BEARD hither the beard? That’s ‘whither’, not ‘wither’. By saying ‘whither’ I don’t mean that beards should wither, although they should, and most of them look like they already have – it’s just an old-fashioned way of asking what’s next for the beard. The beard is a victim of its own success. Just a few years ago, the only bearded fellows were gay men, polar explorers, wizards and Saddam Hussein when they dragged him out of that bunker. Beards had such a low social status that people looked at those photos and thought, ‘Shame, look at him with that straggly mound of face-fuzz. That’s what comes of being a homicidal dictator.’ Nowadays, they’d say, ‘Tsk, dig old Saddam with the cool facial topiary. You’d think he’d have bigger things to worry about than looking sharp.’ You don’t need me to tell you about beards – it’s a festival of face fungus out there. Everywhere you look, there’s some young chap who looks like he smeared the lower part of his face with wood glue then fell into a bowl of cornflakes or pencil shavings. Personally, I don’t mind them. I’m of that age when you start to get jealous of youngsters
with their porcelain cheeks and elastic skins. Let ‘em hide their best assets under a bush, I say. By the time the fad passes and they shave it off, they’ll be looking as wretched and raddled as the rest of us. I’m also not one of those whiners who complains that beards harbour germs. Of course beards harbour germs. Everything harbours germs. Unless you’re submerged in a tub of surgical spirits or free-floating in the Coalsack Nebula, you’re currently covered in germs, even the bits of you that aren’t beardy. It’s conceivable that a beard might be slightly more germy than the rest of you, but only if you’ve used your beard for an especially germorific activity, like sweeping a stable or wiping a butt. Anyway, even if beards did attract germs, they’d be a useful corrective in today’s overly fastidious, hand-sanitising, no-playing-in-the-dirt world. If there weren’t germ-sources around, all tomorrow’s children would be wheezing, airintolerant, hyperallergic little Woody Allens. We’d have to bus bearded chaps into primary schools and force the kids to finger their faces, just to try toughen up their immune systems. But you have to wonder about the future of beards. They’ve been so popular lately that it’s hard to imagine a variety that hasn’t been used
and exhausted. On the ironic streets of Cape Town and Braamfontein you can see Castro beards and George Michael beards and Professor Calculus beards. You can see beards woven with flowers, beards shaped like dolphin tails and pineapples and spaceships. But what’s next? The problem with being ironic is that, unlike real creativity, it has a shelf life. Once you run out of things to quote, there’s nothing left. Then what? The end of beards? A beardocalypse? Have beards made this dramatic comeback from extinction only to die out before our eyes? It’s like bringing back the dinosaurs, then watching them all eat each other. But no! Wait! There’s still one more frontier of irony for the beard to explore! Bearded ladies used to be very popular in the olden days of carnival sideshows, and a gal-beard would be everything the dedicated hipster could crave: it’s inconvenient, it’s old-timey, it’s artisanal, it will probably come in small batches. Surely it can’t be long before some committed hipsterette figures out a way to sprout some women-whiskers. Maybe some brave celebrity will lead the way. I have my money on Khloé Kardashian. ★
Follicly challenged Darrel Bristow–Bovey ponders if we’ll ever reach peak beard-ou?