Chest hair. Is it a robust symbol of virility, or a tawdry disco prop? A manly nod to our hirsute forbearers, or a wink from across a tiki-themed single's bar? Or more simply put: Is it or is it not tasteful to leave those top two shirt buttons visibly unbuttoned? As is the case with so many of life's great conundrums, it depends on who you ask. And as it just so happened, we asked two of the more thoughtful men of style we know, Messieurs Nathaniel Nagy of Birchbox Man and Dennis Blanco of Bonobos. So let's see if they can shed a little light on the rarely explored realm of masculine cleavage. It is, after all, a top button issue. Take it away, gents.
by Dennis Blanco
My relationship with chest hair came about much like blossoming romances often do. First, desperation for a little something to come my way. Then, hesitation when something actually arrived (“Should I cut this off before things get serious?”). And when push came to love, a surrender to exhibitionist levels of infatuation (“I can’t wait to show you off to my friends!”). So if you’re also chemically attached to a tuft on your trunk, I have good news: there’s no shame in wearing your heart on your sleeve. Because unlike that summer fling with Loretta, the honeymoon phase of your chest hair affair can last forever, and there’s plenty of reason to declare your love from the top of a button down shirt.
Report Your Earnings
According to my hirsute Italian grandfather, a rich harvest of chest foliage is the successful result of seeds planted early. “Finish your broccoli”, “try this cigar”, or “go find the wire cutters and clip my toenails”, he’d say to the preadolescent me. “It’ll put hair on your chest”. With eyes fixed on the hereditary prize, I happily switched off my Game Boy and put in the work. And today? I’m seeing better returns than a kudzu farmer. Think of your chest hair as delayed gratification for boyhood’s uncomfortable rites of passage (those wire cutters really were the right tool for the job), then celebrate by cracking open your shirt.
It’s science: living things need light and air to flourish. Your masculine garden is no exception. A stray curl of hair hardly peeking through the neck of your shirt is the sartorial equivalent of a dog whimpering at a closed door. A majestic whale in a Sea World pool. A human tethered to a smartphone. You get it—captivity is a drag, and the last vibe you want to put out is that of a steaming tea kettle. Exercise your shirt’s built-in release valve (buttons), and you’ve transformed yourself into a walking vacation.
More Taco Meat, But Hold the Machos
Some might call chest heavage the cosmetic equivalent of a catcall—a machismo serenade turned up to “11”. No doubt, there’s a strong correlation between chest thistles and wolf whistles. Not to mention a few bad apples giving the whole look a bad name (yep, I’m talking to you, Tony Montana). But that doesn’t mean nice guys can’t let their hair down… or out. Look no further than the Bee Gees if you need proof of a few sensitive heavers who knew how to treat a lady. And when you hear them ask “How deep is your love?”, there's really no shame in answering with a deep v-neck.
by Nathaniel Nagy
Like many great grooming debates (to beard, or not to beard), the discourse on chest hair is focused on two extremes. There’s the full chest of bison fur, as worn by Tom Selleck, or the waxed and shorn alternative, á la Matthew McConaughey. I’m not here to argue for either, though both have their merits. Instead, I represent the middle ground—the best of both worlds, you might say. Gentlemen, this is an ode to chest hair restraint.
Everything in Moderation
Now, my chest is naturally sparse, so I can’t take any credit for its (fairly) tidy appearance. As our boy Kissinger once said: “Moderation is a virtue only in those who are thought to have an alternative.” That said, I do believe that moderation is more than just a cliché—in fact, it’s the gentleman’s anthem. A well-groomed chest is the same as a fresh haircut, or a well-kept workspace: it marks discipline and self-control, which are the signs of a serious bad-ass. You wouldn’t want a date to see you reeling from too many cocktails, and a tuft of fuzz emerging from your collar sends much the same message.
It’s All About Identity
That brings me to my next point: that chest hair, like any accessory, is part of a careful balance. It should contribute to your look, not commandeer it completely, and having too much or too little tends to override everything else. For me, summer is a time for some serious heavage (do linen shirts have buttons? I can’t remember) but people don’t approach me with their eyes affixed to my chest hair. It flies under the radar, clean and understated, whereas a furry chest is the grooming equivalent of a polka-print bow tie. Neither “bow-tie guy” nor “chest-hair guy” has a quite the right ring to it.
So Who Do You Want to Be?
By now, you might be looking at me with a raised (and bushy) eyebrow. “Who is this guy, anyway, and why should I care what he thinks?” Well, you have a point, so here’s a little exercise to illustrate my case. When you think of all the men you truly wish you could be, how many are furry-chested? Chances are, not many. We all love phrases like “Don’t Hassle the Hoff”, but when push comes to shove, no one wants to be compared to the Knight Rider, or a young Burt Reynolds. Instead, we admire men with an even-keeled image: Steven McQueen. Marlon Brando. Jon Hamm. Idris Elba. The list goes on and on. All of these men are legends because they play it cool and simple—they aren’t caricatures, or one trick ponies, but well-rounded paragons. And if that’s not something to celebrate, then I don’t know what is.