My beard

Wednesday, September 30th 2020
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It’s probably surprising how little time and attention I’ve put into my beard over the years. 

I’ve had it almost 20 years, long before it was fashionable (which I do tell people, to my shame). Yet I’ve always cut it myself, using clippers on my hair and a combination of clippers and scissors on the beard. 

This amateur approach might be down to the fact I grew it as an accompaniment to shaving off my hair. The latter had been thinning for a while, and I finally took the decision to cut it all off when I left university. Growing a beard at the same time seemed like some kind of compensation. 

Given I could easily trim the hair myself (with my wife tidying up the back) I took the same approach to the beard. I used clippers to keep it at roughly the same length, then trimmed the moustache and the neckline by hand. 

My technique improved a little over time, with an increasing difference in length between the sides of the beard and the chin, for example. But I always resisted going to a barber regularly. 

If I was being generous, I think I’d say this is was also because I’m actually not that vain. 

Although I love clothes, I’ve resisted obsessing over other aspects of appearance. I exercise in order to be able to compete, or play sports - not to look good. I’ve always been put off my men’s sites that include pieces on six packs or whitening your teeth. 

Mastering clothes is akin to mastering cooking, for me: a necessary aspect of life that it is enjoyable to do well. Not akin body building: good for nothing other than showing off.

But at the same time, I think I was also a lazy about my hair, and probably a little cheap: I didn’t like the idea of spending quite a lot of money just to return something to normal - to maintain rather than to grow. 

Whatever the reason, that approach finally changed a few months ago when I started visiting Stefan Avanzato (above), the barber who works downstairs from Private White VC on Duke Street.

I think the biggest thing that changed my mind was that Stefan was so approachable, and happy to give me advice on doing my hair myself, rather than wanting a frequent customer. This immediately put me at my ease: the few barbers I have tried in the past (often chains that had just hired a PR team) were much more commercial.

Of course, after a few sessions with Stefan, it’s clear there’s an advantage to going back regularly if not often - if only to tidy up hairlines that I haven’t quite been able to perfectly maintain. But that still might only be every couple of months. 

I like the job Stefan has done, both in terms of the small changes he has made and the understanding it has given me of how my hair works. I’ve enjoyed firing questions at him: how the hair grows, what effects different beard shapes have, what equipment to buy etc.

Here is a brief description of the changes he has made. As ever, this could seem self-involved (that vanity comes into question again) but readers have asked about my beard in the past. 

And I do think there is an overlap with menswear, in terms of what your aim is with grooming: as with clothes, my aim is to appear simply well put-together, rather than too obviously stylised. 

In fact, that was the first thing I said to Stefan, and directed the look I was after. I wanted my beard to look tidy, and flattering. I wanted confidence in this look, and in my ability to maintain it myself.

But I didn’t want any sharp angles, or definite styles. My idea of hell would be designer stubble that was shaped into a thin line along the chin; or indeed a long hipster beard with an obvious shape chopped in. 

Stefan agreed that the best way to avoid the former was not to shave the beard too high under the chin. It needs to run all the way back to the point where the chin meets the neck. 

I had been maintaining a good height there, apparently, but had been rounding off the corners where the beard turns upwards. You can see that effect in the first image below. 

It doesn’t look bad, but by lowering the bottom-left corner, making it more into a right angle, the beard is widened and the jaw looks bigger. 

You can see the difference in the second image, after a recent trim from Stefan. It’s not the kind of thing that I’d classify as a ‘style’, yet it does have a noticeable effect. 

The second thing Stefan changed was the line I shaved on my cheeks. Here, I’d been going for a more horizontal line, with the same general aim of squaring the jaw. 

But his suggestion was that it looked better if that line sloped downwards, essentially pointing towards the corner of my mouth. That also helped tidy up the top line of the beard (it’s a little patchy on that side) without looking too mannered. 

Again, you can see the difference in the two images below. 

