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Stubble Theory

What your facial hair is really saying.

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Miami Vice has been widely praised for its slick surfaces, jolting action sequences, and ­Jamie Foxx’s well-developed back muscles. But what caught our attention was the stars’ facial hair. Colin Farrell sports the signature three-day stubble that Don Johnson made famous, plus a baby Fu Manchu (not to mention a sort of faux mullet); Foxx, as Tubbs, has an anachronistic goatee (so nineties). Will these celebrity sex symbols make such facial topiary sexy again or, rather, sexy for the first time ever? And what about those other recently revived facial dos, like the unseasonal full beard or the overexposed, post-ironic Williamsburg mustache?

Thirty-three-year-old writer Sara Stewart is a long-standing and outspoken fan of the mustache, which has earned her ­almost-universal mockery from her friends. “On the right guy, a mustache is hotter than any other facial hair. It’s got a sort of supermasculine seventies thing about it. Think Tom Selleck, Richard Roundtree, John Holmes.” She thinks a ’stache conveys a kind of Über-confidence: “To me, it suggests, ‘I am good enough in bed that I don’t give a fuck if you think my facial hair is ridiculous.’ ”

But the majority of women we polled agree with 31-year-old photographer Lisa Whiteman: “While I think some men can pull off a mustache, most of the time it just looks like they’re trying too hard.” Meaning they probably sported a hipster mullet a few years back and own a Williamsburg 5 CENT MUSTACHE RIDES T-shirt. Her bearded boyfriend, Todd Levin, a New York comic, would agree. He recently hosted the beard category of the New York City Beard & Moustache Championships. “The impression I got was that the mustaches, at least on the younger guys, were the punch line to some joke only they knew—and they got a kick out of it,” he says.

So why do beards get a free pass? “There was something almost stoic about the guys with beards,” Levin says. In other words, if the mustache is an ironic statement, the beard is the earnest backlash.

Levin started growing his own short but somewhat scruffy beard four years ago during a temporary bout of existential depression. “I just stopped shaving. And then suddenly I was getting all this good feedback, especially from women.” He theorizes that the positive reinforcement might have been compounded by the fact that he looks “100 percent more Jewish” with the beard. “I think there’s a segment of women who really respond to that in this town,” he says. And now it’s a part of his identity, for both him and his girlfriend, whom he met with the full facial growth. “When she looks at old pictures of me without it, she’ll say, ‘That’s not you.’ So she won’t let me shave it. And even if she did, I don’t think I would.”

John, a 34-year-old engineer, wears a neat, thin beard, in part because his 50-year-old executive husband really likes it. “He believes that if you want to be with a man, then be with a man, one who’s got some hair on his face.” Trends in the gay community, he says, aren’t that different from the straight world. “You’ve got some who are hairy and do nothing about it, some who are almost obsessive about being clean-shaven, and some who just keep their facial hair neatly trimmed—and what goes on up top is usually a good indication of what goes on below.

“Back in the seventies, the mustache was an iconic gay symbol; that’s how you could identify gay men,” says John. “But today, anyone can have a mustache—though that’s probably the one thing you won’t see on gay guys anymore, at least in New York.” This cross-pollination of facial hairdos means it’s hard to distinguish subcultures and statements from simple style preferences.

There is one clear general message, though. “Facial hair is one small thing a guy can do to send out the message ‘You bet your sweet ass I’m not metrosexual,’ ” says Steve Santagati, our resident self-­proclaimed “bad boy.” He favors the Crockett scruff for its suggestion that he’s got more important things to do than shave—and, of course, for its appeal to women. Plus no one will accuse you of sporting stubble to disguise a jawline that is softening with age, as they might with a full beard.

Finally, while we’re hesitant to discourage men from getting creative with the only mainstream option they have for facial decoration and beautification, there is one personal-style choice that received a zero percent approval rating in our informal poll: the goatee. Typically worn by men who peaked during the era when those chin triangles were socially acceptable, it tells the world, “Ten years ago, you would have gone home with me.” We’re onto you, Johnny Drama.

Emma Taylor and Lorelei Sharkey are the authors of the new A-Z guides “Em & Lo’s Rec Sex” and “Em & Lo’s Sex Toy.”


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