When the 90s became the 00s and mass-produced urban culture was taking over, I’ll bet anyone’s vision of the future assumed that it would be technology that shaped the way we live and dress, combining it all in a fusion of sparkling modernity. In fact, the opposite seems to have occurred.
The manufacture and purchase of material goods has returned its focus to the quality of the materials from which it’s made, over what gimmicks and tricks the product can perform. In clothing, natural fibres, traditional tailoring and classic cuts have overtaken that desire to look modern, bringing about the rise of the hipster, the boom of vintage and the return of the beard.
Aside from the odd goatee and some designer stubble, facial hair had been strikingly absent from men’s fashion for a whole generation. The thought of coiffed and manicured facial hair conjured images of Bavarian waxed moustaches, or Edwardian English gentlemen bumbling about on a croquet-lawn. But in the mass media age, when we are all encouraged to craft our own niche in what we consume, our quirks are celebrated and fashion is dictated by the consumer. The human body has become as individual as the clothing, with hairstyles, tattoos and facial hair the basis of the look, not just an addition to it.
When John Lewis embraced hobo chic with their fully bearded male model Johnny Harrington early last year, the beard had well and truly arrived. From chinstraps to handlebars, from mutton chops to a full shenandoah, the beard has become part of a thoroughly twenty-first century phenomenon; ‘old’ is the new ‘new’. Grandpa jumpers, battered leather shoes, satchels and plaid, men are dressed in new versions of what could be thrift, but with their faces and heads snipped and clipped and perfectly neat, juxtaposed against patterns and rough hewn fabrics. Gone are the days of wet-look spiky hair and baby-faced boys-next-door. Even the chavs have embraced the fuzz.
The beard has gone fully global. The artsy alternative scenes in cities all over the world have crept out into the mainstream; individuality is the new inviolable trend. People, their homes and the media they consume have diversified to the point of complete assimilation and oddities and peculiarities, that might have been condemned to mere freakshows before, have become the norm. The full beard is definitely one of the more peculiar male fashions to find its way back to the fore, but in a world in which masculinity is losing itself in the metrosexual grooming of the twenty-first century, what can assert your manhood more than simply growing a beard? Women can’t do that, can they? No matter how it’s cut, a beard will always be manly. Think about that the next time you shave.
By Ben Turner for A-Magazine.