My beard was really put through the wringer in recent weeks. It wasn’t intentional or pleasant, but it coincided with my prep work for this companion piece to my maiden barbershop visit, so I’d be remiss to leave it out.
I always have some facial hair. So, when a colleague on STYLE magazine asked me in early November if I’d like to be the bearded man in their barbershop video, I didn’t take much convincing.
I was a barbershop virgin who had never felt the blade of a straight razor. And the prep work sounded simple enough: let my beard grow as wild and untamed as possible. No trimming or shaving for a month. “Easy enough,” I naively though.
For starters, I underestimated the itchiness. Going weeks without being able to tidy up my neckline left me scratching until the video shoot on December 4.
Upon meeting my barber, Fernando Viseu at Selvedge Barbers, in Central, Hong Kong, he asked with concern about my red and blotchy neck. The scarf I’d been wearing didn’t help. Along with sweaters and high collars, scarves don’t pair well with burgeoning beards. Even the shortest stubble can frequently snag the material. If the irritation doesn’t get to you, there’s still the risk of ruining a perfectly nice scarf.
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Fortunately, Viseu took care of me, masterfully wielding his straight blade and electric razor, with no nicks or cuts. And the maintenance tips he offered were very helpful. But at about HK$700 (US$90) for a hair cut and wet shave, it’s a pampering I could see myself splurging on maybe three to four times a year. I reckon I’ll be less tense with the camera off.
With my beard looking as clean-cut as ever, I sought to enter 2019 with thick, bushy growth resembling that of Captain America in Avengers: Infinity War. But by the start of this year, my facial hair appeared to be thinning, and it was more scraggly and split than a month prior.
So what had happened?
What I had failed to foresee was how an illness, heartbreak and sleep deprivation would affect my beard’s development. Ultimately, the toll from these tribulations cascading down on me all at once left me a shattered man, with facial hair starting to resemble the grass on the Chia Pet that I failed to water properly in the 1990s.
I don’t have Brad Pitt’s chiselled jawline, and I’m not otherwise fashionable enough to pull off the mangy, unkempt hipster look without resembling a hobo. So, neglecting daily beard care is unwise, like not brushing your teeth. And it quickly shows. The beard takes a surprising amount of abuse. Both from the elements and from friends and colleagues.
Had I recently retired from the late-night television circuit? Who’s watching the elves while I’m away? Did I eat all the powdered doughnuts?
The doughnut barb was funny because my beard has scattered patches of white hair in it. A lot of it. Also, food and liquids present an ever-present threat to a bearded man’s dignity. I quickly got in the habit of wiping my face after every bite or sip.
Just because you can’t feel the cranberry sauce on your moustache, doesn’t mean that other people at the holiday table aren’t disgusted. But trimming the hair a little around the lips helps avoid such mishaps.
A more pressing threat to my beard was the cold-and-flu season. Science may be inconclusive on whether “man flu” is a real thing, but the effects of respiratory illnesses on a beard are undeniable.
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After blowing through my third box of Kleenex in three days, not eating much and failing to properly hydrate on a 16-hour flight to the US, my dried-out, crusty beard, covered in split ends, had become a cumbersome blight on my face. I was also in Chicago. It’s cold and dry in Chicago. Skin cracks. Hairs split.
The impulse to shave it all off intensified after days of failing to keep it free of mucus. But I managed to endure, with an eye to 2019.
Then came the heartbreak. Severely jet-lagged from a short trip back to the US, and still not completely over the flu, I returned home in Hong Kong early on New Year’s Eve. The next day, after two months of what I had envisioned would be bearded bliss, my three-year relationship came to an abrupt end. The beard was not a factor.
I’d made it to 2019, but I was beaten and battered – not sleeping, barely eating. Some guys let their beard grow wild after a break-up, but I was already there, and it wasn’t pretty. So, I reached for my electric razor and went to work shaving off about half the length.
To my surprise, what remained after I had cleared away the mess and dregs was much smoother to the touch. The surface of my beard had taken the brunt of what life had thrown at me. What lied beneath was still intact, it just needed a bit of a reset. And it was rather cathartic realising that the damage wasn’t as bad as it seemed.
I’m certain that with time and a lot of TLC, my beard will become whole again. But next time I’ll probably avoid the scarves.
Video by Bridgette Hall