I’ve always liked my moustache to be quite trim. I guess because I wanted to frame the mouth, rather than hide it. 

Stefan agreed with that approach, but suggested cutting it even shorter. He also used a small trimmer to cut a wider gap between my mouth and the moustache. 

This line around the mouth was borderline for me in terms of looking too stylised. Particularly when Stefan then used a razor to shape the top of the moustache. But it does also look a lot cleaner. I think that’s something I’ll play with myself over time, and find a line I’m happy with. 

I also used the experience with Stefan to try cutting my hair shorter. 

I’ve never liked the idea of it being very short - basically invisible, essentially bald. But my hair has been annoying me in recent years, thinning on the back and developing areas of uneven grey that make it look patchy. 

So we moved from my normal grade 1 to grade 0.5. I felt it was a bit too short on day one, but of course the hair growth shows quickly at that length, so over all during the span of a week, I preferred it. That is now my default setting. 

There are a few other small things I ran through with Stefan. Trimming the beard every week, for example, by using trimmers going down the face (not up) at different grades: 5 on the chin, 3 at the side. 

I learnt to trim longer or straggly hairs by combing and then using scissors (always comb then cut, comb then cut), and keep the hair under the chin a little shorter than the rest (something it’s easy to go too far with). 

We talked about shaving, and the nature of my hair (tough) and skin (sensitive) that means I almost grow a 5 o’clock shadow, yet find it hard to shave every day. 

And I invested in some better clippers (Wahl Senior Cordless) which made an immediate difference.

Going back to the objectives mentioned at the beginning, I think the key thing Stefan has given me is confidence - that my beard looks as good as it can do, and I’m not screwing it up. It’s akin to being able to polish your shoes well, or indeed some basic DIY.

Stefan was patient, listened, and didn’t assume he just knew best. This is the kind of attitude that I’m sure develops long-term relationships (that old idea that ‘a man needs a good tailor, barber and barman’) and is rather contrary to some of the new fashionable chains of barbers.

That’s it for grooming on Permanent Style - probably for ever. I have no interest in reviewing moisturisers or suggesting cleansing regimes. Someone else can do that. 

I just thought the experience with Stefan had enough parallels with dressing well, and the ideal relationship with a tailor/retailer, to be of interest. 

And if anyone asks about my beard again, I have somewhere to direct them. 

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Hugo

Excellent article, and no doubt of interest to a great deal of your readers. Indeed even to me, although I’ll never be able to entertain the thought of a beard given my patchy growth.

Still, it illustrates the kind of relationship I’d like to have with by hair dresser. I don’t imagine I’ll ever be brave enough touch up my own hair in-between visits, but I’d certainly like to find someone I can have a long running relationship with, and from whom I can receive help regarding products and habits which suit my hair and skin. I’ve found that locating, and maintaining, such a relationship is more difficult than I would have expected, especially when one travels or even moves on the regular.

Cheers

Anonymous

My beard is very short but the hair is incredibly coarse. A tip I was given years ago, which I still follow today, is to rub a generous helping of olive oil into it and leave it for an hour before showering. Seems to soften things up nicely.

Miles

This article was a reminder about my origins reading this website. Although it was initially unconscious, my Increased appreciation of clothing (And Then P.S.) coincided with that ever thinning patch of hair on the back of my head.

A lot of what you’ve written has been a tool to navigate that changing understanding of self; just as our clothes reflect our changing relationship with the world.

Here’s to the hair we’ve left behind,

Miles

Stephen

Hi Simon, I enjoyed this article. Whilst I don’t have a beard myself, I still found it interesting. Your point on looking “well put together”, rather than over styled, really resonated with me as it’s what I try to do (not always successfully!). I have used the same barber for many years (an independent) and that long term relationship has evolved styling over the years and honesty on what works and what doesn’t.
Just on your point re working out , not to look good, but rather for sports – which I am not taking issue with. I once read that a bit of ‘reasonable’ vanity can have a variety of health benefits. Healthy lifestyles have been covered elsewhere, suffice to say now more than ever this is very important in both the short and longer term, for individuals and those around them.
Once again thanks for the article, which as always is realistic unlike many look books and instagram pictures.

