"Art is a kind of illness." — Giacomo Puccini

Bearded bliss: year one


Over the past few years, I have enjoyed growing my beard. I never though I could actually have a beard, but a few years ago decided to just let it grow and see. My beard has exceeded my expectations. Aside from my partner, everybody in my life from family and friends to employers has cheered me on. It’s been really great! (I hope my partner will get on board eventually, but he seems really dug in.) These days, I would say I’m a true believer. I can’t imagine any reason I would decide to shave. I’ll save the laud of the beard for another post. This post is a review of my first year bearded. I will post a 2nd year post before too long, and add the occasional post as my beard continues to amuse me.

Before: Here’s a picture from a year or so before I grew my beard. I suppose I had transitioned rather well into middle-age, but if there’s anything you should do in middle-age that I wasn’t doing already, it’s grow a beard. And so it came to be.

Twelve days: I have detectable shadow on my cheeks. I had been keeping a short mustache/goatee for about a year, and decided to not shave for a few days while my partner was out of town. The first lesson you learn when growing a beard is that it doesn’t happen in days or weeks. It happens in months.

Eighteen days: I can see that my previous frontal growth I so enjoyed in the 1990s has been joined now by decent growth on the sides. This beard business might just work out after all. Meanwhile, I found a cool web site called Jeff’s Beard Board that is just a bunch of guys from around the world into growing their beards. It’s all around a very friendly place, and I don’t think I would have made it without the cheerful support of guys on the board.

4 weeks: Though not identical on each side, the sides are continuing to improve. I am scruffy but also feel increasingly hopeful that this just might work, though I’m still concerned by the lack of connecting sideburns (to my otherwise balding head…) Also, setting a neck line has proven to be a big pain in the ass, thanks to a cowlick under the right side of my jaw.

2 months: The second month brought a lot of change, all for the better! It went from looking scruffy to looking more like a beard, started to fill in a lot more on the sides. I start feeling “bearded” rather than just a scruffy mess.

3 months: Well, if there was any doubt before, I think it’s safe to say I’m fully bearded now. I’ve decided the lack of connecting sideburns isn’t as important as I thought it would be. Everything else is fine, even my less-dense right side. I used some beard trimmers to give myself my first trim, and was very pleased with the results.

4 months: The thing you don’t think about when you first start growing a beard is how you want to wear it. The cowlick under the right side of my jaw was causing some real challenges keeping it trimmed properly myself. A bearded friend recommended his barber, so I decided to check him out. I have seen my barber, Alder, there regularly ever since and highly recommend him.

5 months: With my barber’s help, I took on a more polished bearded appearance, with the sides tapered pretty short and some length on the chin. I never realized how growing a beard would change the shape of my face, but I enjoyed the change in my appearance, even if I sometimes did not recognize the reflection in a window. Who knew growing a beard would be such fun?

6 months: Guys on the board kept telling me I could have a monster of a mustache if I decided to go for it. Hesitant at first, I decided around 6 months to give it a shot. In this picture, it’s past my lips, but not quite long enough to style to keep out of my mouth. You eat a lot of hair training a mustache, as it turns out. This was a turning point for me with my beard, which would now become merely an accompaniment for my mustache, and god forbid anything happen to my mustache!

7 months: And so before too long, my mustache started to get pretty big, monstrous indeed. I started to enjoy the look of having a big mustache on a short beard, and discovered that was actually a very classic beard look going back (at least to “George V of England and Nicholas II of Russia). Also, the longer it got, the easier it was to start training to the side, which was nice because hair in the mouth is not much fun. Also, I think this is the first picture I caught my beard casting a shadow. 🙂

8 months: I went about 3 months of only trimming the beard and just letting the mustache grow, and so my mustache got a lot bigger. In this picture, my beard is actually getting pretty long, too. Here  you can see the mustache starting to flow well to the sides. I had started experimenting with Firehouse mustache wax, which some of the guys on the board recommended.

IMG_1892 IMG_1893 IMG_1896 IMG_1904
8-1/2 months: It was time to see my barber again, and this time he styled my mustache for me before I left. I have to admit, I was completely caught off guard by it. It really is an attention-demanding thing to wear a handlebar mustache, and takes some getting used to, especially other peoples’ responses. But it’s also a lot of fun. It brings whimsy into life, and if you ask me, that’s a good thing. Here are a couple of shots taken on the way home from the barber that day.

