But why do we do it? Is it a preening tactic to draw a mate? Is it a self-image thing? Is it a subconscious attempt to inspire beard-envy in those incapable of growing one?
The argument can be made, I suppose, that both men and women (and children, at the behest of their parents) also style hair for perhaps similar purposes. Whatever 'do we choose, we like the way it looks. It makes us feel better about ourselves (exception: the mullet, which only serves to make other feel better about themselves).
The way I see it, there are countless ways to fashion facial hair. Allow me to highlight a few:
1) The Full Beard. This one's easy. Let it grow, let it grow, let it grow. Usually reserved for the homeless, the I-don't-give-a-damns, and professional athletes. Unruly.
2) The Half Beard. Full Beard, lopped midway up. Less wild than its big brother.
3) The Groomed Beard. Perhaps the most popular sub-heading in the Beard category, this one is trimmed frequently, often professionally. It is tame. It is sometimes dyed to eliminate gray. It exudes sophistication, confidence, experience.
4) The Full Goatee. Popularized in the mid-90s by young professionals hoping to give their fresh-from-the-dormitory baby face a less youthful glow in order to nail job interviews, this one is still in full swing today. Look for it in college sports arenas, board rooms, and your local tavern.
5) The Half Goatee. There are several sub-headings in this category. Two of the trendier are The Splitter and The Chinny-chin-chin. Each can work to the benefit (or detriment) of the wearer.
6) The Handlebar. The high-maintenance mustache! From Wild West icons like Wyatt Earp to pre-World War I leaders like Archduke Franz Ferdinand, this conversation piece usually required the use of Mustache Wax to achieve maximum curvature. The Handlebar enjoyed a resurgence in the 1970s, most likely due to Oakland A's relief pitcher Rollie Fingers. With its archaic look and styling time, The Handlebar always seemed like more trouble than it's worth.
7) The Fu Manchu. Named for Sax Rohmer's criminal mastermind, this style of facial hair has been embedded in the global consciousness since the early 20th century. Nearly 100 years have passed since Dr. Fu Manchu first strutted onto the page wearing his infamous whippy whiskers and never has it been more popular. (Note: I have never actually seen anyone except the good doctor able to pull this look off).
8) The Porn 'Stache. We all know what this looks like. Don't deny it. Who among us hasn't found themselves completely transfixed by the giant woolly worm pasted to the philtrum? This style emerged in the 1970s via adult movie star John Holmes, was perpetuated to great success by Tom Selleck in Magnum, P.I., and evolved into a popular choice for donut-chomping cops across America.
9) The WTF?!? This is an all-encompassing category for truly odd facial hair. These styles go beyond all sense of good taste and exist solely to draw the eye in sheer bewilderment. Check one out here. And here. And, yes, even here.
So why do we do it? Who knows? Who cares? Men the world over have made their mark with their whiskers and one thing is for sure: facial fashions are here to stay.
Now I want to know what you think of facial hair. Guys, do you shape your whiskers? Scrape them away? Let them grow like weeds in an untended garden patch? Ladies, do you like a fistful of facial hair on your fellow, a five o'clock shadow, or do you like a clean-shaven man? What are your favorite facial fashions that I didn't cover here? Let me know!
Until then, Happy 'Staching! Jolly Weird-bearding! Merry Fu-Manchuing!
Note: I was invited recently to an event called Mustache Fest that takes place in Chicago and is now in its fifth year. Per its Facebook page, how it works is simple: "You grow a stache, or obtain a fake, and come ready to celebrate the object that turned Tom Selleck into Magnum P.I.; the growth that made Mike Ditka Da' Coach; and the fur that took Geraldo Rivera into Al Capone's vault." On top of that, you get to hear some great local live music. What's not to love? Count me in! I guess I better start working on the 'stache.