Time to let the facial hair grow

GEORGE CLOONEY: An actor who embraces the beard.
GEORGE CLOONEY: An actor who embraces the beard.

Once upon a time you either had a beard or you didn't, and anything in between could suggest not a man of style but a man in strife.

Cheap wine and a three-day growth was never going to get Jimmy Barnes on the cover of GQ back in the day.

It might now, but with a twist: the growth would be groomed to perfection, and the Coolabah cask replaced with an espresso martini.

We live in the age of the designer beard - stubble reigns supreme, and even full beards decorate catwalks, red carpets and football fields.

The wearers are not assumed lazy or bankrupt - looking like you are channelling Ned Kelly is a fashion statement for the modern man.

But it is a trend that is clipping the shaving industry's profits. Recent figures from market research firm Euromonitor show a weakening market for top-end razors as stubble takes root.

"The weaknesses in some of the personal care categories in the US ... are kind of unprecedented," says Ward Klein, chief executive of the company that owns Schick and Edge. "I'm talking razors and blades in particular."

The trend takes it cue from Hollywood. In recent years, the rakes of Tinseltown have sheathed the blade. Clooney, Affleck, Pitt, Jackman, Gosling, Gyllenhaal and Beckham are among the stars whose example has encouraged Western men to change the face they present to the world.

But while razor-blade companies lament their losses, barbers have found that beard trims and maintenance are back on the menu.

"We used to do five or six a week,'' Melbourne barber Evan Rockit says. ''Now we're doing five or six a day.''

He says the key to carrying off stubble or a beard is maintenance, which can take as much time as shaving, but is not required every day.

"If you're not maintaining it at home, you need to come in. Most guys do it with a haircut once a month and then maintain it a bit at home."

That demand has driven a return to what Rockit calls "old-school barber shops" - where the artistry of the barber is once again on show.

Barber Sasha Coxon has some key advice for those keen to unleash their inner caveman: ''If the beard isn't well trimmed, if it's untidy and unmoisturised, then it looks like pubic hair on the face,'' she says.

Coxon says the beard growing trend has been driven by hipster culture as well as celebrity examples, but also believes ''it's popular for younger guys to grow a beard because it makes them look older''.

A trim at her establishment, Chops n Charlie in Darlinghurst, costs $10 but she insists it is worth the visit, especially for someone growing a beard for the first time.

''We help men get the shape of the beard right. Most guys will round-off their beards at the neck but we shape it in a triangle so that it follows the natural jaw line and this avoids the double chin look,'' she says.

Proctor & Gamble, which owns the global market leader Gillette, puts a positive spin on things in a statement to Fairfax Media, noting "huge changes within the past 10 years" amid a dramatic shift in male attitudes to personal grooming.''

And it is changing its products: the company's Fusion ProGlide Styler promises a clean shave as well as "an edging blade for defined facial hair and a trimmer for facial hair styling".

Sydney Morning Herald