The history of the male facial hair, or its falling in and out of favour, is like a pendulum—swinging in a matter of generations to opposite ends. Every Greek worthy of his marble bust sports one—Socrates, Plato, Thucidides, Sophocles, doughty Leonidas and Pericles. As Rome swept into history, its mighty republicans, soldiers and emperors took the razor to their visages with gusto. There they stand, Caesar, Augustus, Cicero, Ovid, Seneca, staring at us with unseeing eyes, cheeks as smooth and glistening as they possibly were in real life. Why, even the tyrants Tiberius and Caligula didn’t feel the need for a bushy outcrop behind which to hide their hideous deeds. Is there a connect with Roman predilections and the ruthlessly efficient style of imperialism that they pioneered?
Thus goes mankind’s brief and lengthy encounters with the beard, waxing and waning in density, regarded through history as not only masculine, but often denoting, in grooming and a variety of new styles, sprigs of nobility from the hoi polloi.
Jagan Mathew’s Garibaldi
It is, however, plainly apparent to the observer that young India, after a gap of many decades, is conducting a finely manicured, openly narcissistic love affair with the beard, and that is mediated by passionate admiration for the many beards in the Indian cricket team. The hirsute revolution is led, unsurprisingly, by captain Virat Kohli, he of the strong-jawed variety, his clean, V-shaped beard, framing his chiselled face so admirably, shadowing his rasping groundstrokes in the ‘V’. What it has sparked, and fed, in Indian men is a passion for beards, with young sparks open to a new ‘look’ adopting them in hordes—much like how young Germans in the early 20th century copied Kaiser Wilhelm’s moustache.
Barber Nizamuddin of Truefitt & Hill, Delhi, says, “Be it young or old, nobody really likes the clean-shaven look. These days everybody wants to focus on facial hair styling, especially beards.” But talk about circles, goatees or mutton chops, it’s Kohli’s style—a modified ‘Balbo’—that reigns, with barbers across India being badgered by youngsters for the icon’s V-shaped chin cushion. After the formidable ‘Garibaldi’ of first truly great batsman, W.G. Grace, will Kohli’s beard be regarded as the most influential in cricket?
Ravi Punia’s composite look
With men’s grooming products, many aimed at the beard, feeding the alpha male frenzy, consumers are busy fussing about themselves, massaging lotions and oils, before the mirror.
Varun Pande, a Mumbai-based actor and fitness expert, says, “The beard style that I carry is called ‘Bandholz’, named after Eric Bandholz, its progenitor. It’s comparatively raw and aggressive and requires extensive beard growth.” Pande adds, “I have always sported a beard since I could grow one. Maybe it has got to do with my affinity for old-school charm. But yes, I was always conscious of the style I could sport, keeping my age and profession in mind.”
Thence we tackle a question lurking behind any stylish manly pursuit: Do women find bearded men more attractive? Many bold commentators hazard an opinion that women these days are leaning heavily towards the bearded kind. Contrary to the tired belief that a beard is a sign of unkemptness and lack of hygiene, women have been led to believe, under the veritable blitz of clean-cut, bearded fellows straddling Bollywood, advertising, fashion and sport, that keeping and nurturing a beard is a process requiring patience and attention. They also recognise the self-awareness and confidence behind it all. Says Pande, “The bearded look is a fresh take on men’s appearance. Since a beard is a natural accessory for a man, it adds a lot of character to his appearance. A man who takes care of himself can never go wrong in matters of the opposite sex.”
Various beards at barber Nizamuddin’s
A well-groomed beard needs to be lavished with attention--apart from applying available beard grooming products like beard oils, beard balms and shampoos, one should never neglect the essential role of a good beard comb. The secret to a well-groomed beard, say those in the know, is timely trimming and styling. Good diet—reputed to consist of almonds and eggs--is important too, as is a hydrated body. Unlike scalp hair, beards take some more time to build their natural oils, so it is necessary to just let them be and let them grow out naturally, say experts.
Jagan Mathew, a sports photographer from Coimbatore who sports a combination of a Garibaldi and a V-shape says, “Beards can never go out of style. My beard sets me apart in a crowd and has become my identity.” The Garibaldi look being slightly unkempt, only those with thick facial growth can grow it. The trick, say experts, is to grow your hair for a few months and then trim it.
Rohan Shrivastava’s ‘golf stick beard’
Experts also urge men to keep in mind their personality and facial structure, especially the jaw line, before plumping for a style. Describing his beard art, Rohan Shrivastava, a student from Bhopal, says, “It is a combination of a ‘mutton chop’ and ‘neckbeard’ and I have also added edgy cut to it to make this a unique style. I call it the ‘golf stick beard’.”
Wine Sommelier Ravi Punia has an eye on the beard’s illustrious history: “If you read history you will realise that in late 19th and early 20th century it was considered aristocratic to keep a heavy beard and moustaches.” Talking about his style, Punia mentions that his facial hair is a complete look—handlebar moustaches and a V-shaped beard makes his face look long and gives him a distinctive look.
The beard, in its manifold varieties, seem to rival women’s coiffure for influence and attention. Will its resurgence see such a spurt that it ultimately threatens the shaving industry? Going by the beard’s consummate hold over stylish Indian youth, do not bet against it!