Just as millennials are beginning to get comfortable with this new follicle-based fad, science has to go and get in the way. In an Australian study published last week in the journal Biology Letters, researchers asked women to examine four types of photos — men with beards, clean-shaven men and men with light and heavy stubble — and rate their attractiveness.
What they found was that, when beards were rare in the photos, women found them to be more attractive. When they were plentiful, the opposite was true.
Translation “(The study) suggests that beard styles are likely to grow less attractive as they become more popular,” explained Rob Brooks, who was part of the research team, in a piece he wrote for theconversation.com
The study’s findings are noteworthy, given that the beard seems to be the trend du jour among 20- and 30-something men in the area. A quick stroll through Lawrence or the Kansas City’s First Friday events indicates the beard has become as ingrained in hipster culture as flannel, skinny jeans and a disdain for a Seattle-based coffee company. From unkempt to closely cropped and everything in between, Kansas Citians seem to boast more cheek and chin hair than an episode of “Game of Thrones.” And it’s not just local: The “Duck Dynasty” clan has shot to fame thanks in no small part to their extravagant facial foliage. Last year’s Boston Red Sox and their Fear the Beard movement marched all the way to a World Series title. And last summer, Procter & Gamble, which owns Gillette, acknowledged razor sales were falling, as did Energizer, which said its Schick men’s razor sales were off 10 percent.
In a recent interview with Esquire Magazine, meanwhile, the actor Tom Hardy compared cutting off his beard to removing his testicles.
Facial hair is a historically fickle beast, a trend that has ebbed and flowed with the decades. During the “Mad Men”-era 50s, the Don Drapers of the world wouldn’t think of arriving at the office without a fresh shave. During the free-wheeling ’60s and ’70s, however, the biker beard became a staple. At various times, mustaches, mutton-chop sideburns and goatees have also made appearances. Today, the infatuation seems to be with the beard, which, on a recent afternoon inside the Calico Beard and Mercantile, a salon and barber shop on Kansas City’s West Side, appeared to be alive and well. Tara Shaw opened the place in January 2013 after noticing the surge in popularity of beards in the three or four years prior. She attributes the trend to the influence of bearded celebs and members of prominent bands.
She also credits other factors: a desire for a return to nostalgic Americana and an association with the blue-collar culture. The stubbled and totally unshorn tend to agree, having grown attached to their beards — and what they represent.
“How people present themselves reflects what they believe about themselves, and what they want people to believe about them,” says Chris Gorney, a principal at Second Life Studios, after an appointment to see his bewhiskered barber, Dane R. Casey. “I think there’s a kind of authenticity — a grunge, a grit — that comes with beards. People who don’t give a damn are the kind of people that people who do give a damn want to be like.” Bearded Kansas Citian Shannon Schlappi began growing his now ample beard about three years ago, during a No-Shave November event, and has mostly had it ever since. He points to a shaving mishap suffered in the early stages of his beard growth as evidence of its popularity with others. While attempting to give his facial hair a trim, he cut too deep and was forced to shave the beard off entirely. Upon seeing him afterward, his daughter began to cry. “It was pretty clear to me that was something that needed to be part of my day-to-day life,” he says now. “So I wouldn’t have my daughter weeping.”
As for the beard’s future, it’s anyone’s guess. Shaw thinks the beard will always be a beloved option for a certain population of people. But while her business appears uniquely positioned to handle whatever the newest trend may bring — if a mob of young men decide to forgo their beards, for instance, the shop also offers straight-razor shaves — Shaw isn’t exactly ready to pull the plug. Quite the opposite, actually. Next month the shop is launching a new beard-care product line complete with beard oils, sprays, waxes and exfoliants for the skin beneath. Oh, and as for this assertion that the beard’s attractiveness might be in danger of waning in the eyes of women? “I would try to refuse to allow my gentleman to shave his beard,” Shaw says. “I would put up a fight — and I have.”
BEARDS STILL RULE
Though a recent Australian study claims that women find beards less attractive when there are lots of beards to choose from, the women of the University of Missouri-Kansas City apparently don’t concur.
Of five women who spoke with The Star about beard preferences on a recent weekday on campus, all said they prefer at least some sort of scruff on a guy’s cheeks — evidence that the beard’s reign likely isn’t done yet.
“I prefer beards because it makes guys look more mature. But not disheveled beards, because I’m not into hipsters.” — Leslie Young
“I think they’re more attractive. More and more guys are wearing beards, and I think it’s because it makes them look older. If I see someone who has a beard and then they shave it, it’s like ‘baby face.’ ” — Allie DeRaedt
“I like when there’s not a full caveman beard, but when it’s trimmed and they take care of it.” — Marina Shortino
“You have to be able to pull it off. If you can pull it off, go for it.” — Natalia Chavez
“I like the scruffiness; it makes them look manly. Maybe not a really long (beard), but I’m down for the scruffiness.” — Megan Newton