A new hair club for men: Beards

At the 2013 event at TLA: Contestant PJ Bielavitz (top) and cohost Brandon Biggins.
At the 2013 event at TLA: Contestant PJ Bielavitz (top) and cohost Brandon Biggins. (BRAD KINGETT)
Posted: March 27, 2014

Face it. Beards are everywhere - and we're not talking about a little stubble.

More guys are wearing full-out fuzzy beards and mustaches - scruffy and dense like bracken, or elegantly coiffed and pointed like topiary - and the evidence of facial fawning grows.

Manhattan's International Beauty Show this month hosted as many bearded models and clipper demonstrations as it did colorists and tall coifs. Cosmetic surgeons such as Ardmore's Rumer Cosmetic Surgery offer facial hair transplants (for $3,000) for fuller beards. Flyers sensation Sean Couturier has a wolfman-like beard at age 21. And the Duck Dynasty guys are better known for their beards than for their business.

The beard is simply the hipster badge of honor - something that hasn't really happened since the hippie Sixties.

"Facial hair finally got to be totally acceptable," says Richard Gentekos, the owner of Harpo's at the King of Prussia mall. Having cut hair for 50 years, he credits the latest beard phase to society's liberal and lax attitude toward appearance. "Style itself got to be more casual, in the workplace and in restaurants. You can dress casually for work. Why not go scruffy?"

With so much pride and mustachioed machismo out there, a different kind of hair club for men emerged - the three-year-old Philadelphia Beard and Mustache Club - and with that a battle for supremacy: the third Annual East Coast Beard and Mustache Competition will be held Saturday at the TLA.

It was 2012 when club founders Rob Wanamaker and Brandon Biggins hosted the first competition at the Blockley, which sold out with 750 people. The second annual event at the Theatre of Living Arts had nearly 900 people - on Easter weekend - with singer Andrew W.K. as a judge. Wanamaker expects this weekend's test of tonsorial sartorial-ness - which measures excellence in length, thickness, neatness, color, and overall facial-hair appearance - to sell out again. (For tickets, go to www.phillybeardclub.com.)

But the Philadelphia Beard and Mustache Club doesn't just collect itself and show off once a year. Being a beardo is an everyday celebration, from Monday morning to the first Sunday night of every month at South Street's Tattooed Mom, where mustaches, beards, and the women who love them gather for the club's Beer & Bingo party.

(Currently, five U.S. cities, including Austin and Charleston, S.C., are part of the World Beard and Moustache Association. Some towns have independent groups such as Philly's club, but all are bound by the hair below the nose.)

"The motto the club goes by is, 'We aren't here for a long time, we're here for a good time. . . .' We party," says Wanamaker.

For Wanamaker - a 27-year-old South Philly photographer who befriended Biggins at 16 when they worked "horrible jobs at the King of Prussia mall" - the party began in 2011 when the bearded buds went to a facial-hair competition in West Philly.

"It was in a yoga studio or something and super-unorganized, with flat, lousy, homemade beer that tasted like it was brewed in a bathtub. It was all-around underwhelming," he said. Still, a ton of people came out to the event. Wanamaker and Biggins, a store manager at H&M, thought we can do this better ourselves, and the pair studied up on clubs and competitions across the globe and decided to better represent Philly.

With free memberships, the Philadelphia Beard and Mustache Club sustains itself financially by selling merchandise (T-shirts, pins, beer cozies), which they design and print themselves; holding monthly fund-raising events such as the Beer & Bingo bash; and garnering sponsors such as Pabst Blue Ribbon and Bluebeards Original.

"I saw 'Philadelphia Beard and Mustache Club' on some social-media site and thought, 'Hah, sweet. I better check this out,' " says Marc Zdon, 26, a web developer from Conshohocken. "I went to their bingo event to raise money for the family of a fallen comrade in the Rochester Beard Club, and had some drinks and laughs when Biggins asked, with slurred speech, 'You're gonna keep hanging out with us, right?' "

Zdon, now an officer in the club, says he has gotten so close to the guys that they hang out every weekend, club events or not. At the very least, 30 people can be found at every gathering, with a demographic, says Wanamaker, of "twentysomethings to dudes that are married with kids and retired."

The brotherhood of the beard is certainly about pride in appearance, but it's also about making connections and embracing traditional masculinity at a time when androgyny is considered high fashion. "I've always thought facial hair was awesome," says Zdon. "My dad had a goatee, other family members had mustaches and beards. Vikings have beards. Men are supposed to brandish their facial hair."

Like Wanamaker, Zdon has worn chops and mustaches since age 16, but it wasn't until he was 23 that he could grow his first full beard.

"I loved it, but it wasn't good enough," says Zdon, who shaved that only to regrow it. "The beard I have now I've been growing a little over six months. I love it like a son."

So, please, for the love of facial hair, don't suggest that beard-growing is merely the result of laziness.

"Maintaining a healthy beard is just as much work, if not more, than just shaving it off. Unless you want to look like a dirty hobo," Zdon said. "But, hey, if that's your thing, at least you have a beard, man."

Hairstylist Gentekos finds that while young men like a grizzled beard, older men go for the shaped, clipper-trimmed beard or goatee. Sitting at his father-in-law's house, he noted how three guys in the room had goatees, and his son, who just walked out of the room, has scruff.

"I think the new beard and mustache look," he said, "is proudly here to stay."

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