Don’t ask me why I decided to grow a goatee. It was a long time ago. I was doing a lot of card counting and thought it looked cool.
I do, however, know why I decided to ditch the Van Dyke: shame. At work recently, I listened in as a couple of nearby colleagues engaged in a heated facial-hair discussion. “Goatees,” one said dismissively. “They’re supercheesy.” Present company included, it seemed.
I hastily expanded my goatee into a full beard, and reviews have been middling at best.
“Dad, you look like Wolverine,” one of my teenage daughters told me.
My brother’s critique felt like an indictment of my entire face: “Your beard turns you into Burt Young on a bender,” he said, scrutinizing the beard from a cockeyed angle. “I can’t see where you’re trying to go with it.”
I finally sought help from a pair of pros: Erica Sauer — a Brooklyn-based celebrity men’s groomer whose bushy clients include John Krasinski, Russell Crowe and Gary Oldman — and Miles Wood-Smith, who serves as head barber at high-end grooming emporium Murdock London.
Their whiskery wisdom, below, changed my beard game for the better.
Overstyled facial hair can look fake, but beards get thorny when left to their own devices. That’s where conditioning products come in. Sauer likes Tom Ford’s line of beard oil blends ($52, available in several scents) for daily use. “It’s superconditioning, with vitamin E, grapeseed oil, almond oil and jojoba oil,” she says. “It hydrates the follicles and smooths the beard.” Apply a few drops and use a boar bristle brush to distribute in a downward motion.
Wood-Smith developed a beard moisturizer ($24 at Nordstrom) with ingredients that include sunflower seed oil, wheat protein and eucalyptus oil, which he says is ideal for shorter beards because it “moistens the skin underneath while softening the facial hair.” Rub a couple of spritzes into your scruff and skin, massaging from the top of the beard and working your way down. I’ve been digging it.
Don’t overdye it
Admittedly, I’m OK with the gray strands in my beard. I get it, though: Not every guy likes the gravitas of what I’ve come to view as sophisticated white. The problem is, unless you want to sit in a salon every week, permanent dye alone won’t cut it. “It can be tough because beards grow out quickly,” Sauer says. Her advice: Brush in a pigmented gel to touch it up between pro appointments. She likes Anastasia Beverly Hills brow gel ($22 at Sephora) because “unlike most beard gels it is pigmented; so it covers the gray and tames the beard. Brush it on sparingly in downward strokes and make sure there is no excess gel on the wand. Once applied, it dries quickly, so you don’t need to worry about it rubbing off.”
Landscape by snipping
My attempts at weekly maintenance with electric trimmers usually lead to all-or-nothing outcomes: Either I cut too little and remain overly woolly or overbuzz my way to skimpy coverage that’s best viewed under magnification. Wood-Smith says an average-length beard responds best to old-school trims: “Comb it upward and then go at it with a scissor,” he says. “You cut off what is sticking out.”
Watch your neck
Only half your beard is actually on your face; attention below the jawline is a must. Using a high-quality electric trimmer (like the Wahl Clipper Groomsman beard trimmer, $24 on Amazon), aim to fade and terminate the beard to about a finger’s width above your Adam’s apple, Wood-Smith says. And don’t worry about achieving perfect lines, says Sauer: “Uneven edges make the beard look natural.”
Cut it all at once
You want your face to look cohesive with your beard — more like a great suit than a sport jacket and mismatched slacks. So when sitting for a haircut, have your barber shape the beard, too. “There are two ways to go,” Wood-Smith says. “You can do the hard stop, where the hair fades to zero and the beard starts. Or, a lot of guys are doing the blend, where the hair on your head blends into the beard.” Whatever your hair situation, a good barber can bring it all together.
By Michael Kaplan