Facial hair is wildly popular among young men, but is this a good thing? As Gillette launches a jokey new viral campaign, two writers go chin to chin

I hate them by Mike Higgins

Standing up for the clean shaven isn’t that easy. Take the role models: the beards have Kris Kristofferson c1972, David Beckham (passim) and David Bellamy for starters.

For some uncomfortable reason, the first men who pop into my head when I free associate “smooth chin” are George Osborne, Simon Cowell and Tiger Woods. Only one of these three can point with certainty at the part of his face he calls a chin, and he – Woods – somehow makes the other two look like paragons of integrity. He’s also part of that awful Gillette advertising campaign – although Gillette has finally seen sense and launched a jokey viral multi-blade advert. “Campaign”, though, is still the word: a decades-old, organised assault on any civilised notion of male grooming beyond that of a 14-year-old with bum fluff on his cheeks and Cheryl Cole on his mind. (Apologies for that gratuitous use of the phrase “male grooming”.)

It’s enough to make you consider never trimming your facial hair again. In fact, I did try to grow a beard, once – up a mountain in the Pyrenees where I was spending the winter a few years ago. The result was an itchy, greasy annoyance which got pinched in coat zips and bike-helmet straps, and yet, somehow, was invisible to the naked eye. I have friends with more impressive five o’clock shadow than my three-month “beard”.

Yet, it’s taken me years to embrace the true pleasure of a proper shave with a razor. Whenever I mislaid my Triple Thruster Swipemaster, or whatever, I would take myself down to Boots and try to choose a replacementwhich didn’t look like it had fallen off a spaceship, and a particularly chavvy spaceship at that. (Gillette’s current state-of-theart razor seems to be something labouring under the title of the Fusion Power Phenom [sic] – with five PowerGlide™ blades, batteries, a Twitter feed and an on-board microchip. I may have made up one of these features in all the excitement.) The result was what the technicians of Wilkinson Sword might call an “inattentive grooming regime”, the low point of which was a couple of weeks scraping with my wife’s disposable razors, with no shaving cream. Ouch. But sometimes you need to hit rock bottom.

One day soon after, she handed me a handsome leather pouch. Inside were a brush which said “Pure Badger” on the side, various oils, balms and creams and a razor with a lovely black ceramic handle and what looked suspiciously like a Triple Thruster Swipemaster sticking out the top of it (but never mind). I was gripped with all sorts of visions: memories of watching my father shave, back in the Seventies, those old Imperial Leather soap ads. It was a revelation: no nicks, no dry, tight skin, and ooh, a little splash of Geo Trumper balm. I felt like Flashman dabbing on some sandalwood cologne after a night in the sultan’s harem. Quite marvellous.

And so it goes on. These days, I still only wield the razor a couple of times a week, and my retro shaving ritual has taken me down some dead ends – I tried an old doublesided “safety razor” recently, just like dad’s, and truly learnt the meaning of a contradiction in terms. It was lethal. But when the ablutions go smoothly, my shave takes years off me. I could even pass for a Tory chancellor.

I love them by Amol Rajan

The main myth sponsored by those, like my pre-July 2010 self, too cowardly to grow facial hair is the idea doing so will be easy. It’s quite the opposite, in fact, because once you go a full fortnight, say, without picking up a razor, you are suddenly confronted not with all the wonderful things a beard can be, but all the horrors that a beard can’t be. Let’s take just three examples.

1. The Box Goatee. This is obviously off-limits, as made clear by Rajan’s First Rule of Facial Hair: “the only men who grow Box Goatees are fat, balding types trying to reacquaint the world with a jawline advancing years has deprived them off” (Mike Gatting, take your bow).

2. The Asian Persuasion. Clearly, anyone who does what my boyhood comrades in Tooting used to do, and shaves off all but a pencil line demarcating the jawline, is either still living in Tooting or wants to be Craig David, both of which habits I grew out of around 1998.

3. The Full Monty. I really am sorry about this but events and images of the past decade mean that, if you have the measure of melanin I have, growing Sherwood Forest on your face – that is, failing to shave for months on end – means being bullied for “looking like a terrorist”. The accusation is bunkum, of course, but then my father was born in pre-partition India, and every time I walk past the desk of this newspaper’s venerable defence correspondent, he asks me for bin Laden’s number.

So if it can’t be any of those, or associated facial faux pas, what should it be? I’ve gone for the number three around the sides, the scissor-snip for the creepy crawlies that leek from permissible moustache to top-lip tickling nuisance, and am letting the stuff below my chin head for the horizon. This final strategy gives me the option of Weetabix for elevenses as well as breakfast.

Contrary to prevailing opinion, I didn’t grow a beard in obeisance to fashion. Rather, there are sound Darwinian reasons for supposing each of my little sprouting follicles is testimony to how a beard aided some distant ancestor in his erotic ambitions. Being joyously in love already, I don’t know what these hairs might have done for me had I been single, but the one word reaction of girls at parties (“swarthy”, “distinguished”) make me optimistic. (My colleague Johann Hari, on the other hand, declared it “revolting”).

What I haven’t been prepared for, however, is the vanity – and by extension, the insecurity. A beard converts every reflective surface into a sudden reminder that one’s face is an advertisement for phallic competence. And it is hard to get away from the sense that growing a beard is a kind of confession, an open declaration of the insufficient sexual prowess of your unshaven self.

That, I suppose, is the appalling thing: if I’ve got doubts about sticking by my new, hairy friend, I’m absolutely petrified of the consequences of shaving him off.

Caught by the fuzz: Shaving facts

More is better?

The Economist once joked that “the 14-bladed razor should arrive in 2100”. Now even Gillette has got in on the mockery, producing a spoof ad featuring an 80-blade razor as part of its Fusion ProGlide campaign.

A global industry

90 per cent of all adult males shave at least once a day. Although Europe alone accounts for more than 30 per cent of the global market, South Africa leads the way with 90 per cent of men preferring the clean-cut look.

Wet or dry?

Despite the popularity of electric shavers, more than three times as many men prefer a wet shave. But during the recession, more men have switched to cheaper disposable razors.

Clean-shaven cavemen

The history of shaving stretches back to the dawn of man, with drawings of beardless cavemen found as early as 10,000BC. The world’s oldest barber is Truefitt and Hill, which is in St James’s Street, London. The barbers there have been lathering up customers since 1805 and also sell aftershaves, colognes and hair products.

Andrew Littlejohn