For some, facial hair communicates an air of confidence, distinction, and maturity. For others, facial hair is a sign of rebellion against conformity, signaling a statement about one's profession or hobbies.
Some might look at a beard and think, “Oh he's an artist or a bohemian.” However, as beards become more and more mainstream, they become more akin to wearing a hat or a scarf or a tie. And just like any other accessory, our beards reflect something about how we think and how we feel.
However, unlike a tie, beards can't be removed and worn with the same simplicity of a simple accessory; it takes commitment to have a full beard. Perhaps this is why beards are such a powerful statement of identity.
What Your Beard Says About You
Ever come in to the office after a long vacation with a fresh bit of scruff on your mug and notice the strange looks from your colleagues? Why do some women find men with beards attractive while other women consider them a turn-off?
The answer might have something to do with our brain chemistry. Neuroscientists have studied implicit racial bias to determine whether our brains are hard-wired to trust or distrust someone on the basis of how they look.
Most recent studies indicate that how we perceive people is determined largely based on our previous social interactions and prejudices. In other words, we draw upon our experiences and associations to form judgments about people. If someone looks different, we make snap judgments about what those differences mean about the individual.
Is this person like me? Can I trust them? Scientists suggest that these questions flash through our subconscious so quickly that we may not be aware of them. However, this internal dialogue influences our perception and behavior.
So what does your beard say about you?
It depends entirely on whether you care what other people think.
I get it - it's easy to ignore what people think if you live on your own private yacht. But if you work a day job like most of us, you probably need to give some consideration to your appearance. The good news is, full beards are becoming more common in the workplace. As more and more of us adopt the bearded way, facial hair is becoming more acceptable in corporate culture.
These days, the beard no longer carries with it the same connotations about a persons profession, status or position. There are certainly some beard styles that reinforce caricatures from popular culture such as the Yosemite Sam or the Jack Sparrow pirate beard, but unless they're accompanied by a cowboy outfit or pirate hat they just don't carry the same meaning.
That being said, working professionals may still struggle to convey credibility and professionalism in the modern workspace while simultaneously sporting a really long or gnarly beard. One way to mitigate this problem is to pay closer attention to style, fashion and overall grooming. The modern man who demonstrates attention to detail and style, can transform predispositions about facial hair so that people no longer jump to conclusions about your history as a hobo, but just consider your beard a natural extension of your choice in fashion.
Let's talk about the elephant in the room. I don't know about you, but I get really annoyed when I hear the word hipster to describe someone with a healthy beard. I don't know exactly what a hipster is supposed to be, but I know that caring about one's appearance and expressing identity through hairstyle, jewelry, or taste in music, doesn't make someone anything other than an interesting human being. Why would we want to be boring. Whether we consider ourselves jocks, businessmen, barflies, academics, or whatever, our beards don't define us.
Throughout history beards and mustaches have been a part of being a man. Depending on the time, beards have enjoyed different levels of popularity. As with hairstyles, beards and mustaches may change, but they are always a part of our popular culture. What seems to be different now is that more and more of us are growing our beards longer and fuller and in some cases wearing our hair shorter - at least on the sides. This creates a lot of contrast and clashes with a more traditional notion that the length of hair on the head and the face should be roughly equivalent.
Some compare the beard styles common today to having a retro or vintage look. Perhaps this is a result of a renaissance in manly culture. That is to say, men are more interested in how our grandfathers or our great, great grandfathers may have expressed their masculinity. In some cases, this is associated with a romantic notion of manly men in the old west, or burly men working as lumberjacks. Borrowing fashion trends from popular culture of the past is nothing new. Trends in fashion and style come and go all the time but usually come back with a modern twist.
Today what we are seeing are the old-timey stereotypes from cowboys to muscleman to pioneer trappers, combined with a modern sense of style, drawing upon old-fashioned clothing elements such as vests, suspenders, glasses and bow ties.
Our fascination with all things "old fashioned" suggests it might be worthwhile to explore the role of beards throughout history.