The Men's Guide to Facial Hair

During No Shave November, brush up on everything from grooming to beard bonding.

A macro photo of a mans mouth, lips, and mustache.
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They're throwing down their razors. Hiding the shaving cream in the closet. Scoffing at anyone who dare suggest a return to a more clean-shaven look.

Welcome to No Shave November, when the men of the world let that facial hair grow.

If there's ever been a time to embrace the 'stache or beard, it's now, says Allan Peterkin, a Toronto-based doctor and author of "One Thousand Beards – A Cultural History of Facial Hair." He describes facial hair trends as cyclical, and points out that we've seen it come in and out of fashion. Overall, society has been pro-facial hair since the 90s – and beards, moustaches and even goatees are now accepted as mainstream.

Some experts consider the comeback a "playful response to feminism," Peterkin says – since growing facial hair is "one of the only things men can do nowadays that women can't." Men are also freer to express themselves grooming-wise, and less tied down by convention. "Guys are playing with the way they look, the way they dress, the way they style, and it's OK now," Peterkin says. "Whereas in the past, if a guy spent a lot of time on grooming, he was somehow suspect."

Peterkin dished on everything else men need to know about facial hair, from maintenance to bonding over those whiskers:

A brief history. At varying times during earlier centuries, facial hair was either hailed or hated. For a time in the 15th century, beards were worn by noblemen to signify importance, dignity and advancing age. Then in 1447, Henry VI issued a decree forbidding moustaches and requiring that men shave their upper lip every two weeks. And in 1535, Henry VIII imposed taxes on those with beards – though he continued to wear one himself. All anti-beard rules were repealed in the 1560s, and facial hair enjoyed a renaissance that brought everything from extremely long beards to men who perfumed, colored and curled theirs.

Flash forward to after both World Wars, when American preferences leaned toward a clean-shaven look. "It was about being smooth, all-American and boyish," Peterkin says. "And then every decade after the war had a little pocket of facial hair." Indeed, the 50s had beatniks; the 60s, hippies; the 70s, Magnum PI and the moustache; the 80s, "Miami Vice" stubble; and the goatee in the 90s. Today, "pretty much anything goes," Peterkin says – every permutation and combination of facial hair you can imagine.

And that includes the moustache, which "has had the worst rap of any facial hair throughout history." "In the past, clean-shaven guys would look at a mustachioed guy with suspicion," Peterkin says. "They would say he was a foreigner or a fiend, because the devil often had a moustache." In the 70s, it developed a more sexual connotation – the porn 'stache, if you will. Now, within the past five years or so, it's back and more commonplace than ever.

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Current popular styles. Stubble is in right now – especially when it's complemented by a thicker moustache or sideburns, Peterkin says. Goatees are always regionally popular, too. And some are calling this the year of the mountain-man beard, which is a real testament to how accepting of facial hair society has become.

Whether stubble or something longer, it's noteworthy that men tend to shave or grow facial hair in times of transition, like when they're leaving a marriage or job. "Back in the old days, you would stop shaving to show you were in mourning or grieving," Peterkin says. And consider Al Gore, who grew a beard after he lost the presidential election in 2000.

Speaking of politicians – don't expect them to sport facial hair, and same goes for bankers. About half the population still views it as negative, and folks in those occupations typically aren't willing to take the risk.

Choosing the right style for your face. Once the razor is down, it's decision time. Look for your strengths and play down your weaknesses, Peterkin says. If you have a very large nose, a thicker moustache can balance that out. If you're bald on top, try a short-trimmed beard or stubble. And a fuller beard can help disguise a double chin. Peterkin also suggests asking your barber what he thinks suits you best.