Like tight pants and suspenders, the resurgent popularity of beards in all their many forms is actually part of fashion cycle that has gone on for centuries. In some eras, they were considered the quintessence of the upstanding man, in others, the reserve of the ruffian or outlaw (to discourage them, Peter the Great even taxed facial hair). Interestingly, historians have noted that one of the chief influences over beard and facial hair fashion throughout history has been the military.
"Throughout military history, beards were perfectly okay and seen as a sign of strength [with a few exceptions]," says Antonio Centeno, former U.S. Marine Corps officer and founder of the style consulting resource, RealMenRealStyle.com. "But we've been clean-shaven in the military since World War I, thanks to the need to form a seal when wearing gas masks." That quirk of technology soon trickled into civilian life and the workplace, and within a generation, our grandfathers were sporting a smooth face, suddenly the sign of dignity.
Still, as with all fashions, what was old is eventually new again. Dr. Allan Peterkin, beard expert and author of 'One Thousand Beards: A Cultural History of Facial Hair,' says that latter-day beard growth, as it were, is no longer a function of army culture, but instead comes from pop culture influences. "Some even see growing a beard as a playful backlash to feminism, being one of the few things women can't do," he says.
As with any bold sartorial choice, a beard done right reflects a sense of style and confidence. (Done wrong, well, you look like an extra from 'Lord of the Rings.') Growing out your facial hair is merely the first step, so following are tips on how to style, groom, and maintain a beard so that it flatters instead of flunks.
Pick a suitable style.
Not every style of beard matches every face shape, so you'll need to figure out what suits your particular mug. Doing so will mean the difference between flattering facial hair and a lifetime of trying to hide old photos of yourself. "Beards can really enhance a face and hide a multitude of sins," Dr. Peterkin says. "But they can also bring out certain features, like a weak jaw, thin lips, flabby neck, and baldness, too. It's about playing with planes, both vertical and horizontal, and making everything blend together."
Rounder faces or those with double chins do well with some strong lines and borders that soften the curves. Try adding some geometric balance with a squared-off goatee or beard – or just longer whiskers on the chin with shorter hair on the side. Angular faces sometimes have sunken cheeks that you can fill in with some longer hair to add girth. For long faces, a full beard that's thicker on the side and shorter around the mouth and chin can break things up into two hemispheres and bring your mug into proportion. If you can't objectively figure it out on your own, consult with a barber, who will be happy to make a recommendation.
Credit: Jake Curtis / Getty Images