There was a time when a man took great pride in cultivating and maintaining a healthy thatch of hair on his face and neck. As humans evolved and entered a more sheltered existence, donning primitive clothing, we lost most of our natural body hair. But males retained the beard, a natural shield against the elements, a camouflage for the hunter, an indicator of age and sexual readiness. Facial hair was a sign of virility, of adulthood, of power. In the Bible, when the treacherous Delilah shaved Samson as he slept, she robbed him of his legendary strength. Without a beard, a man was nothing.
But after World War II, GI’s returning from battle kept up the strict grooming imposed on them by the Army, and the beard fell out of favor, with a more “professional” look dominating the workplace. As the century continued, Charles Manson’s unruly goatee symbolized an unfortunate association between facial hair and the counterculture of the 60s and 70s, pushing the beard further out of the mainstream, while many companies officially instituted grooming policies requiring their employees to shave. The sign said, “Long-haired freaky people need not apply,” and this applied to beards as well as ponytails. An unshaven man looked as if he had given up on life, dropped out of society, and resigned himself to a lonely existence, consisting on canned beans and skin magazines.
For years, the beard lay dormant. In the 80s, 90s and early 00s, clean-shaven, thin-skinned fops dominated the cultural spotlight, smearing moisturizer on their rosy, baby-soft cheeks. Keifer Sutherland’s dusting of stubble on 24 passed for a beard. As the 2010’s began, it had been a hundred years since the election of William Howard Taft, the last president to proudly sport a ‘stache. But below the surface, something was growing. The follicles on the face of American masculinity had been cut down too long, and an eruption of luxurious, unabashed facial fur was right around the corner. The economic recession had driven many men out of work. They had to find a new identity, beyond the one bestowed on them by their profession: something more primal, essential and unchecked.
Today, some six years later, the beard enjoys a revival in America and worldwide. More and more men are embracing their inner ape. Being hirsute is once again haute couture, for hedge fund managers and hippies alike. In big cities, where once the baby-faced look was de rigueur for young professionals, mustachioed men in bespoke suits have become the new normal.
New Orleans is no different. Even in the Southern heat and humidity, the beard has made a big comeback, with high-class barbershops and homegrown beard appreciation groups coming out of the woodwork. Grooming company Wahl Home Products ranked NOLA at #17 on its list of America’s most facial hair-friendly cities, beating out Chicago, New York and other colder climates. Be prepared to see a bevy of winter whiskers throughout the Big Easy over the next few months, in particular in November.
You may have been told as a kid that you lose 80 percent of your body heat through your head, so you ought to wear a hat if you don’t want to catch your death of cold. The statistic is pretty misleading—you’d lose the same amount of heat were you to walk outside with your knees or feet exposed—but that doesn’t change the fact that cold weather is harsh on the face. As it begins to get chilly, many men grow out their hair in preparation, switching from a close cut in the summer to a shaggier one in winter. A winter beard is a great compliment to this mountain-man look, one reason why the “Movember” and “No-Shave November” awareness campaigns are so perfectly timed.
The campaigns have essentially the same idea behind them: grow facial hair throughout the month of November to raise awareness for health issues. Movember specifically encourages participants to grow a moustache. The movement began as a goofy challenge that a pair of Aussie men issued to 30 of their friends in 2003 and has since grown into a massive fundraiser for men’s health issues. The facial hair once associated with rude policemen and abusive stepfathers is now become a powerful source for good: over 5 million people have participated, raising $710 million to fund over 1,200 men’s health projects. In recent years, the group has been active in New Orleans, holding events including “50 Shades of Stache,” where participants named their mustaches and read erotic novels aloud to raise money for prostate cancer research. No-Shave November is a similar concept, asking both men and women to refrain from shaving any of their hair, while fundraising in partnership with the American Cancer Society.
The Art of Shaving is a mecca for New Orleans beard culture. One of an expanding line of stores offering premier shaving products, the Canal Street outpost attracts men interested in the perfect shave. The Art of Shaving offers a full range of products for a smooth, comfortable shave, including a regimen of pre- and post-shaving creams and lotions, uniquely crafted straight razors, and beard oils.
Manager Ricardo Botello offers some insight into the store’s mission and the Big Easy beard craze. “We offer a lot of beard care products: brushes, dry oils, beard washes, beard conditioners, beard wax, you name it. We also offer beard trims on site,” Botello says. “Lately, people are really keeping them more well-kempt. A lot of people come in for trims and line-ups. Most of our clients are businessmen, so they need to look good and not let things get too unruly.” In other words, many of New Orleans’s fuzzy folks are more Don Draper than Duck Dynasty.
That’s not to say there aren’t still men out there proudly sporting untrimmed, bushy thickets of facial fur. The men of the Louisiana Beard and Facial Hair Association are a mixed bunch, but most of their beards are what Botello might deem “unruly.” The group has partnered with others across the state, including Lafayette’s Wolf Barber Shop, to celebrate facial hair of all kinds. October 1 marked the beginning of their six-month beard competition. Contestants submitted a picture of themselves clean-shaven on the first. On April 1, 2017, they’ll compete at the 5th Annual Louisiana Facial Hair Competition to see whose growth is most impressive. The organization also sells beard soaps, shampoos and mustache wax on their website and in stores around Lafayette, but their most popular products are their beard oils, with flavors including coffee, peppermint, and the recently introduced pumpkin pie, which combines pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg and rum with essential oils to keep your beard smelling seasonal and looking lustrous.
Whether you’re a life-long beard-o or a former fresh face hopping on a hot trend, you can rest assured that New Orleans welcomes your beard. Check out spots like the Magazine Street Barbershop, opened in 2008, to have your look shaped by an expert, or do it yourself with the vast range of products available at The Art of Shaving. Commune with other facial hair fanatics on The Louisiana Beard and Facial Hair Association’s Facebook page. If you’ve never grown a beard before, for whatever reason, now may be the time. The day may soon come when the city’s bars, banks and boardrooms are filled with mutton-chopped managers, Fu-Manchu’d financiers and soul patch-sporting suits. Join them.