For ancient Egyptians, it was a sign of wealth and status. Romans would cultivate theirs to signify mourning, while Gauls equated the loss of one with castration. To the 21st-century man, though, the humble beard is more a sartorial statement of intent than a status symbol.
In the past few years facial hair has morphed from money-saving ruse (it’s no coincidence that the rise of the beard ran parallel with the global economic recession) into the ultimate style accessory – and one that’s not just an adjunct to your overall look but an expression of the inner you, too.
Cheap, versatile and adaptable, facial hair can change the shape of a man’s face and completely alter how he looks in jeans and a T-shirt or a suit. A few whiskers here and there can make a baby face look older, draw attention away from a thinning thatch and hide a multitude of sins (or chins). In short, it allows a man to be the ultimate chameleon.
What’s more, despite the ‘peak beard’ protestations of clean-shaven style pundits and the wishful thinking big bucks razor manufacturers, the beard is very much here to stay.
In fact, a recent YouGov survey showed the popularity of beards has only increased since 2011, with over 40 per cent of British men now sporting some kind of facial fuzz, with a full beard remaining the most popular option.
What makes things different from the last time facial hair was in fashion back in the seventies isn’t just the sheer variety of styles men are now experimenting with or the number of products available to help them achieve them, but women’s attitude towards them.