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Beard Science

From the beginning of mankind there was hair.

It grows on our heads, on our backs, on our toes, near the naughty bits, and for males (and occasionally some females), on our faces. Beards have been a major feature in most aspects of our history, from important religious and political figures, to respected authors, philosophers and artists. And one interesting thing about the beard is that there are hundreds of styles, from the Donegal to the Garibaldi. It's not always an issue of just not being able to, or wanting to shave. Men have been styling their beards and mustaches in search of the perfect face companion since we had a choice as to what to do with that stuff growing on our faces.

Many of our country's most important historical figures wore beards. Abraham Lincoln wore a beard (and we're not talking about wife Mary Todd Lincoln). Two of the most famous generals who commanded the Southern armies during the American Civil War, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, both wore beards, as did many other generals. Many political leaders and revolutionaries throughout history have been known to have a beard and/or mustache.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, only the wealthy shaved often. Daily shaving was not a custom until the 20th century. Although straight razors were used in England since the 1600s, it was not until the 1900s that Gillette introduced the common store-bought razor. From the '20s to the present, it would be highly unlikely to see someone on Wall Street, or in any business office environment with a full-grown, burly beard. And the U.S. has not seen a president with facial hair since William Howard Taft, who was elected in 1908. In the '70s it seems that beards were most popular with hippies and rock 'n' rollers, and mustaches had a porn star/underground sex club stigma attached to them. Professional baseball players were somehow exempt from this stigma, however, with Rollie Fingers' trademark handlebar mustache and Bill "Mad Dog" Madlock's Ice Cube-ish scruff. In the '80s Tom Selleck, as Magnum P.I., took back the upper lip push broom and made it acceptable for every man in the workplace to have a 'stache. By the time the '90s hit, a goatee and its cousin, the van dyke (a goatee plus mustache), were perhaps the only acceptable facial hair in the workplace.

Beards and mustaches have also been present in most forms of pop culture through the ages. In sports there's Brian Wilson, from the San Francisco Giants, and Kimbo Slice, a famous mixed martial arts fighter. Possibly the most famous beard in sports right now is Brett Keisel of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who was recently invited to judge at the 2011 National Beard and Mustache Championships, in Lancaster, Pa. Although he has stated that he will shave soon. On the big screen, there's always been Groucho Marx, Charlie Chaplin, Chuck Norris, Mr. T, and many more, but more recently you have Brad Pitt, Zach Galifianakis, and Joaquin Phoenix on the beard wagon, although Phoenix has been seen clean-shaven recently.

From the world of entertainment to well-paid athletes to average Joes, beards and 'staches are sprouting like it's the '80s all over again- the 1880s, that is.

Beard enthusiasts seem to be everywhere. There are national competitions, clubs, and Web sites, devoted solely to facial hair. Even in The Palmetto State. On Saturday, the 2nd Annual Southeastern Beard & Moustache Championships will be held in Charleston. Beard and mustache competitions have been popular for years in Europe. The first World Beard and Mustache Championship took place in Höfen-Enz, Germany, in 1990. The idea eventually hit the U.S. hard, spawning a USA beard team, and many events nationally. Jack Passion, a beard wearer from California, was the first American to win at The European Mustache and Beard Championship, held in Brighton, England. He is also the author of "The Facial Hair Handbook." Passion stated in a recent interview for buildabeard.com, "European competitions are very structured with a lot of rules. American competitions are wild and crazy, they are borderline riots."

Paul Roof, organizer of Southeastern Beard & Moustache Championships, strives for something in between the two extremes. "We will have a red carpet entrance, professional photographers, and there's serious judging with some really nice prizes. It is, however, a drinking affair, and the crowd gets rowdy. We don't want it stuffy but we do have formalities."

While Myrtle Beach may not have it's own Beard Team USA chapter yet, the beach has gotten quite a bit hairier in the past few years. If you are a local who happens to go see live music, go to bars, art shows, heck, even the mall, it's hard not to find at least one proud beard or mustache carrier. In Myrtle Beach most local bands have at least one beard-o. From Octopus Jones, to Ten Toes Up, to The Classic Struggle, very few bands go completely facial-hairless.

Nationally, beards and mustaches have no doubt been most represented in music in the past 50 years. Many styles of music have bearded musicians, from jazz to country and bluegrass, to polka. But most interesting is the trend in rock 'n' roll. Many rockers have either flirted with it or dived head first into it. From Queen to ZZ Top to David Bowie, to Mick Jagger, Frank Zappa, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and so many more. However, in the past few years, beards have become more popular than ever with bands such as The Black Keys, The Avett Brothers, Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses, Kings of Leon, Iron and Wine, and many more. And the fans have caught on. There is even a popular blog site called "beard makes better music" on blogspot.com where the author states, "We seriously believe that bearded men make better music. The support for our theory is huge." The site focuses on modern bearded bands.

