Look at the cover of the latest DVD from controversial “comedic” character Dapper Laughs. There he is, roaring with mirth about rape or the Holocaust, or some other high-concept challenge to the PC brigade, in his uniform of worsted three-piece, brogues and well-manicured beard. His alter ego Daniel O’Reilly’s choice of dress reflects that of men up and down the UK, in their local Wetherspoons, sporting faux-heritage clichés such as acrylic tweed jackets with matching waistcoats and tooled chain store Oxfords.
Yes, “heritage”. A marketing trend which swamped the fashion industry, a fetish for authenticity that became as an abused buzzphrase as “luxury”, leading to a high street surfeit of shooting patches on jumpers, mock Edwardian tailoring and, most importantly, beards. The look, dubbed “Modern Gentleman”, became the go-to uniform for straight guys looking to update their wardrobe from the Nineties Britpop-inspired aesthetic still commonplace in bars and clubs throughout the land, but this style is far from modern, and its wearers far from gentlemen. The bastard sons of the New Lad and the Metrosexual, the latter obviously seduced by the amount of spendy add-on product available, like Tom Ford’s £26 tortoiseshell beard comb. The former unreconstructed males in the mould of Dapper Laughs, all “bantz” and drinking out of jam jars.
At the end of 2012, I attended friend-of-the-blog Garcon Jon’s launch for his book ‘100 Beards, 100 Days’, a project which saw the talented photographer capture the capital’s most stylishly hirsute men. I wrote at the time that it was the definitive statement on a trend that had swamped the creative industries. The beard had become shorthand for the deep-thinking, strong-yet-sensitive gifted man, and I remember being one of the only people in the room not sporting a few months’ growth (unfortunately anything longer than stubble adds about twenty years onto me). The Sunday Times Style supplement had even christened this movement ‘The Tolstoy’, after the forebear (ahem) of political pontification and socially insightful literature.
The beard lost its subtext. In the bank, at the supermarket, down the local, the beard was everywhere within eyesight. From terrace casual to trainee accountant, everyone is sporting scruff. Type “beard oil” into Google and you’re met with 20.4 million results. The Guardian reported in April 2015 that we had finally reached Peak Beard – yet still the fashion for facial fur endures. Shaver manufacturers wipe brows and worry about balance sheets. Victoria Beckham applies Eight-Hour Cream to her chin. The Gays continue to mine Seventies gay culture, the beard an unironic vintage symbol of machismo (so no internalised issues there then). Beards are here to stay. Or are they?
A few seasons ago, London design duo Agi & Sam cheekily suggested shaving the beard off and, since then, many news sources have run stories regarding the hygienics of the hirsute (the good/bad news, depending on your standpoint: all utterly rubbish). Garcon Jon’s models may have had qualities above and beyond their ability to grow hair, but now a beard is often the most interesting element to a man, many using it as a substitute for a personality.
As for the “modern gentlemen”, those retrogressive throwbacks in ‘Downton Abbey’ castoffs – social media misogyny, female body-shaming and joking about serious sexual assault has hardly taken a nosedive. Men have ditched mags like Loaded, Nuts and Zoo wholesale for a wealth of free nudity, extreme pornography and irreverent Internet content provided by platforms such as The LAD Bible and UNILAD. To add insult to injury, those “High Street Honeys” dragged their tawdry charms over to Snapchat, the social media phenomenon full of barely-legal libertines, taking Internet stalking to fresh levels of creepy. Dapper Laughs unfortunately proves the rule of demand and supply. Look upon his face, the likelihood is that someone similar is going to ruin your day sometime soon. As for the rest of us, maybe it’s time to pick up that razor again?
Article written by Lee Clatworthy (@bombfashion) exclusively for www.katiechutzpah.com