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Chris van Schaick: Time to talk beards

PUBLISHED: 10:38 25 January 2016 | UPDATED: 10:38 25 January 2016

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

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Extra definition or just an itchy aggravation? Chris van Schaick ponders the revival of the vegetation adorning so many gentlemen’s faces at this time of year

I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re confronted by a new beard this New Year. Perhaps you already have been. The mid-winter break is a classic time for a man to let his facial vegetation flourish. What often begins with a decision not to bother shaving on December 23rd can easily become the full set by Twelfth Night.

I have, in fact, grown my own winter beard. But it has slightly different origins. I recently spent time enjoying some, ahem, independent travel in Brazil and Argentina with Mrs. v.S. It involved long bus journeys, characterful cafes and hiring bikes from a man called Mr. Hugo. It was all faintly hippyish.

So it seemed the ideal setting to grow a travel beard. It’s the kind of thing young men usually do on their backpacking gap years. But my face had been too boyish to pull it off when I was at that rucksack stage.

This time round I was encouraged in my travel beard by Mrs. v.S. As the beard gradually appeared, she said approvingly that it “gave extra definition to my face.” That’s clearly code for her unspoken view that I am now tending more to Mr. Blobby than to Mr. Darcy.

Beards have sent different signals down the years. The full-blooded number sported by, for example, King George V was the epitome of early 20th century gravitas. Yet sixty years later, the man in the drawings for The Joy of Sex had a beard - I’m sure to send a message that the improbable positions described in the how-to manual were in fact perfectly natural.

But in the last few years, beards have got a bit out of hand. Twenty something hipsters have grown them in huge numbers at the same time their fifty and sixty something Dads have increasingly re-created that Joy of Sex look from 1972. So there are now an awful lot of beards about. Social commentators have been arguing for a few years now about whether we have yet reached or indeed passed the point of Peak Beard.

This near universality means that facial hair now says a lot less about its wearer than it once did. During the Labour leadership election, there were many references to Jeremy Corbyn’s beard as a symbol of his politics. But what about Graham Norton? Or David Beckham? I can’t remember any of them being described as “bearded” to signify what they think about in-work poverty, tax policy or bank regulation.

Anyway, you may be wondering if Meon Valley Man’s new beard represents a challenge to the Hampshire Life art department. Look at the smooth face staring out. Perhaps they need to take a new snap, you may be thinking – or at least get the felt pen out. Don’t bother, I say. Whatever the new beard has given me in gravitas and facial definition, it’s paid me out far more in annoying itchiness. To be honest I’m now longing for a session with the Bic. The travel beard is very unlikely to make it to Shrove Tuesday.


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