9 months: I was a quick convert to the big, styled mustache way of life, but also enjoyed it just as much un-styled. I also realized my beard looked best with a little length on it. The flow from my sideburns to my chin, with the big mustache flowing into it is the classic full beard look I didn’t think I could ever have. Here I am with my beard proving me wrong.

Photo on 6-5-12 at 12.32 PM #3
10 months: About this point, I’m feeling like growing my beard was one of the best things I ever did. Styling my mustache brought a whole new level of vanity to my life. It’s on my face, though, so I want it to look right. Another thing I noticed is that my beard made my eyes recede. I decided to fix that with some more prominent glasses. I guess I was most surprised (and grateful) by how accepting my job had been about all of it. Here I am at my desk with my mustache proudly defying gravity.

11 months: It was around this time when a friend told me my beard looked a lot like Sigmund Freud’s beard  when he was younger. I didn’t quite get the reference, so I had to do some research only to discover he was really on target. I put together this side-by-side, taken from almost the same angle. So I ended up taking this as a real compliment, though sometimes a beard is just a beard. Nevertheless, while writing this post and searching Google for “Freud’s beard”, I was pretty pleased to see my comparison image show up in the results, thanks to my later post on /r/beards/.

1 year: Suddenly, it was my 45th birthday, and right after that was the one-year anniversary of the last time I had shaved. It’s really something to realize that a morning ritual you performed daily since you were a teenager has been left undone for an entire year. I went to see my barber for my regular trim, intending to trim the length of my handlebars just a bit. He was on vacation, so I let another barber trim my beard. And that is the first time my mustache got butchered. I haven’t let anybody but my regular guy trim it since. Lesson learned the hard way. I was really bummed out!

Aside: You may notice how dark my beard is in that last picture. I started using Just for Men Mustache and Beard Dye when I first grew my beard because my partner, not a fan of the beard at all, complained a little less when it was darker. I’ve since settled on a lighter color, just a little darker than the light/graying color that is now natural. I think less is more when it comes to beard dye. Just for fun, here’s another picture of what it looks like to dye a beard with a big mustache. Kinda funny, but you get used to it. I think I’ll do a whole other thread on all the stuff I put in my beard. If anything, keeping a beard is a actually lot more work than shaving. Who knew?

So there’s the story of the first year of my beard. I could have never imagined how much I would get into it. It’s taught me a lot of things, including how to be comfortable in my own skin, something rare for an introvert such as myself. There are a lot of stories to tell, and I have dedicated an entire category of my blog to chronicling my experiences as an urban professional bearded man in the 21st century. This is just the first post, a retrospective on my earlier experiences.

  • Paul on

    Yeah, you have an awesome beard, really nice. Very masculine. It seems to “behave” well. Mine (which is quite long) is very wiry and without copious amounts of hair gel tends to look unkempt. I also have a large, annoying cowlick that makes the hair right under my right jowl tend to poke straight out. But it is what it is. I would love to achieve your “Sigmund Freud look,” but I don’t think my follicle-characteristics will allow it. Great beard you’ve got there!

    • Kenny on

      Thanks, Paul. It behaves all right, but at different lengths I run into different issues. With a short beard, I have trouble keeping the are under the right side of my jaw looking good, thanks to the cowlick. Around three inches length, the hair underneath is heavy enough to hang down, overpowering the cowlick. Then around 5 inches, the cowlick asserts itself again as a wavy indentation on the left side of my beard. It’s worth all the trouble, though. I do enjoy my beard. Most days, it reminds me not to take myself too seriously, which is hard to do when your beard is acting up again, and it’s time to leave for work.

  • Mike on

    “It’s taught me a lot of things, including how to be comfortable in my own skin, something rare for an introvert such as myself”

    Well said and I relate. I foolishly had too many beers a week ago and shaved my beard. I immediately regretted doing it and have a deep feeling of despair (not joking!). I wish I could fast forward 8 weeks! Great looking beard and stache you have there.

    • Kenny on

      Thanks, Mike. It’s hard to see in the gravatar, but looks like you had a nice beard growing. The cool thing is it will grow right back. It’s the perfect hobby: you just don’t do anything. 😉

Leave a Comment