A big, woodsy beard is a thing of beauty. But it can easily look out of place in a lineup of suited groomsmen. Fortunately, a clean two-button and a hirsute face don’t need to be mutually exclusive.
“This comes up all the time with my clients,” says Paul Langevin, a master barber at Blind Barber in Brooklyn. “Guys don’t think they can go formal and still keep their beard.” If you spent the better part of a year on your whiskers, you won’t want to part ways with it over a wedding. “The good news is, you don’t have to,” he says. “Men are always relieved when I tell them that the fix is fairly easy.”
Step One: Pare Down
What you want is for the beard to stand out as your main accessory, rather than having it perceived as an extension of the unruly, overgrown hair on your scalp. In other words, to make a big beard work in a formal setting, keep everything else on the conservative side.
“You want to create a contrast between your beard and the hair on your head,” he says. “That means getting a haircut with sharper sides and a shorter top — anything to offset a gangly beard.” Note: If you have long hair and are truly loathe to cut it, use a wax (such as Blind Barber’s 60 Proof Hair Wax, $18) or a light hold cream (try Baxter of California’s Grooming Cream, $20) to smooth hair back and in place. Then tie it in a low ponytail.
Step Two: Master the Fade
There is a tricky no-man’s land below the ear where your beard hair blends into the sideburns. Left to its own devices, this area tends to look wild and unkempt. Keep it in line. “You can take an out-of-control beard and make it look sharp simply by tapering the sides from the cheekbones up into the haircut,” Langevin says. You can try this yourself using a trimmer with multiple guard settings. Start with the longest guard, and work your way down until you achieve the desired look. Better yet, save yourself the stress and ask your barber to do it.
Step Three: Mind the Mustache
Keep your ’stache streamlined. “You want the upper lip line to be tidy,” Langevin says. “Some guys have a longer mustache, in which case they can apply a balm with their index finger to move the hair from the centerline to the corners in a smooth fashion.” (Try the Badger Balm Navigator Class Mustache Balm, $10.99.) Other guys do better with a shorter look: Ask your barber to trim just where your mustache meets your upper lip “so you don’t look like a wild animal,” Langevin suggests.
Step Four: Rein in Flyaways
A lot of men focus on keeping the perimeters neat, but one of the main culprits of a sloppy beard is the frizz caused by those wispy stragglers that won’t lay flat and seem to grow at a rate different than the rest of the hair. Creating an even terrain is key to turning an outdoorsman’s beard into a more gentrified appearance. “Once you’ve tidied up the edges, you can finish it off with a nice bit of scissoring to get rid of the flyaway hair sticking out,” Langevin says. To start, run a comb through your entire beard so hairs are fully extended and lying in the same direction. Second, comb the hair out and away from your face. Observe the one or two rogue hairs. Trim them to a length that matches the rest.
Step Five: Know Your Product
Polish off your sharp new beard look with a little styling product. “You can use pomade or a beard balm,” Langevin says. (One to try: Oliver Ridge Company’s Woodshop Beard Balm, $18.)
“I do not recommend using a beard oil for this,” Langevin says. “Beard oils are great for moisturizing the skin underneath and to prevent itchiness, but they don’t give you the hold of a styling aid.” To keep the beard from looking weighed down, apply the balm only to the hair surface. Work up a dime-sized amount of product in your hands first, then lightly tap the edges of your beard to reign in excess fuzz. You’ll be left with a sculpted look that works as well with a linen suit as it does with your surf trunks.