From no beard, to full hobo beard and back again, I have done it all. I'm no rugged lumberjack or style-conscious hipster, but this is my bearded experience.
These days every second website has a guide to growing, maintaining and styling a beard, generally with pictures of tattooed hipsters in some sort of combination of flannel and skinny jeans. They would have you believe that keeping a maintaining is a part-time job that needs a vast array of products.
My beard came about on a whim - I just stopped shaving one day and gave it a few years to see what would happen. There are many different types of beards; I generally prefer the slightly homeless and definitely sketchy beard look, but there is a style for everyone. Fortunately my partner liked my beard, so I was free to let it grow wild.
Despite the occasional hipster accusation, I don't own skinny jeans, flannel or shoes that should be worn without socks. I do own an axe, but I balance out any hard labouring lumberjack claims with my pale skin and soft writers' hands.
So how can you get the most out of having a beard, without going to extremes?
From oils to butters, balms and waxes, I used exactly nothing. Of course I tried some different products early on, but was never convinced. Beard oil sounds fantastically manly (and beard butter fantastically delicious), but just left me feeling like I needed to wash. The less I do to my beard, the better it feels.
Beard Hair Is Different To Head Hair
After a bit of experimentation, I settled down in a fairly predictable beard routine. I give it a comb (when long enough) in the shower, while wet. I only shampoo and condition once a week -- any more often and it tends to get a little unruly. Bed beard is a thing - after a hard nights sleeping, my beard generally ends up perpendicular to my face. A bit of plain water and a light brush sorts it out.
Styling and Trimming
I get beard trimmer's regret whenever I make major changes, but an occasional trim is needed. Key areas include the lower neck, around the base of the jaw and most importantly -- around the mouth. A quick shave of the scraggly bits on the cheekbones gives an instantly neater feel. My go-to beard taming product (for important events) is the same as my hair -- a dose of normal mousse. One styling tip -- don't let anyone use a hair straightener on your beard, unless you want to look like a garden gnome. A short beard often looks neater and can be maintained pretty easily.
Alternatively, go indoor skydiving -- it gave me a total beard re-styling.
Forget about the old school straight razor, the badger bristle brush or exotic shaving cream. A bit of dependable technology is all you need to keep your beard in check. As Angus noted, for those maintaining a shorter beard, a trimmer with a built-in vacuum really cuts down on the mess. Otherwise any decent electric clippers is the easiest way to keep things trim, while a standard cartridge razor handles the rest.
A Beard's Worst Enemy
I love a juicy burger that bursts with runny egg when you bite into it. It’s almost impossible to eat without making a mess though, and it will stick in the beard. Weirdly, the smell of melted cheese gets into my beard easily enough that my partner coined the term "Cheese Beard". Be prepared to eat more often with a knife and fork as your beard gets longer and bushier, though really it will stay very clean.
Salt water is also not a friend to the beard and tends to make it angry and vengeful.
Beardly Life Impact
I had an overwhelming positive experience growing a beard, and didn't get any particularly insulting or racist comments. It probably helps that I am 200 cm tall (6' 7"), with a beard that tended a little red, but still. I found a beard got a huge number of compliments from strangers. Almost exclusively from men, but it was the girls who wanted to touch it. A group of backpackers (guys) gave me a standing beard ovation in a bakery in Banff, Canada. It was a little weird, but I was too busy being flattered.
Through my overly large and bushy beard phase, I flew in and out of Australia a good 10 times. I never got stopped or searched at all and one US border guard even complimented me on the beard. Interestingly, flying back into Australia the ePassport facial recognition system worked perfectly every time, despite my photo being totally beardless.
The Travel Beard
I bought an amazing "beard brush" from eBay that I actually suspect is a dog grooming comb. It went missing one time overseas, so I resorted to the crappy hotel brushes. Fewer teeth are better, so just snap out every second one for an instant beard brush. As long as you wash out any physical dirt and food, I tend to think that neglect only makes a beard stronger.
The Itch Factor
Unlike Angus, I never had any problems with itchy growth early on. The trick it seems is perseverance -- an established beard is never itchy and actually feels quite soft. My partner is a teacher, so when head lice made an appearance at her school I was worried that they might invade my face, but I was spared.
Shaving It Off
There eventually comes a time for a change, and the beard has to go. Expect regret. But relish in the feeling of a cool breeze caressing your cheek. And prepare to grow another beard. Shortly after my last big shave, I got sent an article about how shaving off a beard is the latest hipster trend. I cut that person from my life.
I am currently seeing how short a beard can be before it's actually just stubble, but will probably end up going the full Ned Kelly again one day.
And yes, I have heard of the Aussie band The Beards, yes they are amazing, and yes you should go see them live.
Do you have any beard stories or tips? Tell us in the comments.