Rik

Really enjoyable article Simon, don’t make it the last on grooming! I’ve been experimenting with growing a beard for first time during this strange lockdown period. Do you go for any of the beard shampoos or oils? Do they work? I had no idea there were so many beard products!

D.S

Can I ask about the provenance of that cream coloured soft collared shirt? The one you’re wearing with the taupe/oaty jacket. Thanks Simon

Anonymous

Bald with a beard, also know as the ‘upside down head’ – haha. More seriously, great article. I probably consider myself in the same category as you with regards to vanity and grooming although one of my indulgences is good shaving cream, brush, aftershave etc and i thoroughly enjoy using them each time i shave. it makes the whole thing much more pleasurable using good quality and luxurious products. You say you had a beard before it was fashionable – well i have been clean shaven for the last 17 years, from the age of 18. It has never been fashionable amongst my age group to be clean shaven and indeed it would seem most men choose to keep their facial hair from the moment it first graces their chin. I for one love being clean shaven and could not put up with a beard for a moment. I wonder if the clean shaven look will ever come back in??

Juan Manuel Ballesteros Allué

Another parallelism with dressing… Clean shaven face as a personal option regardless fashion and such…
As for having tough hair and sensitive skin, well… I guess that is most men since the dawn of times feel they have, including yours truly, lol! I sort it out by shaving every. single. day using the old wet shaving way… a Gillette from a century ago, sharp blades, good shaving soap and brus and good prep of course.

Juan Manuel Ballesteros Allué

Yes, indeed. And YMMV, of course!

Jeldrik

Who would have thought that I would ever read a text about beard trims – and still consider it worth reading. Thank you for the great report.

Quick question: Why trim the beard going down the face? I always thought the trimmer gets more hair, when going up.

James

Thank you.
Have you considered using Morgan’s Pomade?
It reacts with the hair to get rid of the grey.
its not a dye.
I’ve found it be effective, having similar hairstyle and beard to yours.

Anonymous

Just For Men also good, ‘takes off the years that greys put on’ 😉

Anonymous

I’ve never had a beard because my wife would kill me… 🙂

Just wondering, who do you think is most flattered by a beard? Better on darker hair than lighter hair? Better on someone with angular or well defined facial features then, say, someone with a rounder face?

I think an actual beard can look distinguished but the after 8 look that is popular right now just looks lazy.

Prince Florizel of Bohemia

I wear a beard and feel slightly uncomfortable about the fact how fashionable it is right now. But I believe it’s flattering on me for a simple reason: even though I’m reasonably fit, I don’t have a distinctive jaw line. Beard can hide that and enhance it considerably.

Scott

The do it yourself look of beard trimming and hair cutting(for bald men) usually doesn’t work very well. There seems to be an inherent stubbornness about this so, you’re to commended for recognizing that a quality barber is a good investment. Also, keeping the hair you have left short is a smart move because you look much better and confident. On the exercise issue, may I suggest that unless you’re a professional athlete, exercise should be for good health and improved appearance only, not sports. I can’t tell you how many people I know in their 40s an 50s who have foolishly injured themselves playing sports long past their university days.

Scott

Exercise is tremendously important for good long term health as numerous studies show. Understanding this is extremely important to live a healthy and vigorous life. As a father of young children you understand this I’m sure. I certainly see the attractiveness of tennis as a sport that has positive social interactions as well. Stay well!

Tim Fleming

-Scott… Nonsense – Injuries can happen at any age or time, even when we’re not in a competitive sport. And with the right care and attention, injuries can and do heal at any age – my career in health care attests to this. Personally I think passion and the pursuit of happiness is something to be encouraged without letting fears hold us back.

