“Seize opportunity by the beard, for it is bald behind” Bulgarian Proverb
New Orleans will welcome facial hair aficionados from across the country and the world on Sept. 7 for the 4th annual National Beard and Moustache Championships.
Kicking off with a parade through the French Quarter, the event is a celebration of all things beard, and promises a lush display of world-class specimens competing in several categories.
According to Phil Olsen, event organizer and founder of Beard Team USA, the United States is a premiere world power in the sport of bearding.
“It’s rivaled only by Germany, to be honest,” he said.
“We’ve become a force. It’s really caught on in this country and now when we go to the world championship we always have a very large group of people.”
From the clean-shaven faces of the founding fathers, to the whimsical and lavish designs grown by Civil War generals, American history has seen whiskers drift in and out of fashion.
Twenty years ago, a short goatee seemed like the only acceptable option, but the past decade has shown a steady return to a scruffier, shaggier style. Gillette and Schick recently reported falling razor sales in developed markets, according to Bloomberg news.
An undeniable symbol of masculinity, the beard is now bigger than ever, and especially in the competitive arena it brings with it a sense of bravado.
“Beard Team USA humbly takes 100 percent of the credit for the revolution that’s occurred,” said Olsen.
“I get calls all the time. Is this a joke or for real? The answer is, it’s all in fun but it’s definitely not a joke, and there are definitely people who take the competition way too seriously.”
Past cultural attitudes regarding facial hair were shaped by political, religious, or even military significance. But what drives America’s recent obsession with facial fur? The nation’s foremost bearding authority shares his insights.
1. Beard-Tolerance: Olsen observes that one of the biggest reasons for America’s rise in beards is that today’s society is more accepting of diversity. “People feel less restricted by conventional rules and the idea that something is in fashion or out of fashion.”
2. Appreciation and Respect: Bearded individuals share a bond, but many non-bearded folk also appreciate a good specimen.
“It’s true. I get comments on my beard all the time. The comments I get are 100 percent positive. Nobody ever says they don’t like it. That’s not to say that everyone likes it. That is to say though that those who don’t like it respect me enough to keep their opinions to themselves,” said Olsen.
3. Call of the Wild: Facial hair comes in a variety shapes and styles, but in both competition and on the street, the full beard reigns supreme. At the national championships, for example, there are many entries in the full beard categories, whereas few men enter solo moustaches.
“Moustache wearers are probably more fastidious and more detail oriented and probably far more into style of dress and appearance than the beard wearers who are demonstrating that they’re not constrained by the rules of fashion,” said Olsen.
4. Good Grooming: While some believe shaving is an essential grooming habit like showering or brushing teeth, Olsen says that a beard should not denote a lazy or unkempt individual. “I advocate and try to demonstrate that a good, solid, full beard can nevertheless be well cared for.”
5. Self Expression: Olsen says the most important thing about facial hair is for a man to find a style that matches his personality and appearance. “There’s no one kind of beard that’s better than the other. It’s up to the individual. People should experiment and see what works for them and enjoy the experience.”