Beardsmen: Portland, Brooklyn and points in between

Every moment has its look. I'm no historian so I can only recall what I've seen. In the late 40's, my earliest clear memories, and into the 50s, men wore moustaches. This was Latin America and the 'stache lasted longer than in the north. They also wore heavily padded double-breasted suits -- revived by '80s designers. As the 50s advanced American fashions caught on, primarily among the bourgeoisie and the young. That meant that both hair and clothes trimmed down. The Ivy League look, today called trad.

Some men shaved their face for other reasons. My dad because his moustache was turning gray and my mom just didn't like it. Then came our move to the US. Facial hair was rare. Hair was military short.  Well, not everyone. Jocks in my schools wore crewcuts. But others wore long, heavily coiffed styles. The  look of the young Elvis. Few men wore moustaches. And absolutely no one grew a beard. Actually, one man did. A jazz radio deejay. Our town's token hipster. Accordingly, he eventually dated a much younger woman who would become a famous model.

Up north -- this was Florida -- some men grew beards. They were called beatniks, a mild pejorative derived from the poets of the Beat Generation. By the time I was in college some of my friends began sporting beards. Our crowd was post-Beat, proto-hippie. I, however, remained shaved. (I also stayed with my button down shirts and penny loafers.) 

Then came grad school in the Midwest of the late 60s. I let my hair grow a little longer. I tried facial hair and went back to shaving. A hippie chick reworked a pair of my jeans into bell bottoms. But when I went looking for my first teaching job I cut my hair short, was clean shaven and wore a conservative suit my parents were nice enough to buy me.

The early 70s were still the 60s. Young faculty like myself ditched their tweed jackets and ties and moved into bell bottom jeans and Frye boots. Some grew moustaches, others beards. Many if not most of our male students wore long hair and full beards. I tried the beard again and this time I kept it. My hair was bushy. In my next teaching job a student told me I looked like Jerry Garcia. I was flattered.

Mutatis mutandi, long hair and unruly beards were trimmed. Eventually, very short hair and clean shaven faces became a style, though some men kept both long even as they wore (designer) suits. I tried the suits and kept hair and beard from unruliness. Trim clothes came back -- with a vengeance. The Thom Browne look.

But something else was going on. Hipsterism. Porkpie hats. Tight jeans. And facial hair. Some of that was soul patches, borrowed from the original hipsters, jazzmen. However, a more luxuriant mode caught on, the full and very long beard. Unlike the 60s guys, these wore their hair very short, a contrast with the beard. The look also included work boots and heavy flannel shirts, making these hipsters look like urban lumberjacks. Some called them lumbersexuals -- a twist on the earlier metrosexuals -- a bogus name for what have been, since Beau Brummell, called dandies.

And that's where facial hair stands today. Guys with hair like 50s jocks and beards like 60s hippies, as well as clothes tight and short as current yuppies. Like women, men can wear their hair different lengths, but we also have our faces to adorn or shave. What's next? Mutton chops? Some men wear them. Big moustaches? That too.

We live in an eclectic fashion era, with change so rapid that one trend barely has time to catch on. Me? I don't know. Other than all my hair gets whiter by the day. Right now, it and my beard are quite short. Some logic tells me less white on my head and face should make me look younger. A quick look in the mirror tells me that logic is flawed. Fashion trends move through time, but time itself moves beyond trends.