To beard or not to beard

The Tailor ('Il Tagliapanni')
The Tailor (‘Il Tagliapanni’)

“A man with a beard is a man with a secret.”

I vividly remember my late grandfather imparting this pearl of wisdom to me and my father when I was growing up. I also remember the look on my dad’s (bearded) face as my granddad said it.

Although my grandfather remained carefully shaven all through his adult life up to his death, I imagine that most men experiment at least once with growing some facial hair. It might be through laziness: shaving, or at least shaving properly, involves a fair amount of time and effort. A few years ago I treated a friend to a birthday shaving lesson at one of London’s traditional barber shops. The lesson involved lots of hot towels to prepare the skin and soften the bristles, copious amounts of shaving cream (applied with, whisper it, a brush made from badger hair) and numerous passes over the skin with a box-fresh razor blade.

On holiday in Turkey I have also allowed myself the inexpensive luxury of a old-fashioned shave, complete with the traditional Turkish method for dealing with stray hairs: singeing them with a naked flame.

At the moment, I am experimenting with growing a beard and it has been quite a fascinating experience so far. I last tried growing a beard in my early twenties and quickly gave up once I realised that, as someone who is not naturally hirsute, it looked like someone had glued clumps of cat hair to my cheeks and neck. Now that I am in my later thirties, the beard growth is more even but peppered with lots of colour, bits of blonde and (argh) grey mixed in with the brown.

I am also getting used to the scratchiness of a beard and catch myself absentmindedly biting at hairs around my mouth. I am also trying not to stare, or at least not to stare quite as obviously, at other men with impressively full beards. I am trying to suss out grooming techniques but if I am not careful I might come across as some kind of beard stalker.

Also to be avoided is any attempt to sculpt the beard into odd shapes. I am of a generation that grew up watching Timothy Claypole on television and that’s a look I am not trying to emulate! Instead I have been looking to the akg archive for inspiration and have chosen this selection of beardy beauties. I particularly love the Moroni Tailor and always make a beeline for it whenever I visit the National Gallery. Perhaps once my beard is a little fuller, I should invest in a doublet and hose…