Charitable facial hair challenges offer men a unique opportunity to enhance their look.

These are probably the most permissive times in human history to have facial hair. In the past, the rules of grooming were set by authority figures. It was your king, president or clergyman who informed you if beards were brave, noble or sinful, and you pretty much had to follow those cues.

In the U.S., after both world wars, men were pretty clean shaven. They had to be. To be a corporate man you were expected to be fresh-faced and “all-American.” The counter-culture movement in the 1960s brought beards to the forefront but were often associated with hippies and thus not fully accepted into the mainstream.

This post-modern wave of facial hair growth really started in the 1990s with the grunge music movement and goatees. Since then, you can say we’re in a 20-year cycle, and this current trend — including very bushy mountain-man beards and hipster beards — is like a new freedom.

Events like “No-Shave November” give permission for guys to experiment with facial hair. Men are doing it for a good cause, and there’s comradery among men and their peers. Men really bond over facial hair, and there can even be a little friendly competition among them on who can be the bushiest. You also see this in playoff beards in professional hockey and major league baseball players.

But now it’s December 1, and you’ve got this mass of hair, so what’s next? Ideally, you’ll want to plan ahead and be thinking of a beard style that’s right for your face and position in life. Talk to your barber. They’ll probably have a good opinion about what will look best on your face versus what’s going to look silly or excessively trendy. Also, your partner gets a vote; if they really hate it, that should make your decision easy.

Having any style of beard is going to require a little extra work: you have to wash it, keep it clean, trim it, and keep the margins on your cheek and neck levels tight. Thankfully there are many different products you can choose from to help maintain your chosen style of facial hair.

A beard is a statement that gets read by others, and it’s not always the same interpretation. People look at someone with facial hair and have all these unconscious associations, much like their perceptions of people with tattoos, which have also become more socially acceptable. I always joke that you’re either Santa or Satan, depending on who’s looking at your beard!

Overall, men have greater freedom for grooming and personal style choices than ever before. The corporate beard (short, well-groomed) is almost universally accepted (though banking and politics remain pretty beard unfriendly). Stubble is a popular choice that works for most guys. If you want to keep your facial hair in the corporate culture, make sure it is well groomed, to create a perception of discipline and authority.

The decision is ultimately yours and the right beard can provide an exciting new look that is uniquely you.

Growing Awareness

  • The Movember Foundation:

Challenges men from around the world to grow mustaches during November to raise funds and awareness for men’s health programs. Visit movember.com for more information.

  • No-Shave November:

Across the country, people go the whole month without shaving, donating the money they would have spent on grooming to a variety of causes. Visit no-shave.org for more information.

v Allan Peterkin, M.D., is a Toronto doctor and the author of three best-selling books on facial hair including One Thousand Beards: A Cultural History of Facial Hair and The Bearded Gentleman-The Style Guide To Shaving Face (with co-author Nick Burns). He has been a consultant to five major men’s grooming brands and has been a judge twice for The National Beard and Mustache Championships.