Given this is the month that many men attempt to grow facial hair for the charity Movember, I thought it would be fitting to post an edited version of my feature for the latest issue of ARTICLE magazine, aptly, all about beards.
I’VE yet to really see my lover’s face. Although I wake next to him every morning (and although we have a child together), I am still not familiar with the creases of his skin, or the contour of his chin. This is because half his face is covered in a thick beard — camouflaging his lips when he lapses with trimming, and leaving only his light blue eyes to accompany expressions of emotion.
The beard pre-dates our relationship, and was grown before the current fashion for facial hair took hold. And it will remain long after others have taken a Gillette to their follicles. I know this, because he feels his beard connects him to his Irish ancestry, and — in recent years — to the Belfast-born father he was forced to mourn too early. It’s hard to say why, but he just looks more Celtic with a beard.
For cavemen, the beard had the practical purpose of intimidating rivals — whilst offering some protection against blows if opponents weren’t put off by their hairy chops. As civilisation evolved, though, shaving replaced the beard as a way of marking social status; to the ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Romans, clean-shaven faces and bodies denoted sophistication.
From Victorian times onwards, soldiers were encouraged to grow beards during winter months, whilst sailors were never obliged to shave — and by foregoing the razor they saved time, money and precious fresh water supplies. It also prevented potential infection, as razors at the time were made from steel — which rusted easily, and notorious for cutting skin off. By the Forties, though, with the development of disposable blades that gave a less bloody shave, facial hair fell from fashion again.
Today, apart from a fling with fashion, are there other reasons for men wanting the hirsute look? Photographer Jonathan Pryce has been photographing bearded men for the past two years — first for his blog, 100 Beards, 100 Days, and now for a collection of books.
“I’d say the majority of the men photographed made a conscious decision to keep a face of hair. They may have grown it on a whim at first, or perhaps not, but the end result was nearly always the same. The beard signifies a consciousness of self, without seeming self-conscious. It tells the world they are men in a stylish, intellectual, considered manner.
“Many would start our conversation by volunteering information about how the people around them responded when they grew a beard at first. For men with children, there was usually a playful love of the beard. Children would be fascinated by it, and link it strongly with their identity as a dad. This was usually the case with the subject’s own fathers. It was a generational thing: “My dad had one and now I do too.”