-Simon… I don’t usually laugh when I read your articles but this one got 2 or 3 out loud laughs!
Great humor sprinkled around and the personal elements and depth you share certainly keeps me coming back. Nice work!

Daniel

Hi Simon. Shades of David Beckham in the final photo..

Mark

Hello Simon,

Interesting article thank you: we have similar “hairstyles”… indeed my wife often looks over my shoulder when I am reading your articles and comments “what an attractive man”! (I have sported a short haircut and beard for longer than I have been reading permanent style… so while I have shamelessly copied other elements of your style the beard isn’t one of them – I promise!).

It is interesting that you have started going to a barber since lockdown whereas I have gone the other way – forced to buy some clippers and do it by myself because of lockdown.

The problem I have always found was finding someone who was good, someone with whom you could build a relationship, someone who understood men’s hair (particularly beards), in a pleasant, relaxing setting.

There seems to be an element of stress in going to a new barber in a new setting: some barber shops are more like night clubs, some have terrible music, some have terribly perfunctory barbers (particularly with a “style” like mine which doesn’t seem to invite any effort from certain barbers), and some just don’t seem to pay attention to the details… and then once I had found the perfect barber they seemed to move to other shops and there would be a period of time when I had to track them down all over again… so I had rather given up but your article has reminded me what an absolute pleasure it is to have someone take time to trim your hair when you find the right person and place.

As an “aside” in my various barber travels I have found that generally Turkish barbers have been very good with trimming and shaping beards – there seems to be more of a tradition of (typically) male Turkish barbers who are used to dealing with beards whereas that skill seems to be lost in other barbershops/hair dressers (although as with all these things there are exceptions both ways).

Keep up the good work.

Kind regards

Mark

Peter K

As a fellow baldy I really enjoyed this article Simon.

I have also taken to wearing my hair very short. I changed my style of eyeglasses and found my old, slightly longer, hairstyle just didn’t look right with them. Cutting my hair very short makes for a better overall look.

I’ve also worn a beard for many years, varying between a goatee (not really a goatee but rather the short beard around the mouth that has come to be called a goatee) in the warm months and a full beard in the winter. I keep them trimmed quite short as my beard is very coarse and the short length is less irritating for my wife’s skin.

Jonathan

Great article. I am a beard wearer that self trims and has always wondered if I was doing it right. I now strongly suspect that I am not.

Can I ask where exactly your beard is trimmed to a 5 and where it’s trimmed to a 3. I would say the length looks pretty even, but is that the whole idea – that you need the different lengths to make it look even.

I feel 3 is much shorter than 5 and would stand out as such?!

Jai Kharbanda

I have a very thick, coarse beard and long gave up trimming it myself except in emergencies because I just couldn’t deal with the mess of finding hair all over the bathroom for days on end (and prickling me inside my shirts). Did this never bother you?

Thomas

I see David Beckham as well 😉

Will

I was one of the readers that asked you about your beard and will now never ask you again!

Thanks for this Simon – I am going to go to that very same barber next time I’m down near Bond Street – two fundamentally inspiring and subtle changes (the angle in the lower corner and the downward sloping cheek lines I can’t wait to try out) – keep being an absolute treasure trove of useful information – and for jumping into a subject that wasn’t really your thing.

DKP

Agree with the change to the cheek line. It results in your beard appearing fuller.

Colin Tate

I really think you write the most excellent articles Simon. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. They are always so thoughtful and considered. I find I rarely disagree with you! The slightly sharper angle is a definite improvement. I have tried with a beard for the same reasons as you. But I cannot get beyond the itchy stage. Mine is also now greying in places and I feel this is bit ageing. I wonder if you will feel the same in a few years or whether you’ll embrace that with your usual style too?!

Jan

Ha! Sounds quite close to obsessing to me!

GONZAGUE

It seems the hair on your chin is shorter than elsewhere, is it?

