Over the past two years I've met hundreds of fascinating bearded characters as part of the '100 Beards' project, many of whom have become friends. I'm grateful that for the second edition of the new 100 Beards book, one of these gentleman contributed more than just their image. The inimitable Mr Jeremy Langmead, Editor in Chief of MrPorter.com, also wrote my foreword. Find an edit of the Foreword below, along with my image of him taken from the new 100 Beards book, out now.
Beards grew back. And then they grew some more...
Not so long ago, a book or a blog documenting beards would have been seen as an ironic and mischievous wink at the pogonophiles of a bygone era. We would have laughed at the frisky, bristly man trying out the karma sutra positions in the 1970s edition of The Joy of Sex, the old barber shop posters of men with lustrous side-partings and goatees to match, and the bushy-faced TV presenters of yesteryear such as Bill Oddie, David Bellamy and, er, Rolf Harris.
But something changed. Facial hair was no longer shaved but embraced. Suddenly, unlikely characters such as Brian Blessed and Prince Michael of Kent found themselves at the centre of one the decade’s biggest male trends. And we’re not talking ‘polite designer stubble,’ but full-on fuzz as championed by folk bands like Mumford & Sons and Fleet Foxes.
Theories as to why a new generation of men came to re-embrace facial hair abound, and there’s a soupcon of truth to all of them: after the slick, slippery and shaved years that led up to the economic crisis, men began to yearn a return to a pastoral idyll of crafts, folk music and farm-to-table food. That, or a beard was a symbol that showed your disgruntlement with the superficial, consumer-savvy, UKIP-friendly society that surrounded you. Or, merely, it’s a simple face stamp of virility, masculinity and adventure — a beard, after all, has been worn as a badge of honour by pioneers throughout history.
Today, adventures and ideas travel around the globe in microseconds. We use the Web, as opposed to Siberian huskies, to whisk us to new domains and far-flung territories. Blogs such as Jonathan’s – where this book of beards originated – spreads the word for us. Hirsute of chin or not, to explore and examine how other men are choosing to grow and wear their beards across the streets of London and beyond is a cultural treat, and so much more polite than staring up-close at a stranger’s beard yourself — an action which could easily be misconstrued as impolite. Happily, Jonathan has taken that risk for us.
Of course, perhaps there is no hidden context to growing a beard at all — perhaps it’s just ‘easier,’ ‘low-maintenance...’ Perhaps, as in my case, it’s just half a face less to worry about each morning. A beard, after all, can hide a multitude of sins, and chins.