Getting into beard-ness

Everyone seems to have different ways and inspirations for getting into beard-ness. "I haven't shaved in three years, it started as almost a personal challenge, to see how far I would go with it," says Drew Jacobs, a local musician who plays in bands such as Something About Vampires and Sluts, Wicked Gift, and The Drew Jacobs Band. Mike Wisner, another local musician, on the other hand says, "I just woke up one day and I had a beard. I never made a decision to have a beard, it was a decision to stop shaving." Both Wisner and Jacobs have fully grown, bushy beards with rounded bottoms. Beard enthusiasts call this style the Garibaldi.

As far as inspiration, Evil Presley, singer of the regional punk band The Independents, had an interesting source. "Since I was 16, I was a huge fan of (Marvel Comics character) Wolverine. I would shave six times a day just to try to help my burns grow out." Presley's style is known as mutton chops, which are sideburns that extend all the way down to imaginary lines drawn downward from the corners of the mouth.

Others seem to be sentimental about their beard and 'stache growing decision. "When I was a kid I remember my grandfather had a killer goatee and all the older folks seem to have mustaches," says Whilden Nettles, a local musician. Nettles sports the Hollywoodian, a mustache connected to a beard in which the sideburns are removed. "My Dad has always had one," says Mick Forrest, a local visual artist. "But another influence is the fact that I just really like a vintage look. There was a fashion in the '30s that's hard to recreate." Forrest has a handlebar, a mustache where the sides are twisted or curl upward or outward on the ends.

Some people grow their face fuzz out of rebellion. "Girlfriends and jobs would never let me grow the 'stache out, then finally I just did it out of rebellion." says Nathan Troutman, a local musician who sports The Pencil, also known as Undercover Brother, a thin mustache along the upper lip.

"I think when I first started, it was dumb-ass youthful rebellion, which in hindsight, doesn't make much sense, seeing as it's so accepted," says Carl Beckham, an English professor at Horry-Georgetown Technical College, who sports the Hollywoodian.

And for some people a fashion statement isn't really what's on their mind. "I don't have to go to work so I just got lazy, thought I'd go for the homeless look," says Ed Tanner, of local rock band Sharklegs. Economics played into another beard-sporter's decision to let it grow. "Razors are expensive and I got no chin," says Brandon Collins, from Myrtle Beach metal band, The Classic Struggle. Both Tanner and Collins have Garibaldis.

Fashion or fusion?

You can look at the popularity of beards and facial hair in the music and arts scenes in many ways. The so-called "ironic" mustache that hipsters started sporting years ago just isn't so ironic anymore. For those of you unfamiliar with the term "hipster," it is defined by urbandictonary.com as "a subculture of men and women typically in their 20s and 30s that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter." But when it comes to mustaches, it's not really hip or independent anymore when everybody's sporting 'em.

"It's a trend in all the big cities. I was recently in Athens, Ga. just sitting down at a coffee shop, and I noticed that every guy in the place had a mustache," says Troutman. "If I lived in a bigger city, I wouldn't have one, but this is kind of my 'fuck you' to Myrtle Beach."

As Surge has chronicled many times before, trends take awhile to gain traction along the beach. "Myrtle Beach is always 5-10 years behind," said Brian Sisco, Garibaldi wearer and manager of local bar For What It's Worth, which happens to have a good number of beard-wearing employees.

But with so many types and styles of facial hair at a man's disposal, stereotypes are being broken down; i.e. just because you've got a sweet goatee doesn't mean you're a beatnik poet, or the shaggy, ZZ Top-esque beard touching your chest might mean you're into metal, rather than a traveling Spreadhead.

"I was traveling with Phish when I first started growing my facial hair. Now social groups have meshed," says Forrest. "Scenesters and hippies are listening to the same stuff. There has always been beards in the hippy scene."

Roof agrees that fusion is behind the trend. "A lot of these bands, like The Avett Brothers, for example, are heavily influenced by bluegrass. And beards have been a part of bluegrass culture from the beginning."

While there are elements of trend following attached to the beard phenomenon, some feel it's more than just a fashion fad at this point. It seems to be more of a lifestyle statement. Nettles stated, "like a lot of trends. It hit and spread. But this spread because, unlike skinny jeans, there's a subconscious element that's there. On the surface it might be funny or ironic looking, but it hit on something and it's more significant and psychological than certain trends."

Maybe growing beards is a symbol for the younger generation to say, "hey look, I'm a grown man."

"Our generation is stunted," said Nettles. "We lengthen our adolescence, and this is one way to prove we are adults. Some people do it ironic but I think there are some deep seeded manifestations."

Is it that the 20-30 something generation right now has such a hard time growing up, that we need to have our facial hair to prove we are adults? Or is our generation rebelling against the 9-to-5 lifestyle our parents may have gravitated towards, or perhaps a backlash against the metrosexual movement of the early 2000s?

"As you see the country economically down spiral, you see less people get white collar jobs," says Sisco. "Dealing with a generation of ex-hippies that sold out, we despise their choices. The 20-30 something generation is college educated but doesn't want to go the route our parent did."

