Some of the most forthcoming beards visitors have often been the ones who have had their beard the longest.
Their beards aren’t so much a fashion accessory, grown and shorn as trends come and go, as permanent fixtures – resident on the wearer’s face for so long their own family wouldn’t recognise them without it.
I was talking to one such man in the gallery recently. He had come across the exhibition after reading about it in The Chap magazine and wanted to explore what was on display. Despite having had his beard “all his life” he was very keen to assert that we were definitely now beyond “peak beard” and this time next year they would have all but vanished from the faces of ordinary men.
The concept of “peak beard” is something that frequently comes up when talking about the exhibition. Dr Alun has written about this after being misquoted as stating it had already happened about a year ago. People seem very keen to predict when and why the current trend might subsist. The Victorian trend stretched for around half a century – but surely the fashion cycle is quicker nowadays? Or have beards become normalised to the point of being ‘post-fashion’, like jeans?
Either way, there does seem to be a definite distinction between those men who are fashion-aware and purposefully styling themselves to have a beard and those who have simply never decided to shave theirs off. This particular gentleman though hadn’t stuck completely with the same style throughout his bearded lifetime – now sporting a chin beard, he explained that he had been forced to shave his cheeks because his skin had become itchy as he had grown older.
Another man I spoke to was visiting the museum with his daughter who was interested in nursing history. He was now clean shaven but explained that he too had kept a beard for most of his life – from the age of 18 to about 50 – and had only shorn it off when his hair went grey, for fear of it ageing him. He waited until Christmas time, when he had 2 weeks off from work and thought he could grow it back if needs be but he never did and now his chin was happily experiencing all of the elements along with the rest of his face. He described how his daughter, then very young, had been in total shock and had needed a fair bit of reassurance in order to calm down. This made me think about my own experience of uneasiness as a child when my Mum cut her hair off and I was stunned into silence when she collected me at the school gates. Hair and facial hair are often synonymous with people’s identity, which is probably why so many beards are here to stay.