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.