Maybe men are being men again; after a decade of scrubbing, manicuring, waxing and primping.

Roof says, "Metrosexuailty is over. We are fed up with being told how to look."

Jacobs agrees that there is a sense of rebellion in a nice beard, but is more romantic about it. "I think about all those bands from the '70s with big thick, bushy, beards, and it just symbolizes creativity, rebellion, and just being different. My uncle always had a beard, and he looked like a rebel, a rock 'n' roller, and I like that".

The razor's edge

Although beards are definitely in the mainstream these days, some bearded folks still fall victim to disapproving judgment. "People look at you and say derogatory things. But the beard is good a filter. If someone is stupid, it comes out immediately," says Roof. "That way I don't have to waste my time on ignorant people."

Jacobs gets funny looks from strangers. "They think I may be a criminal or a vagrant. They just aren't sure what to expect."

Some people, however, are just intrigued by the facial art. Forrest states "people are just generally interested. 'How long did it take', 'Do you wax it', and questions like that." The answers are " four months" and "yes."

While facial hair might blackball you from getting certain jobs, some people actually need it. As Nettles was working as a police officer, he said he needed an edge. "Without the beard I look so young," he said. "I needed the beard for respect. I don't want to get my ass beat."

And facial hair adding a few years in the eyes of beholders does seem to be a common theme. "I just like not looking 17. If I shaved, I'd look so young," says Ryan "Kickass" Carter, drummer for Sharklegs. Carter has a Fu Manchu, a mustache that extends downward on the sides, usually extending off of the chin.

Collins doesn't mind the attention. "Some cringe and some absolutely love it, especially drunk chicks. They always try to braid it. Also, puppies and babies are fond of the beard. They always try to eat it."

Beckham says, "I get mistaken for a hippy. Someone asked me the other day if I was going to see (the jam band) Galactic and I didn't know what to say."

The bearded lady

Meanwhile, beard and mustaches seem to get mixed reactions from the ladies.

"I think the beard has some major sex appeal. Some girls are really turned on by it, although some don't like it at all," says Jacobs.

Wisner agrees. "They either love it or hate it, not much in between."

But it can be an ice breaker.

"The ladies are intrigued, they say 'can I play with that?' 'Can I stroke it', and I say 'oh, you mean my beard?" says Sisco.

And a nice beard can be good for your self-esteem.

"I think it seems to add a layer of confidence," says Forrest.

On the other hand, not all ladies love the face fro.

Abbi Neal-Ingalls, from the "T and A Morning Show" on local classic rock station WAVE 104 has been very vocal about this. "I absolutely loathe beards," she says. "My husband has one, and he looks like the Brawny man. Some women like the mountain man look, but not me. It looks creepy, like a mug shot. It's getting ridiculous. Good looking guys are hiding their faces."

To convince her husband to shave his beard she has begged and pleaded. She even wore a paper beard on her face for a few days. As a last resort, she may threaten to cut off the booty flow. "I hate use it as a weapon. But I may have to cut him off," she said. He eventually shaved it down to a goatee.

Some gals feel it depends on the individual. Alice Torres, a 21-year-old local, says, "If you don't have a good mustache, why have it at all? But a good mustache can be very hot."

Some women in the world of entertainment have mustaches, and we're not simply talking about the circus freak bearded ladies. Coco Rosie, a popular indie-rock female duo, have been known to sport fake mustaches from time to time, and JD Samson from the now-defunct band Le Tigre actually has a mustache - on purpose. Female mustaches actually became a hipster trend, as documented by blog site "hipster girls in mustaches" on blogspot.com. It has become very common to see mustaches tattooed on a girl's finger so they can hold a nice stache up to their face when desired. These are called fingerstaches.

Not fade away?

Sometimes beards can be problematic though. "From time to time I find goodies in it. Usually after a night of raging" says Collins.

And like the hair on top of your head, you have to apply some product if you don't want to smell like a vagrant.

"I hate when it starts to smell bad. I've had that complaint," says Carter. "When it was growing out, my beard had dandruff, but I quickly learned to condition it," says Wisner. But the beard wearers of Myrtle Beach aren't going to give up just because of a little case of the dandruff and the smellies. No sir.

Some popular musicians are over it though. As a matter of a fact, two of the most popular beard toting bands in America have recently shaven members. Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys shaved, as did both Scott and Seth Avett, of The Avett Brothers.

Is the trend dying? "The Avetts and Auerbach cutting their beards could be to indie-rock as Metallica cutting their hair was to heavy metal. Maybe some fair-weather fans will shave," says Beckham.

Jacobs doesn't think so. "I don't think it will make an impact. It was going on well before bands were having success." Forrest adds, "it's been an underground trend for a while. It may bounce back and forth for younger people, but older people will keep the phenomenon alive. I think it's just getting started."

Whiskers, by nature, are resilient.

"The beautiful thing about beards is that they grow back no matter what," says Roof.

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