By Aimee Blanchette
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Chris Sorensen usually spends 20 minutes each morning carefully styling his beard and mustache. Other days, “depending on how critical the situation is,” it takes more than an hour.
The 29-year-old Brooklyn Park, Minn., resident combs essential oils through his long goatee, then uses wax and a blow dryer to coil the ends of his 15-inch musketeer mustache into perfectly round circles. Hair spray finishes the look.
What started four years ago as a way to honor his late grandfather has become Sorensen’s personal trademark.
Thanks to men like him, this devotion to well-coiffed facial hair has made the beard — in all of its incarnations — a fashion darling.
“In the past, facial hair got the creepy-guy, homeless-man vibe,” Sorensen said. “Now, you can carry yourself in a presentable and stylish way when you have a good-looking beard.”
Thick, trimmed, neat or bristly, beards are as varying as the men who wear them — from blue-collar welders and pro athletes to Paris runway models and downtown businessmen. This widespread appeal has made beards a style statement even in the workplace, where acceptance of the unshaven look is growing (pun intended).
The revival of barbershops, as well as facial hair competitions and stubble-loving celebrities, are markers that the beard might be entering a new heyday.
This past summer, Schick reported a 10 percent drop in razor sales — indicating that more guys are letting their hair down.
November is peak whisker season. The global Movember movement, which encourages guys to grow mustaches to raise awareness and money for men’s health, launched the mustache into popularity in recent years. But the fuller, fluffier beard is vying for its own spot on the facial hair map.
Jason Foster is a recent beard convert. Though he’s had some sort of facial hair since he was 17, the big-bearded men who rule TV shows like Duck Dynasty and Fast N’ Loud inspired him to retire his razor.
“Guys covet facial hair,” said the 31-year-old, who works in a corporate setting for a large financial institution. “I feel more manly when I have a beard.”
There’s some science behind that notion. According to studies, men with facial hair reportedly feel more masculine and are perceived as more virile than clean-shaven men.
Allan Peterkin has written three books about facial hair. He’s a pogonologist, otherwise known as a beard expert (yes, there is such a thing).
“From an evolutionary point of view, male apes would jut their jaws out to appear more powerful when meeting their enemies,” the Toronto psychiatrist said. “A beard seems to enlarge the jaw, so the guy with the more follicles is usually read as more masculine.”
Despite beards’ popularity through history, Peterkin said many people still perceive them as “dodgy,” as if men behind them have something to hide. Maybe that’s why there hasn’t been an American president with a full beard since 1893.
From products and tools, many men will go the distance to get their beards looking just right. Matt Legare says his beard is nothing more than an expression of his blue-collar background. But every six weeks, the 37-year-old welder from Lakeville, Minn., drives 25 miles to get a haircut and beard trim at 7th Street Barbers, an old-school barbershop in St. Paul.
The Minneapolis Beard and Moustache Club recruits members with a mission that reads: “We drink beer and live in tree forts. Our blood smells like shaving cream. We represent modern Minneapolis-style facial hair.”
The group shares styling tips (drink whiskey and take hair vitamins to thicken your whiskers) and supports one another through changing fashions — usually over beers at Dangerous Man Brewing in northeast Minneapolis.
“It’s true, we all seem to like beer,” Sorensen said. “Beer and beards go hand in hand like salt and pepper.”
At a recent bar gathering of the club, the men even helped groom one another with hair dryers and flatirons before mugging for photos. Many of the club members are featured in a new book, Of Beards and Men, by photographer Joseph D.R. OLeary.
“I felt like beards were in fashion but out of favor,” OLeary said.
Sorensen agrees. “Many of us have been doing this for years and years. Now people are starting to notice it and respect it,” he said. “People blog about it, talk about it and we’re getting the positive attention we’ve been looking for.”
Among the club is a champion who has competed at the international level. Michael “MJ” Johnson, of Minneapolis, sports a style called the Imperial Partial Beard, an abstract look that blends his mustache and sideburns — the thick dark chops covering most of his cheeks and curving upward.
Recently the 38-year-old wine specialist flew to Germany to compete in the 2013 World Beard and Moustache Championships. He placed second in the Imperial Partial Beard category, bringing back a silver medal to his fellow beardsmen.
“Guys recognize that [a beard] makes a statement,” Johnson said. “Besides, why look good when you can look fantastic?”