Beards : Women, Virility, and Free Ranging
The resurgence in popularity of beards has become a point of fascination to me. It's a fascination that snuck up on me and took me by surprise at a very random moment last week. There I was, crossing the street as I laid eyes on a smiling bearded chap on a bicycle. It was in that moment that my realisation that I quite fancy a bearded man dawned on me.
You see, I can very clearly remember a point in my life that I would visibly cringe at the idea of nuzzling into a bearded neck, shudder during those random moments of contemplating if creatures ever set up house in beards, and audibly groan at having to endure being in the presence of a bearded man eating an ice cream cone. (I kid you not, it really happened)
I wasn't the only one with a beard issue; let's face it, beards haven't always been fashionable.
Let's take a moment to reflect on the waxing and waning of beard fashions. Over the years a beard has represented many things for a man, usually in a context that reflects in some very manly, desirable way - No surprises there, right? Wisdom, sexual virility, masculinity, male courage and higher social standing have all been attributed to the wearing of beards throughout history.
As an example you only need to look to the Ancient Egyptians where beards were such a strong sign of power and a clear statement of sovereignty that even the Queens regularly wore a false beard to signify their status. Admit it, you're picturing Queen Elizabeth wearing a falsie at this very moment aren't you? No, don't go rushing off to Google to see if you can find a picture of her. I've taken the liberty of finding one for you.
Me, I can't even contemplate how annoying it must be for a woman to feel the need to wear a false beard. I can only presume that Royal status must have been a truly desirable thing.
Moving forwards a few millennia and you can't go past the Vikings as keen proponents of the hirsute face. Despite popular misconceptions of dirty, unwashed Nordic hordes, the Vikings nurtured their beards, combing them, braiding and curling them, as well as being sure to carefully shave the neck, presumably to draw the appropriate amount of attention to the beard.
And let's face it, the Vikings were one of the cultures in the habit of adorning themselves with rather beautiful neck torcs, the likes of which you wouldn't want to hide in a shaggy mass of neck hair.
Personally, I find it rather refreshing to know that even with all of the raiding, raping, pillaging, burning of villages and general plundering, the Viking men still made time for personal grooming. Curling and braiding hair can be a time consuming exercise. Can't you just see them sitting by the fire at night helping each other to set their beard curls "just so".
Try as I might I couldn't find an image of Vikings braiding each others beards; and believe me, I tried. I did however, find this handy tutorial for those of you who might wish to learn how to braid your own beard as well as this piece of Viking art awesomeness.
Now that you're no doubt convinced that beard wearing is essential to your manhood, it's time for me to let you know that there were also times in history that beards were associated with uncleanliness, poor social status and a lack of refinement. (This still sound typically masculine to me!).
One such time was the 1700's, which proved to be a century of facial hairlessness in almost all of the known world. Think of the French men in their elaborate wigs and intricately coiffed heads, yet not a beard in sight. Yes, those were the days that men seemed to spend as much time - if not more - as the women preening their hair and painting their faces with all sorts of frightening, often death inducing products such as lead and mercury.
So, where are we now? Having fluctuated in trend throughout the 20th century, beards are well and truly with us yet again. And it's an exciting time for the bearded. No longer bound by strict protocols on which their very manhood is hinged, men are now free to express their hirsute selves as they choose. We're seeing trends like the Chin Curtain, the Norris Scipper, the Anchor and for those who take a more free range approach to their shave, there's the "Mithrandir", elegantly sported here by Middle Earth's very own Gandalf. OK, I named that one myself, but I think it's earned a valued place in the ranks of Beardly Awesomeness.
Even more exciting than the fashionable beard styles of today is the individual element that we're seeing; Men stepping outside of the dictates of trending and creating their own unique stylings.
These are exciting times for those well endowed with facial hair, and as I mentioned in my opening I've found I quite fancy the trend.
Bearded chaps, if you see me peering at you with an awkward grin, don't feel uncomfortable; I'm just admiring your facial hair. I think it's cool. So go, own it, wear that beard with pride!