Some men suit a beard, looking noble and wise and distinguished. Others just look a bit odd, a bit disjointed, as if they’re wearing someone else’s beard. Which might just be the problem, because hardly anyone ever takes the trouble to work out what sort of beard would suit them best.
I’m the same. I looked at young, bright things with their full-on Hoxton Hipster beards and shot for the moon.
The trouble is I’m not young and I’m not especially bright. I’m jaded on a good day, cynical on a bad one, and proud of my developing status of grumpy old man.
I’m grizzled, not groomed, and a little bit rough around the edges so a full, slightly wild beard just made me look like someone who sleeps rough out of necessity rather than choice.
But I don’t want to have to shave every day and I am too lazy to keep on top of the maintenance required for designer stubble so I eventually settled on a shortish beard that I trim once a week, touching up the edges with a razor every few days.
Best of all, my wife likes it.
This was a long and painful journey that might have been easier if I’d taken the trouble to work out what suited me in advance.
Decide what shape face you have
The experts claim there are six different face shapes:
• Square – a square face will be as broad as it is tall, with a well-defined, straight jawline.
• Rectangle – this face shape is similar to the square, but it is longer than it is wide.
• Round – a round face looks a bit like the square face but with a gentler curve to the jawline and more prominent, rounded cheekbones.
• Heart – a heart-shaped face is like the round one but with a slightly wider forehead than chin.
• Pear – like the heart but upside down with a wider jaw than forehead.
• Diamond – similar to the heart but with a narrower forehead. If you have very pronounced cheekbones and a narrow chin and forehead then you have a diamond-shaped face.
You’re still confused, aren’t you?
The scientific method
As men we like order, predictability and clear-cut answers, so if you, like me, find the above guide a bit woolly and subjective here is an (almost) foolproof way to calculate what shape face you have.
Simply measure the following parts of your face (a soft sewing tape measure might work better than the metal Stanley retractable you have in your toolbox…) and note them down.
• Length – measure from your hairline to the tip of your chin.
• Width – measure the widest point of your face, wherever that may be.
Now look in the mirror.
• Is your jawline rounded or straight? Is your jaw the widest part of your face?
• Is your forehead the widest part of your face?
• Do you have prominent cheekbones? Are they the widest part of your face?
If you are still confused, just take some measurements from a photograph in which your head is facing straight ahead. All we’re looking for is a comparative measurement, so it doesn’t have to be to scale.
With this information you can work out what shape face you have.
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If you’re still confused, just ask your partner. I can pretty much guarantee they will have an opinion.
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Decide on your beard
Armed with this information, you can now work out what shape beard will suit you best.
• Square – a square face will benefit from having your beard trimmed short on the sides while letting it grow a bit longer on the chin. You could even shave the hair on your cheeks down to the jawline leaving a thin strip linking the sideburns to the goatee, which will add some length to way your face looks. You also need to think about whether you want to emphasise your angular face, or soften it: clean, straight edges will exaggerate the square shape while rounded, curved edges will soften it.
• Rectangle – the aim here is to minimise the length of your face, so you need to keep the length of the hair on your chin to a minimum. A close-cropped beard would look good, or even stubble. You might also like to let the hair on your cheeks grow a bit fuller to add the illusion of width. Of course, if you like the shape then hard edges to your beard can be used to accentuate your rangy look.
• Round – if you keep the sides of your beard fairly short but grow the portion below your chin this will serve to make your face look a bit longer and less rounded. If you want to further minimise the round shape then you could grow your beard into a bit of a point at the chin, turning your face into more of a heart shape.
• Heart – a heart-shaped face has a narrow chin, so growing your beard fuller in length will add width there, especially if you trim it in a straight line, so it is cropped a bit closer at the point of the chin than it is on either side. The full-Hipster looks good here, so feel free to let it get a bit wild and shaggy!
• Pear – a pear-shaped face needs some width up top to square things off so big sideburns work well with a closely trimmed beard. You can also trim the beard quite high under the chin to avoid adding weight to your neck. Alternatively, you can embrace your look and go for the full Brian Blessed.
• Diamond – people probably love your cheekbones, so keep your beard short on the cheeks and face, growing it a bit longer at the chin. Cropping it straight, just like the heart-shaped face, will add some width at the chin, giving you a fine, manly jaw. Again, you could probably pull off the Cast Away look without people surreptitiously slipping you a few coins to buy a cup of tea.
If you still can’t nail your look, simply let your beard grow unfettered for a few weeks. When you start to get sympathetic looks from people you haven’t seen for a while, book an appointment with a barber or hairdresser that offers a beard-styling service and let them do what they do best.
Once you’ve had your beard professionally styled it’ll be easy to keep it trimmed to that shape in the future.
Styling and taming a beard
Growing a beard is easy: all you have to do is to stop shaving and sit back and watch that bad boy sprout. But there isn’t much of an article in that, and anyway, there is a bit more to it unless you want to look like you should be panhandling loose change in a shop doorway.
So, for what it’s worth, here is my hard-earned advice based on six months of being shaving-rash free. But be warned, it’s a slippery slope. I've even started using beard oil, which isn't a sentence I ever thought I'd ever write…
Decide on your beard-look
Beards range from the barely-there soul patch sported by rock nobility like Bruce Springsteen through to the full-hipster beard that could hide a small child within its luxuriant locks.
While the stubble-and-soul-patch is really just laziness masquerading as fashion, the care and devotion a full beard needs might surprise you. But hey, you only live once, so why not try the ZZ Top look? After all, you can always shave it off when your wife threatens divorce.
Trim the edges
Growing a beard will make you look scruffy initially, but I’ve found that trimming the stranglers away from the top and bottom edges with a razor blade helps neaten the overall look, allowing you a bit more leeway that might otherwise be possible if your job/family/neighbours insist on a more-than-cursory level of sartorial elegance.
Besides, who wants a beard that joins their eyebrows?
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Shaping your beard
Hipsters won’t worry too much about shaping their beard, but the rest of us need to decide on what we’re trying to achieve. The Musketeer is hard work but probably worth it to feed to your inner dandy, while the goatee is just too much effort, especially for something that barely qualifies as a beard in the first place.
I use a beard trimmer to thin mine out when it reaches the despot-in-hiding stage and a pair of decent scissors for shaping it. I’ve got steady hands, so I do it myself but I can’t help thinking that my barber might make a better job of it.
Waxing your moustache
I’m told that a decent moustache wax and a fine comb make waxing your moustache a doddle. Captain Fawcett, my first choice for all things beard, sell a lovely folding comb and wax combo.
I lack the confidence to wax my moustache, but if you do then I salute you. (I’ll get there one day, just not yet.)
I condition my beard in the shower every day and follow that up with a liberal application of beard oil to keep it silky soft and to help stop it itching. Some comb their beard too, but that’s another step too far for me - for now.
I’m sure that any old oil would do – Castrol R might work especially well in certain circles – but Captain Fawcett’s Booze and Baccy works like catnip on my other half…
How to make beard oil
Youngsters just about get away with putting their hair up in a topknot or a bun to accessorize their beards. You and I probably wouldn’t, which is one more reason to be grateful that you aren’t twenty any more.
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