KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Just as millennials are beginning to get comfortable with this new follicle-based fad, science has to go and get in the way.
In an Australian study published last week in the journal “Biology Letters,” researchers asked women to examine four types of photos — men with beards, clean-shaven men and men with light and heavy stubble — and rate their attractiveness.
What they found was that, when beards were rare in the photos, women found them to be more attractive. When they were plentiful, the opposite was true.
“(The study) suggests that beard styles are likely to grow less attractive as they become more popular,” explained Rob Brooks, who was part of the research team, in a piece he wrote for theconversation.com.
The study’s findings are noteworthy, given that the beard seems to be the trend du jour among many 20- and 30-something men.
The beard has become as ingrained in hipster culture as flannel, skinny jeans and a disdain for a Seattle-based coffee company.
From unkempt to closely cropped and everything in between, in Kansas City, Mo., at least, young men seem to boast more cheek and chin hair than an episode of “Game of Thrones.”
The “Duck Dynasty” clan has shot to fame thanks in no small part to their extravagant facial foliage. Last year’s Boston Red Sox and their Fear the Beard movement marched all the way to a World Series title. And last summer, Procter & Gamble, which owns Gillette, acknowledged razor sales were falling, as did Energizer, which said its Schick men’s razor sales were off 10 percent.
In a recent interview with Esquire Magazine, meanwhile, the actor Tom Hardy compared cutting off his beard to removing his testicles.
Facial hair is a historically fickle beast, a trend that has ebbed and flowed with the decades. During the “Mad Men”-era 50s, the Don Drapers of the world wouldn’t think of arriving at the office without a fresh shave.
During the free-wheeling ‘60s and ‘70s, however, the biker beard became a staple. At various times, mustaches, mutton-chop sideburns and goatees have also made appearances.
Today, the infatuation seems to be with the beard, which, on a recent afternoon inside the Calico Beard and Mercantile, a salon and barber shop on Kansas City’s West Side, appeared to be alive and well.
Tara Shaw opened the place in January 2013 after noticing the surge in popularity of beards in the three or four years prior. She attributes the trend to the influence of bearded celebs and members of prominent bands.
She also credits other factors: a desire for a return to nostalgic Americana and an association with the blue-collar culture.
The stubbled and totally unshorn tend to agree, having grown attached to their beards – and what they represent.
“How people present themselves reflects what they believe about themselves, and what they want people to believe about them,” says Chris Gorney, a principal at Second Life Studios, after an appointment to see his bewhiskered barber, Dane R. Casey.
“I think there’s a kind of authenticity – a grunge, a grit – that comes with beards. People who don’t give a damn are the kind of people that people who do give a damn want to be like.”
Bearded Kansas Citian Shannon Schlappi began growing his now ample beard about three years ago, during a No-Shave November event, and has mostly had it ever since.
He points to a shaving mishap suffered in the early stages of his beard growth as evidence of its popularity with others.
While attempting to give his facial hair a trim, he cut too deep and was forced to shave the beard off entirely. Upon seeing him afterward, his daughter began to cry.
“It was pretty clear to me that was something that needed to be part of my day-to-day life,” he says now. “So I wouldn’t have my daughter weeping.”
As for the beard’s future, it’s anyone’s guess.
Shaw thinks that we might have reached “peak beard” in America. But while her business appears uniquely positioned to handle whatever the newest trend may bring – if a mob of young men decide to forgo their beards, for instance, the shop also offers straight-razor shaves – Shaw isn’t exactly ready to pull the plug.
Quite the opposite, actually. Next month the shop is launching a new beard-care product line complete with beard oils, sprays, waxes and exfoliants for the skin beneath.
Oh, and as for this assertion that the beard’s attractiveness might be in danger of waning in the eyes of women?
“I would refuse to allow my gentleman to shave his beard,” Shaw says. “I would put up a fight – and I have.”