to find much facial hair when I was at university, for example. Back then, the entire campus was clean-shaven, save for a few fiddle players and certain members of the sociology department. Fifteen years later though, and every second guy is getting around looking like that dude from the Joy of Sex drawings. Beards are de rigueur, in every iteration. Mutton chops, cavalry whiskers, soul patches, chin curtains; step into any pub or cafe in any major city in the western hemisphere, and you'll see all of these forms of manly topiary.

Sadly, even the neck beard doesn't appear to be going anywhere quickly.

Obviously, this is a worry. The neck beard, as seen on Shia Labeouf and various Dungeons and Dragons enthusiasts, is objectively horrible. Even Tom Hardy can't pull that one off, as you'll see when you Google. But it isn't fair to think of neck beards as representative of the aesthetic in general. There's a beard for every man, you just have to pick the right one.

Chin curtains are out obviously, unless you want to die lonely. As are soul patches, unless you are a yoga teacher in Ibiza. But a judiciously cultivated piece of facial hair, be it a beard, or a mo even, like any great accessory, will add texture and interest to your outfit. The best beards invite questions, and look like they come with a story. How long did it take you to grow it? What got you started? Bearded chaps are a gift to shy ladies looking for a conversation-starter.

I find beards deeply comforting. This is because my father has one. It's set my template for what a beard should be: lovely, big luxuriant, a good mix of soft and wiry.

When I say "big" I mean "wide" of course. Beards should be short and full, never long and wispy. Even on actual wizards, Gandalf-beards are creepy. Best to avoid any facial hair that makes you look like you might be selling a Mogwai also.

Those injunctions aside, I'm down with beards, really. Sure they look odd with tuxes, like the neck has gone missing, and dumb on hipsters. Then again, hipsters make everything look silly. They won't ruin beards though, the way they've ruined tattoos and fixies. What after all, can beat a old fashioned chin-to mo beard, like the one Ryan Gosling had in The Notebook? Such beards speak of hard work, and sufficient amounts of testosterone. Done right, they are also suggestive of an aptitude for home repairs and seduction. In short, they are sexy, which is why men grow them.

- VIVA

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