What kind of scruff your guy chooses can speak volumes about him as a person, says Dr. Allan Peterkin, Dove Men+Care Face Range expert and author of One Thousand Beards: A Cultural History of Facial Hair. “Facial hair is pretty much across the board playful, sexy and rebellious all in one,” he says.
We’re getting excited just thinking about the brush of a guy’s whiskers on our necks. Check out our fun psychological diagnoses for every type of scruff.
You don’t see mutton chops that often these days, but post-Victorian times, in the midcentury U.S., both hippies and tough guys like Marlon Brando grew them to peacock — and to push back on the conservative establishment.
"I always think of Elvis,” Dr. Peterkin says. "Again, I think it's kind of a playful expression. You don't really see it; it's not a conventional look, so a guy is saying, 'I’m a free spirit, maybe I’m a hipster, but I’m sort of doing my own thing.' This is not mainstream facial hair."
We hope there's hip-swiveling ahead...
Let's say your guy has been sporting a circle beard or a goatee since Nevermind was released. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, despite its reputation as a ‘90s relic. (Remember the lead singer of Everclear?) Especially in regions like the Midwest and among the country-western set, the goatee still registers as quite current and popular, Dr. Peterkin says.
If the goatee is your dude's signature look, it might even be the sign of a straight shooter who's not suggestible or flighty:
"Sometimes men will grow a beard quite young, and then it becomes like another limb — it's his life expression," he says. "It’s not about fads. He likes it, it works for him, and he sticks with it."
It's certainly treated Will Smith well all these years.
Often seen in tandem with a flannel shirt — but minus the tree ax — the urban woodsman’s beard is ultra-trendy right now, on college campuses and the streets of Brooklyn. Maybe he's not actually an outdoorsman, but he wouldn't mind if you thought so.
"I think a man is saying, 'I’m virile; I obviously have a lot of testosterone so that I can grow this full thing out," Dr. Peterkin says. "I may be a bit of a wild man, a natural man, a lumberjack, kind of a natural guy, back to nature, back to man's original state.' Some women might find it a bit caveman-y."
Hmmm, Stone Age or not, there is something hot about a lumberjack in the bedroom…
Stubble has become the new normal, Dr. Peterkin says — so much so that when you flip through a men’s fashion magazine, you’ll see a model or actor with stubble more often than not.
"Guys can use facial hair to play up a strong feature or to conceal a weak chin or thin lips," he says. It’s definitely a masculine look. Keep in mind that [with] facial hair in pretty much every culture, or human culture, a very strong jaw is valued as a masculine trait, so facial hair, beards, even stubble, can define and make the chin look larger...a square jaw is a sign of masculinity and male beauty."
That explains our obsession with Jon Hamm's 5 o'clock shadow.
Just reading the word "mustache” might conjure up an image of Burt Reynolds lounging on a bearskin rug in Cosmopolitan magazine. Or maybe you’re picturing a bad guy in a black-and-white movie twirling his handlebar mustache while hatching a devious plan. You wouldn’t be wrong to go there, Dr. Peterkin says.
"When we talk about the mustache historically, we talk about the 3 F's: The guy was either a fop, kind of effeminate perhaps or overly fussy; a foreigner, compared to the all-American sort of WASPy type; or a fiend, because villains in the movies always had mustaches," he says. "So it kind of had that negative overlay. And then in the '70s, it got really sexualized. It was sort of the porn star mustache, the swinger mustache and the gay/bisexual mustache."
So what’s a modern guy — who’s not Magnum, P.I. or a silent-film sleazeball — trying to say when he sports a ’stache?
"A guy who grows one I think is probably pretty playful and pretty confident, and he expects to be asked about it,” Peterkin says. "He's saying, 'Well, I know there’s been all this negative rap about the mustache, but I’m good to go.'"
Give him a break and let him have fun, even if you're not a fan at first. He might be working through some emotional issues.
"Psychologically, men often grow facial hair to mark a transition," Dr. Peterkin says. "So they're leaving a job, they're leaving a marriage or a relationship. Remember when Al Gore grew his beard after losing the election?.... I think for some guys, it is a new start."
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