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Should I shave off my beard?

As a near lifelong beard sporter, I was concerned to read an article in the Guardian last week saying that we have reached “peak beard”. What does this mean, exactly?
Jimmy, London

Well, quite, Jimmy, what does this mean? And more specifically, what does this mean for you? Let’s deal initially with the first, broader and therefore more simplistic, issue.

The article to which you are referring reported that a university study had concluded decisively that “the more beards a person had already seen, the less attractive subsequent beards were to them”. And people say academia is a load of cobblers.

The reason this was deemed newsworthy is because beards have become what we in the fashion column-writing business call A Thing, and the reason they have become A Thing is because they have become associated with a certain demographic called hipsters. Quite when the word “hipster” stopped denoting muso snobs in peculiar jeans and instead started referring to people who get snobby about coffee beans and beer hops, drink cocktails out of jam jars and dress as though they are pioneers from the outback even though they actually live in Brooklyn or Homerton, I really could not say. But the point is, this switch meant that beards became associated with hipsters because improbable facial hair fitted with the new pioneer element of hipsterness (pioneers didn’t have time to shave because they were too busy making artisanal beer. Fact).

The media, for reasons I have similarly yet to fathom, have an outsized interest in the doings of hipsters, even though they represent a tiny-to-the-point-of-non-existent proportion of the populace. The only theory I have come up with is that a lot of people in the media fancy themselves as being quite cool, but know deep down that they aren’t at all. Therefore, they are consumed with a fascination and bitter envy of those who are deemed, rightly or wrongly, to be actually cool, and hence write about them to a ridiculous extent. This, I suspect, also explains the high media presence of Shoreditch. And Russell Brand.

But I digress. The point here is that beards – the bushier and less practical the better – have been associated with hipsters for a goodish while, and there is no question that, in certain cities, there has been more male facial hair of late than there has in past times. Some days at my local bus stop it looks more like a Paul Bunyan convention than a dingy north London hub for public transportation. I’ve seen DJs in clubs with beards that make them look more like Charles Manson on a scruffy day than the cutting edge of cool, but, apparently, the two are synonymous these days.

There are four trying elements to this. First, for those of us who don’t like to have baristas accidentally dunking their enormous beards into our drinks, these are worrying times. Second, growing a beard is now, for some men, considered as much of an achievement as tracking down a bootleg Sonic Youth album, when all of us ladies know that the only really impressive achievement a man can do with facial hair is growing a Salvador Dalí-like moustache. Third, it seems to say something about the emptiness of our days when something as meaningless as facial hair can be taken as a signifier of a person’s entire personality. And fourth, for men who have always sported some kind of facial hair, they now find themselves in the frustrating position of being, through no fault of their own, out of fashion.

Which brings us, Jimmy, to you. Forget famine, forget wars, forget nuclear holocausts: there is nothing – nothing – more depressing than one’s usual look suddenly becoming “in fashion”, for the simple reason that this means that shortly – night, day, follows, etc – your look will be out of fashion. Which is where you are now, Jimmy.

Personally, though, I am torn as to what I’d rather be: out of fashion or mistaken for a hipster who thinks drinking out of old jam jars makes them look “real”. (Seriously, judging from the number of Brooklyn restaurants I have eaten in that insist on serving beverages in old jam jars, I can only assume that people in that area of town mainline jam morning, noon and night in order to keep the restaurants fully supplied with jars.) But I appreciate that neither is especially appealing to you.

Several options lie in wait for you, Jimmy. First, get rid of the beard entirely, wait six months to a year for the tail end of this hipsterness “peak beard” nonsense to pass, then regrow it, safely beyond the boundaries of fashionability or otherwise.

Second, keep your beard, but ensure it is a non-hipster one, ie not too bushy, not too long, maybe even just a gentle coating of two-inch follicles about your face; a look that I refer to as “a grizzle” as opposed to a full-on beard.

Third, keep your beard exactly as it is and come to the shop that I plan to open one day and buy a large badge that says: “I am not a passé hipster – I am a lifelong beard sporter!”, and wear that badge every day. It will be very easy to find those badges in my shop – they’ll be kept between the ones that say: “No, I’m not fat, I’m a few months pregnant!” and: “No, I’m not wasting time on the internet – I’m RESEARCHING.”

• Post your questions to Hadley Freeman, Ask Hadley, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Email ask.hadley@theguardian.com.

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