Beards, hipsters, products, and weirdness

Sometime around 1986, I began to grow what would eventually become a full beard and mustache. My reasoning back then was very simple. I was fresh out of college and holding increasingly responsible positions in business, but I looked very young. I figured, if I had a beard, I’d look older and be taken more seriously. Overall it actually worked (I’m still amazed).

After awhile, I found that I had to shave less of my face, not as often. That meant that I didn’t cut myself very much, my skin was happier, and I spent very little on shaving products. So all was good with facial hair and the world. Until now.

Fast forward about 30 years: The world of facial hair has changed a great deal. These days we’re living in what could only be termed a facial-hair renaissance brought on largely by fashion and that much-maligned group, the hipsters.

To hear some critics tell it, certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn are akin to a Canadian logging camp circa 1870 due to the preponderance of flannel and huge bushy beards. The hipsters are quite convinced that they have invented facial hair but, as with flat earthers, the facts deny that belief. I mean, I’ve had a beard longer than most hipsters have been alive.

But that’s just the tip of the beardberg. We’ve also entered the realm of what I call the “weird beard,” for want of a better term. If you ever watched the Hunger Games movies you’ll know what I mean.

You have men shaving their beards into impossibly tiny lines, geometric shapes and designs that harken back to some magical realm of follicular delight. I’m waiting for a reality TV show entitled “Beard Wars” in which vast hordes of lactose-intolerant hipsters pit themselves and their facial foliage against crowds of weirdly coiffed weird bearders in a wild competition. They’ll be vying for a big prize involving artisanal shaving soap, handmade straight razors, and pedal-powered beard trimmers.

One rather irksome aspect of beard fashion is the huge crop of silly, expensive beard-related products. There are special shaving soaps made from imported Yak milk that was sustainably sourced from holistically raised Yaks.

You can buy shaving brushes handmade by Tibetan monks from the beards of holy mountain goats. There are razors made in the manner of Samurai swords that can shave incredibly close and double as surgical instruments. How about some beard oil that’s said to soften your beard, make it more manageable, and instantly resemble ZZ Top’s beards.

Beard growing is now officially a competitive sport, too. I saw a full-length documentary on the international beard competition in which men from many countries got together to compete for the title of best beard.

There were, of course, subcategories such as mustache, length, bushiness, and overall design. These guys were like many top-flight athletes in that they were driven and trained really hard.

How you train for beard competitions is still something of a mystery to me. I suppose it probably involves getting stranded on a desert island for a year or three with no access to shaving implements. You might also spend time discussing facial grooming with a coconut, too.

Getting back to some semblance of reality is tough in these oddly bearded times. But just for the sake of regular facial hair, I’m going to try. To maintain normal standards, my rapidly graying beard is kept short and neat by the use of a rechargeable, non-artisanal shaver. I use no beard oils, no colorants, and I avoid desert islands.

The fact is, beards have been around for the past 300,000 years (or as long as humanoids have avoided barber shops), just quietly in the background (like common sense or good taste). Check in at your average Harley rally and you’ll see plenty of conventional beards, too.

I guess, if we normal beard people just sit back and watch, the current fashion will probably go the way of bell-bottoms and disco suits. In the next year or two, when the hipsters take up some new fad like electric skateboarding or wearing kilts, we’ll be the last hairy people standing.

Then, those of us who sport conventional facial hair can get back to our lives and think of more important things than beard oil, yak hair brushes, and samurai razors. Maybe in true hipster fashion, when they all shave, they’ll donate their beards to some charity that will use all that fur for some good cause. Prematurely balding bearded ladies? Making hair shirts for masochists on a budget? Insulation in tiny houses? The possibilities are staggering.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says that, the first time ne shaved off his beard, his children were very scared. The second time, his wife told him to grow it back. Quickly. End of story.