Why beards are in fashion

Last updated 10:55 12/11/2009
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David Beckham placed first in an online poll on the worst celebrity's facial hair.
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CELEBRITY BEARDS: Big hairy beards were all the rage in the mid-1880s, when it was believed the bushier the beard, the more virile the man, and the better his health.

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Sarah Catherall wonders why all the soft young men around town seem to have lost their razors.

Samuel Scott of the Phoenix Foundation explains why every second guy seems to be boasting a beard, or a thin layer of facial stubble.

Musicians like Scott are too lazy to shave, and beards are a symbol of softness – the 20 or 30-something guy who can be trusted.

"We're not into war, and we're the symbiotic consumerist hippie. We're recycling-meets-flat-screen-TVs," laughs the 30-year-old guitarist and vocalist.

If you hop along to watch a Kiwi indie folk band today, you'll be hard-pressed to spot a freshly shaven musician on the stage.

Scott has shaved off his beard only once in the past decade, while Liam Finn's bushy ginger number has become his trademark.

Barnaby Weir, lead singer of the Black Seeds, boasts a beard, and the Flight of the Conchords duo, Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, both have one. This trend seems to have filtered out on to the streets too. Facial hair is quite the thing for Generation Y men.

A local barber confirms that beards are cool. Ashton Tyler-Lemaires, from Wellington's Norris Barbers, reckons there are about 40 per cent more beards on Wellington streets than a year ago. His team trims about eight a day. He explains they're particularly fashionable among guys working in bars, restaurants and the creative industries.

Apart from the trend set by Kiwi musicians, along with the casualisation of the workplace, men are being influenced by Hollywood.

Tyler-Lemaires says groomed, 14-week growth is being sported by actors like Matthew McConaughey, Brad Pitt and Christian Bale.

Facial stubble on sporting star and male icon David Beckham has also set a trend. "You get it in the fashion world too – Calvin Klein models who aren't shaven but they're wearing a suit," says the barber.

Beards should be groomed, he says, "or you get that hobo look". He adds that beards are a no-no for men with strong, curly facial hair, who should shave every day or stick to 0.5mm of stubble.

Scott's father, the cartoonist and writer Tom Scott, has always sported a beard, so his son was comfortable about growing one.

And when Samuel shaved his off once, his wife ordered him to grow it back. "I felt like I lied to her without my beard. She hates my chin," he laughs.

"I remember reading something in my history class that, 100 years ago, politicians with beards were more trusted. But to be honest, shaving is a real hassle. I find it a horrible act."

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The Movember movement saw 13,000 Kiwi blokes spawning moustaches in November last year to raise money for charity, and Luke Slattery, Movember founder, says that 8000 have so far registered to grow one this month.

Slattery, an Australian, thinks Movember has increased the popularity of facial hair too, and finds that most guys his age in Melbourne have a beard or some type of stubble. Normally shunning the shaver, he is currently trying to grow a mo.

His organisation conducted research which found that one in five women think a moustache is sexy.

Slattery thinks facial hair is back because metrosexuality – or grooming and vanity among urban men – is over and men are embracing their masculinity.

Gender differences are no longer so blurred. "Before men had to be highly groomed wearing pink polos shirts but now guys can be men. I don't feel as much of a man clean shaven."

He points out, though, that some professions have strict rules around facial hair. You're not likely to see a guy with a beard in the stockmarket or top job at the bank.

Certain uniformed jobs such as the Air Force and Fire Service have restrictions for health and safety reasons. While Prime Minister John Key is backing Movember, he has decided not to grow a moustache.

His spokeswoman explains he believes it wouldn't suit him and his wife, Bronagh, doesn't like facial hair. He also has two big international meetings in November: Apec and the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting.

Fashion brand Mandatory has a male model with facial hair gracing its catalogue, and Clare Bowden, co-owner, says: "If a beard is groomed and has colour, that's really good. But I personally don't like them to kiss. Not really."

- The Dominion Post

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