There’s no secret beard society on campus, but there might as well be.
Josh Wilson, who has been sporting some sort of facial hair since age 15, said he’ll often share a nod of recognition with other bearded men on campus.
“You see another guy with a beard. There’s always a sort of connection,” Wilson, ConEd ’12, said. “They appreciate what’s going on.”
His beard now spans 15 cm down his chest, long enough to keep his chest a different colour in the summer months.
“I got a huge sunburn on my chest, except where my beard was,” he said.
It seems that, with the coming onslaught of exam beards and mustaches groomed for the sake of prostate cancer charity event Movember, Wilson will stand out in a crowd.
“I came from a small school so I was worried about coming to Queen’s and getting lost in a sea of numbers,” he said. “I feel like I’ve peacocked.”
Wilson’s beard was a result of a long-standing bet with his mother.
“It was over Christmas holidays in grade 10 and my mother wanted to see if I could grow it,” he said. “And I just didn’t stop.”
Wilson, who maintains his beard with a shampoo and conditioner regimen, said people often don’t expect the care that goes into it.
“This is a multi-year investment,” he said. “It’s kind of like being in a long-term committed relationship.
“You have to put a lot in it to get a lot out of it.”
Despite steady interest in his facial hair, Wilson said people still wonder if it’s real, often asking if they can touch it.
“You see their eyes brighten with, ‘that’s amazing!’ or you see their eyes widen with the horror of, ‘oh god I’ve touched that.’”
Though his father sometimes warns him of making it in the teaching world with a beard, Wilson said he’s not worried.
“I’ve sometimes thought about that [but] my professional manner … and what I speak about should outweigh any concerns that employees should have,” he said.
Intolerance against facial hair is an issue that’s tackled by organizations like the American Mustache Institute (AMI), a mustache advocacy group that was founded in 1965.
The group was founded to provide support to bearded and mustached men of America, a role which includes fighting against school expulsions and job firings as a result of unaccepted facial hair.
According to chairman Aaron Perlut, who has been sporting some form of facial hair since a young age, beards and mustaches in the workplace aren’t as taboo as they’ve been in past decades.
“[There’s] far more advocacy about the appropriateness of facial hair in the last decade. You can see millennials have [begun] using facial hair as a means of expression,” he said. “Employers need to recognize that they need to cater to a new generation.”
It’s a subject that the AMI tackles with a tongue-in-cheek attitude.
“We’re trying to promote our agenda with a certain sense of humour and so we aim for the web platform to entertain more than anything else,” he said. “There’s always a subtle message contained within any aspect of that entertainment.”
With celebrities like George Clooney and Brad Pitt sporting beards and mustaches, contemporary culture has shown a shift towards facial hair.
It’s something that, Perlut said, displays a “sense of rugged attractiveness.”
“We’re starting to see greater acceptance by women which is important to the acceptance of mustaches,” he said.
With the increasing popularity of facial hair through charity events like Movember, Perlut said recent years have been good for mustache lovers.
This past spring, the AMI held the Million Mustache March in support of The ’Stache Act, an effort that helped raise awareness about the benefits of mustache growth and care.
According to the bill proposal, mustached Americans help the economy through the financial efforts that go into maintaining their facial hair.
The Act sought out tax benefits for people with mustaches but, for every participant of the March, money was raised to help benefit people who can’t easily access clean drinking water.
It’s all part of the AMI’s mandate.
“We’re a not-for-profit organization,” he said.
With 100,000 website hits per month, it seems the AMI’s readership reflects facial hair’s popularity.
But this hasn’t always been so consistent.
Over the past century, there’s been a cycle of shifting to and from accepting facial hair, according to Perlut.
Mid-1800s England was a clear point of mustache and beard popularity, according to a research paper by University of Hull professor Susan Walton.
With war against Russia looming, Victorian England faced a time where facial hair became an assertion of manliness and strength, chracteristics that became increasingly important in battle. Civilians allegedly copied soldiers’ styles, perpetuating the trend.
On the other side of the ocean, Abraham Lincoln’s American presidency ushered in further acceptance of facial hair — a very different look from the clean-shaven one, as influenced by Puritan religions.
As the first president with distinct facial hair, Lincoln’s bushy beard was one of his most recognizable characteristics.
“Facial hair was incredibly popular in America until roughly just past the Depression era. When you first started to see a discriminatory environment towards facial hair was post-World War II.”
Soldiers were required to be clean-shaven in order to properly fit gas masks over their mouth.
With returning soldiers hailed as heroes, Perlut said the clean-shaven look came into fashion.
“You started to see a movement away from facial hair. Once you get into the 60s, people with facial hair were labeled as hippies and slackers,” he said.
Beginning in the late 60s, however, facial hair came back into fashion with many celebrities starting to sport the look.
One of these was Walter Cronkite, the famed CBS Evening News anchorman who had a characteristic mustache, a thick but well-groomed fixture on his upper lip.
As the anchor for one of the most famous newscasts of the time, Perlut said Cronkite helped popularize the mustache again.
After his retirement in 1981, however, there was again a downturn in facial hair’s reputation, paired with trends in the clean-cut look of the time.
“I think it’s across popular culture, moving away from facial hair into a clean cut cycle,” Perlut said.
Once grunge, an alternative music movement that brought together punk and metal, became popular in the mid-90s, there was a subtle change in how people felt about facial hair.
“That kind of slowly transitioned into this millennium,” he said. “Mustaches again became kind of cool.”
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