Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Rhymes with weird

Posted By on Wed, Jul 6, 2005 at 12:00 AM

It’s been a beardless century for American men. To the American eye, unless you’re Jesus, Santa or Burl Ives, beards mean trouble. It arguably began in 1901, the year Boston inventor and salesman King Gillette introduced his safety razor to the American public. Ever since, American culture has never really taken to facial hair — especially beards. In Hollywood, mustachioed men like Clark Gable and Burt Reynolds may be sex symbols, but the bearded are often cast with a menacing, foreign mien, calling to mind everybody from Lenin to bin Laden.

It wasn’t always so. In the era between presidents Grant and Taft, the American beard enjoyed a golden age. Reflecting on the period, novelist Booth Tarkington marveled how “it was possible for a Senator of the United States to wear a mist of white whisker upon his throat only, not a newspaper in the land finding the ornament distinguished enough to warrant a lampoon.”

The people behind the new book The World Beard and Moustache Championships might just be hoping to bring those bygone days back.

Trumpeted as the first official book to document this international war of the whiskers, the authors’ passion for facial hair is surprisingly infectious, all but urging male readers to cast off their razors and go bushy-faced. But the highlight of the book isn’t the commentary; it’s the winning photography.

Don’t expect to see a bunch of Dan Haggerty look-alikes. These men, whom the book dubs “strutting peacocks of male facial fashion,” sport a variety of mustaches and beards. In addition to the full beard, the Fu Manchu and handlebars, readers will find such historical styles as the “imperial mustache,” sculpted back up around the face, creating a catlike effect. The freestyle beards are unusual enough to fit in at Detroit’s own Hair Wars — fantastic contortions of looping and pointed hair.

The men in the photos are obviously proud of their creations; some of them grin devilishly, others preen and pose, wearing not only whiskers but dapper outfits.

In the very best shots, the subjects would be incomplete without facial hair. The caption above Bruce Hagen’s photo describes how he “turned down a job at a cemetery that would have required him to shave.” The photo shows him wearing a cape, his chest thrust out, clearly proud of himself — the makings of a champion.

Michael Jackman is a writer and copy editor for Metro Times. E-mail mjackman@metrotimes.com.

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