HELENA - Every beard has a story.
It may be for beauty or functionality, but facial follicle liberation has made a major charge in the fashion world with beard care products, dating sites, magazines and contests for men to showcase their best furry faces. In a place like Montana, beards have long maintained a barrier against arctic winds, but with catchwords like “beardsman” and “lumbersexual” finding their way into mainstream culture, the rest of the nation is starting to look a little scruffier.
Currie Corbin, editor of Urban Beardsman Magazine, knows his publication tailors to a very specific audience. But that audience is growing like a five o’clock shadow. In the last two years, sales have risen from $5,000 into the millions for Urban Beardsman’s parent company, Beardbrand, he said.
“There’s a current renaissance of the bearded lifestyle and the beardsman,” Corbin said. “And we’ve been extremely successful in creating the best beard care products for this amazing community.”
Beards were largely stigmatized in the 1960s, associated with poor hygiene and rebellion, he said. Starting in the 1980s, a gradual beard acceptance began creeping into corporate America, he added.
“In the recent world things have changed and you can be a stylish, well-kept man and have a beard in the workplace,” Corbin said. “People understand that beards are a symbol of confidence and authenticity.”
The camaraderie between facial hair enthusiasts has grown as well, he said, but a caricature of beards and flannel donned by some urbanites irked many serious beardsmen.
In many ways a response to the “metrosexual” fashion trend of a decade ago, “lumbersexuals” as they’ve come to be called tap into a rugged historic look to portray masculinity, although most have probably never picked up an axe in their lives.
“When the term ‘lumbersexual’ came into play, it was an eye roll for us and frustrating for me,” Corbin said. “Now it’s a huge fashion style and trend and it’s all in great humor.”
Those who actually make their living in the woods see the humor in the lumbersexual fashion movement as well.
“We definitely roll our eyes and laugh it off, I mean most of those people have never run a chainsaw or put chains on a truck,” said Josh Van Vlack, senior resource forester for the Wyoming Forestry Division. “The history of woodsmen wearing beards was protection from the elements. Now with all this necessity of maintenance, it’s more work growing a beard than actually shaving.”
The irony of the lumbersexual fashion movement is that many of today’s foresters wear synthetic clothing rather than flannel, and use machinery to cut logs, said Eric Neal, forester with the Helena National Forest. Although entertaining, the psychology behind the movement makes sense, he added.
“The folks are usually well educated and probably lead fairly complicated lives,” Neal said. “So to some degree they probably appreciate the simplicity. They may be celebrating the antithesis of themselves.”
But the reasons why men choose to free their faces from the confines of a razor vary like the red, gray, brown and blond shades of the beards themselves.
Helena contractor Alex Tyhurst has such a heavy beard that while in the military, he had to shave twice a day to keep his commanders at bay. After getting out of the military, he “just got lazy,” he said.
“It represents freedom just to let it go,” Tyhurst said, noting that he does little maintenance other than an occasional trim.
The biggest hazards of letting his facial hair flourish have been “enemies of the beard," namely barbeque sauce and icicles, he said.
Tyhurst counts himself as a fan of big illustrious facial hair, shaving in a Wyatt Earp-style mustache for his 1800s-themed wedding.
Gordon Hoven is a newcomer to the bearded lifestyle, only allowing his facial hair to begin sprouting in October. What began as a three-week experiment has turned into several months of growth, garnering its share of compliments.
“I had no grand scheme, I just got three weeks into this and I decided to say ‘screw it’ and see what happens,” said Hoven, a computer programmer with the state of Montana. “I have noticed a big difference and I’m convinced my face is warmer.”
To keep his beard looking top notch, Hoven gives it a frequent shampoo. He also has beard oil for those days when he really wants his whiskers to stand out.
“I do use jojoba oil to make it look shiny and pretty, but that’s only for special occasions,” he said.
Oils are not part of the beard care regiment for Devin Felix. What he started growing for “No Shave November," a month dedicated to growing facial hair to promote men’s health, has continued throughout the winter.
“I didn’t plan on growing it way out, but eventually I just wanted to see,” Felix said, adding that he does trim to keep his beard from growing into his mouth and interfering with eating.
Felix agreed that his face has stayed warmer this winter, but he remains unsure about those who take their beards too seriously. He is also unimpressed with the lumbersexual fashion movement.
“It’s crazy what people in cities will pay for. People in Montana work for a living so flannel and Carharts are just part of that,” Felix said.
While most whiskers never exit the hobbyist realm, a few truly serious beardsmen graduate their facial hair to professional levels.
Steffen Rasile, president of the Bruigher Beard and Moustache Club of Montana, takes his facial hair up against some of the best at national and world championships. In 2013, the web developer earned silver for his fiery red sideburns at the Just for Men National Beard and Moustache Championships.
Now sporting a full beard, Rasile’s enviable whiskers come to a perfect peak.
“I started growing about 10 or 12 years ago and I’ve definitely seen it become more accepted in social situations,” he said. “I do keep it oiled and conditioned -- that’s important to keep it manicured.”
Championships are split into several categories, often drawing hundreds of participants clad in ensembles to best showcase their extravagant facial hair.
As a consummate beardsman, Rasile does not take offense to the lumbersexual fashion movement, he said.
“It’s a funny word that made it into the mainstream, but that just means they’re following suit after us,” Rasile said.
Founded in 2006, the Bruigher Club began as a social group complete with membership cards. But now, “We consider anyone with facial hair as a member,” Rasile said. The club encourages a brotherhood between beardsmen and organizes regional competitions.
Rasile was a judge for last December’s Holiday Facial Hair Competition held at the Garage in Helena. He hopes the success and interest in beards will continue to abound, particularly with an annual competition.
“It’s something everyone has inside of them,” Rasile said. “It’s all about the individual, but if you’re committed, your beard will thrive.”