16 October 2012

Reflections On Facial Hair

A grew a moustache in my freshman year in high school, and by the time that I was a senior, I had a neatly trimmed full beard and short scissors cut hair.  When I went to college, I let my hair and beard grow progressively longer until I had below shoulder length straight hair and a huge wild mountain man beard by my last semester of college.  After a summer shoveling dirt for a project at home before my sophomore year that left me with blistery scars in the palms of my hands, I looked like the classical depictions of the resurrected Jesus Christ in jeans, Chuck Taylors and a flannel shirt.

I got into a serious relationship with the woman I would marry during the last semester of my undergraduate education.  She liked neither facial hair nor long hair on men.  One weekend that spring, I got a buzz cut and shaved my face clean, causing every single one of my professors over the next week to ask the "guest" in the classroom to introduce himself.  Less than twenty-four hours after my college commencement ceremony, I started law school and keep the short haircut and clean shaven face for the next twenty and a half years.

Late this summer, my wife and I separated.  Two weeks ago, I had back surgery that kept me away from work long enough to grow back a beard without a long intermediate scraggly period that everyone would have to watch emerge.  So, I decided it was time for a change and grew a beard.  I now have essentially the same beard and haircut that I did in my senior year of high school, although I haven't gotten trimming it just so down to the science that I had then.  I'll have to spend some quality time sometime this week giving some real thought to what kind of look facial hair and haircut look I want to develop and how to keep it looking the way that I want it to look.

Most male fashion choices involve small numbers of simple choices with meta rules that guide making each one: khakis or jeans, with jeans being the less formal choice; a business suit that can be navy blue, dark gray or light gray, with dark suits conveying more authority and light gray usually reserved for days when it is warmer.  Dress shoes come in maroon or black.  Black is the default, maroon is a bit classier and calls more attention to you.  Dress socks and belts suitable to wear to a law office client meeting or court come in black and black.  Dress shirts suitable to wear to court come in white, off white, French blue or light blue, with certain combinations of suit colors and shirt colors being forbidden - white is for conveying honesty and neutrality, French blue conveys authority and pretention, the others provide middle ground variety.  The only acceptable jewelry items for men of my generation and sensibilities who are dressing business formal (which is not so formal that one would wear cuff links) are a wrist watch, and a wedding ring or a class ring.  Politicians and war heroes can add a flag lapel tie tack or pin, or a tie tack or pin denoting a military honor.  I keep the time with my cell phone in my pocket, and don't wear any of these items these days.

The world of facial hair presents far more choices and offers far less guidance.  Do you have a full beard?  If so, should it be long or short?  Should it merge with your sideburns?  Are there areas that should be trimmed other than for length?  Should you have just a moustache, and if so should it be narrow or wide, have curly ends or squared off ends, and should it be trimmed above your upper lip?  Should you instead have a goatee?  A soul patch?  Should your facial hair convey sharp edges or soften your look?  Should you have a scraggly stubbly Don Johnson look?  A trimmed area under the chin?  Every alternative makes a fashion statement and there are so many choices.  Your regular hair cutting style choices, which used to be pretty straight forward and small in number, now have become far more complex as they must be evaluated on the basis of how well they interface with your facial hair decisions.

It's a bit ironic that the most exclusively masculine of all fashion options for a man is the one that makes you feel the most empathy for the endless array of amorphous style options that women must make each day.  But, it is a bit a fun change of pace to take on the new creative challenge involved in working it out, which is so entirely different from any other kind of intellectual activity I ever engage in otherwise.

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