Chuck

Simon,

Off topic. I know you commissioned a USAAF flight jacket from Chapal some few years ago, what is your feedback on how the leather has aged over the years, and any negative experience you have had with it? I am looking forward to purchasing one from them, so your honest input will be very helpful.

Thank you.

ANM

Simon,

Your article highlights something many of us have come to appreciate in these days of pandemic….the joy of having someone do some personal care on/to us, and the value of setting everything ‘back to zero’

I work from home, and shave everyday. I can keep myself generally trim enough (there are YouTube videos to show you how), that I can ‘pass’ on a video call…and besides, the lady who cuts my hair was shut for a while….And although I don’t actually ‘need’ to be groomed as much as I used to, when she re – opened, I have gladly resumed my schedule, just for the experience….(actually, I think women have known about all the personal, and ‘ritual’ part of this since the beginning of time)

Gabriel

Hi Simon, you and I have quite similar hair patterns and beard shapes. I too exclusively used to trim my own beard until a few years ago when a barber in New York took a look at it and said, candidly, “don’t f*ck with your own beard.”

She walked her enthusiasm back to some more practical tips, but now (in between occasional wife-given haircuts) I do really enjoy the professional reset and perspective a visit to the right barber provides.

Even more than the haircut, I appreciate the quiet moments of public solitude. Tailor, barber, and barkeep, indeed: personal craftspeople and purveyors of public meditation.

Thank you for such an enjoyable and helpful site.

Ben

“ Even more than the haircut, I appreciate the quiet moments of public solitude. Tailor, barber, and barkeep, indeed: personal craftspeople and purveyors of public meditation.”

This. What a wonderful comment.

Dane

I found this article interesting as it reminded me how my use of my barber has evolved over time. To put it in perspective, I have had facial hair (beard/moustache) for 4-years now and have had various hairstyles. I tend to change them periodically and will spend a few months refining the look. I use my barber the same way I use my tailor: someone who knows more about how their craft work for people more than I do.

When I decide to change something around, I bring an idea and maybe photos to my barber. We have a brief discussion about what may or may not work with my face shape, my hair, and facial hair. We modify the look from there and my barber implements it. The next time I visit them, I let them know what worked and did not work for me. It could be simply as it took too long to style in the morning, or the hair on the sides of my head behave differently than the top, etc. My barber is great at taking my ideas, issues, and making them work for me.

For my facial hair, I generally do the touchups and maintenance myself. I visit my barber to do big changes and fix the accumulation of many small mistakes I have made. It helps me keep costs down on my side and helped me understand how my facial hair grows, etc.

Jay Weir

On behalf of all self-trimmers, thank you Simon- great tips and great (and refreshing) candor in all of it as well.

Seems to me that barbers in UK have more skills than in the US, at least in my experience (when I have needed to visit one whilst traveling). You found a good one!

Gabriel Tan

In summary, you want to be vain but without coming across as being vain. A lot of words being spent on saying that it’s ok to care a lot about our appearances as long as it’s not salesy, it’s discreet, it’s not hipster; it’s not about six packs or big chains trying to influence your looks. Essentially, being vain but ensuring it’s purely on your own terms?

Kim

Great article! Nice tips. I’ve had a beard for decades, so I thought I’d offer my view on the length, particularly regarding grey. I had (and still have. mostly) sandy-blond hair. I think beards tend to be darker than the hair on the head…at least mine was. And I think beards tend to go grey sooner. In my younger days, a longer length in the beard, keeping it nicely trimmed, looked nice. Now that my beard has gone mostly grey, I find that having it the length I did at a younger age adds a few years to my look, while keeping it closely-cropped–and trimming every couple of weeks–tones down the “greyness” and looks a lot more elegant, if you will.

zo

how about a designer beard for red nose day? i’d happily donate.

