Is the beard truly an endangered species?

RICHARD HUGHES
Last updated 05:00 15/06/2014
prince harry
HIRSUTES YOU, SIR: "What do you mean hipster beards are so 2013?"

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Could we be living in the final days? The end of the line for a fashion that's seen men wandering about with one species or another of hairy facehugger clamped to their chins?

Conchita Wurst might have been the tipping point. The beardy cross-dresser with the golden tonsils certainly got tongues wagging with a song that had the Eurovision audience rapt but others predicting the Rapture.

Wurst, the Kenny Everett de nos jours, had some of the world's more rabid right-wingers raving about "endless madness" and "spiritual decay" but other, more sober commentators have since pointed out that it wasn't the end of the world that was nigh, but that of the hipster beard.

YouTube is awash with videos of angry and confused apparatchiks who've debearded in protest at the supposed slight to Mother Russia of a man who can carry off both a dress and a beard, but their crazy antics may have inadvertently tapped into the zeitgeist - where the global hairiness craze could just be fading a touch.

And it's not just the nutters; a bunch of Australian academics recently added some rigour to the conversation.

UNSW's Professor Rob Brooks applied a phenomenon called "negative frequency dependence" to the current trend for beards and, in results published in the academic journal Biology Letters earlier this year, predicts an end to beard culture. Though he didn't say exactly when.

Brooks wrote: "Beards diminish in value when everyone is wearing them, [a fact that] suggests that the hipster beard, like the handlebar moustache, the mutton chop and countless other fashions before them, will, in time, pass."

One group that must be praying the tide changes sooner rather than later is the razor blade manufacturers. In its most recent financial results, Procter & Gamble - the multinational behind Gillette - spoke ominously of "market contraction in developed regions" as more men stopped shaving most mornings.

Last year Gillette switched advertising agency - something it had never done before - in the hope of trying something new in the face of drooping demand.

And talking of advertising, faced with the same pressures on its bottom line, Gillette's razoring rival Schick has come up with a fantastic ad campaign that equates the hipster beard with having a furry animal setting up home on your face.

The campaign began in NZ where Schick NZ wants men to equate facial hair to something verminous, and return to shaving.

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The possum - which seems to be the model for the beastie in question - is seen in many quarters as an evil, alien creature deserving of nothing better than eradication. Schick is no doubt hoping the beard goes the same way and the smooth-chinned status quo is restored.

But is it really all over for beards? Probably not just yet. Leading stylist Jack Morton (he recently won AHFA Colourist of the year for 2014) works at Toni and Guy Georges in the heart of hipster Melbourne, sports a beard himself and reckons they aren't going anywhere soon.

"Men are getting more and more adventurous with grooming," Morton said. "They're getting more flamboyant and not afraid to do some styling to their facial hair - I'm seeing more handlebar moustaches, more beards that have been thought about rather than just appeared after a bit of not shaving.

"There'll always be a certain type of guy who goes against the trend, but generally we're going to be seeing more and more beards." And they'll be bigger and bushier too, Morton said, "like Ned Kelly's".

"The beard's going to be around for a little bit longer yet."

Is it curtains for beards? Or is there life in the furry beast yet?

- Sydney Morning Herald

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