Let it grow: Knowing when to sport facial hair

Written by reagan alexander
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It's a question of both style and lifestyle

Let it grow: Knowing when to sport facial hair
The Tom Ford look is scruffy, but "professional, well-groomed and understated all at the same time." The key is knowing your face ... and your workplace. (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images)

Generally speaking, the term 'clean-shaven' still stands for something, and connotes a well-groomed, and perhaps even a higher-class appearance. However, there are ways to wear some facial hair and make it look not only respectable, but fashion-forward.

— Marco Pelusi, celebrity hair colourist and owner of Marco Pelusi Hair Studio

Any way that you look at it, facial hair was around long before we came on the scene. Our ancestors certainly had it, but what has separated us from them is our ability to properly groom it, and make women fawn over it. For most of us, facial hair is a constant. Other hair may come and go, but you shave your face one morning and the next day there's stubble there to greet you again, as if begging the question, "To shave, or not to shave?" Work beckons, but our individual sense of style also tugs at the hand that wields the razor. Thankfully, sporting facial hair in the workplace is no longer the domain of only lumberjacks and longshoremen.

From woolly to worthy

History is filled with great men with great facial hair. Some examples are Martin Luther King Jr., Albert Einstein, -- and even Burt Reynolds.

But the public has not always accepted facial hair. Now facial hair is making a move to the mainstream of modern culture. But it is not a look you can adopt out of laziness. Facial hair, done the right way, takes time.

"Facial hair's acceptability all depends on how the hair is shaped, groomed and maintained," said Marco Pelusi, celebrity hair colourist and owner of Marco Pelusi Hair Studio in Hollywood. "Generally speaking, the term 'clean-shaven' still stands for something, and connotes a well-groomed, and perhaps even a higher-class appearance. However, there are ways to wear some facial hair and make it look not only respectable, but fashion-forward."

John Myatt, president and founder of the Beard and Mustache Club, says that he feels all varieties of facial hair can find a well-manicured path to respectability.

"We're on the upper side of the curve as far as acceptability, and as far as in the workplace, it's kind of like the way tattoos have become commonplace," Myatt said. "It all depends on how well you grow it, and if it looks nice and is presentable. I usually don't leave the house without spending 10 to 15 minutes on my beard to make it look presentable. If it looks dirty and scraggy, which it can easily, then you just look lazy."

The experts say men should look at facial hair as an extension of the hair on top of their heads. Just as you wash, comb and groom that hair, you should take care of facial hair in the same manner because it is one of the first things people will look at when they see you.

"I have a beard that I round, I hairspray, that I keep conditioned, and that I brush maybe five times a day," Myatt said. "You have to pay attention to it. Trim it where it needs (it), and take the time to make it presentable, because then people will find it more and more difficult not to accept it."

When it comes to beards, vanity is neither an option nor a sin. It's a prerequisite.

"I have good friends who are girls who have watched me groom my beard," Myatt said with a laugh, "And they say, 'You spend more time on your beard than I do on my hair!'"

Know thy face

The hair on your face, like the hair on your head, is about style and self-expression. However, it's important to know your limitations.

"Facial hair is a step into manhood," Myatt said. "Some people just don't look good with facial hair -- it comes in patchy or they don't have a face for it, but at least they gave it a try. I also know cops who can't grow mustaches, and they're sad about it."

A beard or a mustache can speak volumes as to what type of person you are, but even the most painstakingly tended attempts at facial hair can result in a look that does your face few favors. That being said, facial hair can be your greatest ally.

"For men with round-shaped faces, specifically placed and sculpted facial hair can help give their face a more square, or more oval, appearance," Pelusi said. "A guy with a double chin can look great with a goatee because the hair on his chin, shaped correctly, will make his face seem more square."

Even "Miami Vice"-era Don Johnson-esque stubble can help rescue your face from rubble.

"If a guy has full cheeks, some hair on his face will actually toughen up the roundness of his face," Pelusi said. "It squares the jaw, and there's that whole 'Tom Ford look' right now, a constant, 5 o' clock shadow, which is professional, well-groomed and understated all at the same time."

Know thy workplace

In a perfect world, no one would judge a man by his facial hair. Because it's not a perfect world, knowing how your peers and colleagues perceive you and your look matters. It can determine if you're judged by the work that you do rather than the "balbo" that you bear.

"I've seen people in just about every job with all different types of facial hair," Myatt said. "And the full ZZ Top beard may be looked down upon in most places of actual business, but it's a lifestyle choice, and it may have just become more acceptable because sometimes people have a tendency to base things on the perception of what's 'cool.'"

It all depends on where you work.

"A guy in the fashion industry can have a few days' stubble, and make it look cool and hip," Pelusi said. "But in the end, we all aim to look professional and well-groomed. For now, some facial hair is just more acceptable than others."

For Pelusi, the key is downplaying your growth, finding that fine line between manscaping and a natural look, while keeping your facial hair from becoming your defining characteristic.

"I really feel that a bit of 5 o' clock shadow, or a well-done goatee, can look appropriate in any setting," he said. "The reason being that these looks can be done in an almost casual, understated way. Make it look like your facial hair happened effortlessly, almost like it occurred on its own, and yet somehow still looks fabulous."

Less may be more, but sometimes more is a statement all on its own. The beard is making its way into cubicles, coffee shops and courtrooms across the land, and there appears to be a shift in the facial hair paradigm that is more a slow nudging of the envelope than an actual push.

"Nowadays, except for maybe the restaurant and food industry, I can't think of a single occupation that can't have, or even frowns upon, facial hair," Myatt said. "Phil Olsen is the founder of Beard Team and he is a judge -- he has a beard that is probably a foot long. The point is that he grooms it, and it's wonderful and it's big, and it's round. There you have a guy who is at the pinnacle of his profession, one that may allow a short beard, if that, and he has a giant, well-maintained beard."

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