Thomas Mastronardi

Bravo, Simon. Well done, as ever. High time for me, I’d say, after all these years, to seek out a professional to trim my beard — and to instruct me on the finer points of self-maintenance. Odd that my vanity, which is, shall we say, pronounced, has never really extended beyond my apparel to my grooming (and perversely pleased to know that I haven’t walked that particular road alone). It’s always been trim, shower, pomade and go. As it is, my goodly wife despairs over my disdain for skincare (although even I know that I should at least acknowledge the obvious benefits of sunscreen) whilst she shakes her wise and lovely head over my obsession for proper garment and footwear upkeep. File this all under Old Dog/New Tricks…

Gregor

Wonderful and helpful read – thanks. Can I just ask you about the length? You say you use a 3 on the sides and a 5 on the chin. Where does the chin begin? Does the chin also cover the jaw bone right under the ear? And do you use a 2 on the moustache to get it slightly shorter?

Thanks for your help in advance.

Charles Oxford

Speaking of beards, have seen yours in two places in Stockholm this last week by chance (Saman Amel and CQP (I live across the street))–will be keen to hear what you are up to here

Russ

Good job this is “Permanent Style” rather than “Esquire” magazine, Simon, otherwise you’d be expected to do a further article on trimming or removing body hair elsewhere!

Rondell

Another informative, well written article Simon. Regarding skin regimes, my babyfaced dermatologist and friend since university days gave me advice twenty years ago that I still follow today: Don’t wash your face with anything that contains alcohol or fragrance, no matter how “prestigious ” the brand is, and wear SPF 30 sunscreen everyday rain or shine. Cheers.

ben w

Interesting contrast here:

> Mastering clothes is akin to mastering cooking, for me: a necessary aspect of life that it is enjoyable to do well. Not akin body building: good for nothing other than showing off.

Not between mastering clothes and body building, but between mastering clothes being evaluating adverbially (how do you do it?) and body-building being evaluated teleologically (what’s it for?). What, after all, is dressing well *good for*?

You presumably would not say that dressing well is good solely for showing off; you take pleasure yourself, I assume, in the niceties of your dress, regardless of whether they attract the approving glances of others. And you’ve definitely connected “dressing well” to things that look good, or flatter the wearer … which, given that it’s dress, must include flattering their body. But doesn’t a body-builder take pleasure in getting their body itself to look as they wish it to, regardless of whether the average passer-by will even see it, let alone be able to appreciate, as their fellow connoisseurs do, how “aesthetic” and proportioned they’ve managed to make, not their clothes, but themselves?

Your comparison strikes me as unfair.

Russ

Which gives rise to an idea for a future article, perhaps – in that what truly constitutes elegance? Does the slim, well groomed guy who cannot afford tailoring look better than the overweight guy who can? And what truly constitutes ‘understated elegance’ (in the sense Beau Brummell posited – without his arrogance though)?

Oskar

Exactly where I’m at, both hair and beard as well as a decade-long DIY approach. So a much appreciated post. Will check out those cordless clippers now. Good stuff!

Dan

I found this surprisingly interesting and informative Simon. I say that because I had fairly low expectations of an article about your beard, but it ended up making me think about the way in which I shave my own. You and I have very similar beards and the techniques you describe around not shaving too high on the neck and inadvertently rounding off the corners are things I’ve struggled with in the past.

Lockdown has helped with this, strangely. With virtually all of my face-to-face work now done via Zoom, I find I can get away with shaving less frequently. The result is that I have had more beard to work with and have been able to shape it to achieve the effect you describe. Some of Stefan’s tips are welcome though and I’ll be sure to try them out. My one tip to you is to try a beard oil; very specifically the beard oil produced and sold by Kiehl’s. It’s miles better than any of the others I’ve tried, including more expensive offerings by the likes of Tom Ford. The only issue I have is that others appear to agree and Kiehl’s has trouble keeping it in stock.

Finally, I wouldn’t write off grooming articles altogether. It’s an important aspect of style and your past articles on fragrance, which I’d place in to the same category, have been very interesting.

Jack

Anyone know of a similarly skilled groomer in NYC that could provide “technical” improvements to the shape and contours of one’s beard?