To Beard, or Not to Beard

by Paul Stinson and Mic Nguyen

To beard, or not to beard—that is the question, and it's one men have debated for as long as we've had facial hair. And yet despite Eve's persistent entreaties to Adam to "shave that thing," and Socrates' insistence on letting that thing grow, we appear no closer to closure on the matter. Until now, that is. Because Paul Stinson and Mic Nguyen—the former full-bearded, the latter cleanly shorn—have dared to answer, each in his own words, that timeless and tantilizing query. So let's all set down our disposable Bics and beard wax for just one moment, and listen to what these two writers/style mavens have to say on the matter. 

by Paul Stinson, Full-Bearded American

In my younger and more vulnerable years a beautiful bartender in San Francisco gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. “Beards are cool,” she told me, “don’t shave it.”

I was on a three-week road trip with my best friend. We’d gunned a midnight blue Chrysler from Savannah to the Pacific during which time I’d cultivated no Miller Time shadow, no wry collection of stubble, but, for the first time in my life, an honest-to-goodness beard. A dark, luxurious embrace of my chin and chops. Then, a week later in El Paso, I would second-guess myself for reasons I still can’t explain. I would ignore that bartender’s wisdom, shave my beard, and promptly commence the worst year of my life.

A skeptic might claim coincidence. Maybe it was. A skeptic might also maintain that bearded men are less trustworthy than our clean-shaven counterparts. Maybe we are. I’m no skeptic, and their squabbles don’t interest me. I can only hope you’ll believe me on this one: When I took a hard look in the mirror and decided to grow my beard back, everything started coming up roses.

I’m not talking penny slots or scratch-off tickets or finding a buck on the ground – I’m talking hitting life’s jackpot. I’m talking springtime in Paris and meeting the redheaded girl of my dreams. I’m talking reaching the mountaintop and seeing the promised land. I’m no skeptic. I’m a true believer.

Sure, these are hirsute times. But even if beards are the rage from barrooms to boardrooms, they’re no mere fashion accessories. They can’t be tossed into the closest or stuffed into a drawer – not easily, anyhow. A beard is and always has been a badge of mystery and masculinity. That’s not to say that bearded men are better, only that they’re different. A beard silently confirms that it’s in you to unite a nation (thanks, Honest Abe), or reel in the briny deep’s crunchiest fish sticks (much obliged, Gorton’s fisherman), or crank out blues hotter than all the two-dollar pistols in Texas (here’s looking at you, ZZ Top). A bearded man heeds the follicular urges of his body with an understanding not only of who he is, but of who he can become. Put plainly, a bearded man is one with his nature.

Legendary Times style photographer Bill Cunningham once remarked that clothes are the armor we put on to face the world. I like to think of a beard as the most bespoke armor a man can get. I keep mine like my whiskey, simple and neat, and I don’t plan on taking it off again.  

by Mic Nguyen, Clean-Shaven Gentleman

First, a disclaimer. I am what you might call "facial hair disinclined". I don't grow a beard so much as an embarrassment on my face. Thin wisps stroke my cheeks like some nasty fruit blight, while coarse filaments around my lips and chin give my face the consistency of a shoe brush. None of this is the kind of manly hair that I've been told can transform men into giants.

But my lack of facial hair is not why I advocate a clean shave. 

Now, I'm not here to smack-talk the man-bush. I think great beards can be game changers. Frankly, I'm jealous of my furry friends. But there's some things you should consider before your go down that bearded road. For example:

Shaving turns you into an action star.

There's few better indicators of a steady hand and steadier nerves than shaving. Giving yourself an extremely close shave is as close to pulling a bullet out of a wound as you'll get in your day-to-day. A good shave takes patience, practice, and finesse, at least when using a razor. And if you're brave enough to attempt a shave with a straight razor, then you can practically claim the title of "Daredevil" on your resume. See a guy with a quality shave, and you see a guy that's put blade to skin just for looks. Nothing as bad-ass as that.

A clean face let's you be heard.

Ask any actor and they'll tell you that having obstructions on your face impairs your ability to connect with an audience. It's a lesson learned by every kind of speaker from CEOs to scout masters. You simply can't trust a guy when you can't see his face. Nearly every U.S. President was clean-shaven. Watch C-SPAN, or a TED talk, or just a sales guy making his rounds, and you'll notice freshly-shaven, welcoming faces that just beg you to trust them.

Am I right, ladies?

Women don't like beards, they endure them. No one—not even the man hosting the hair—likes the feel of a beard as it's growing in. From what I understand, it feels like letting a rash run its course. Kissing a half-grown beard is akin to rubbing your face on a shrub. And any dude with a significant other is familiar with that look in their eye when you've just shaved after a few days or weeks off—it's like you've suddenly come back from the dead.