I have a problem with “beard types” lists. Out on the web, you can find these increeeeedibly long articles claiming to have an encyclopedic collection of every possible combination of facial hair that has ever sprouted on God’s Green Earth. Why is that a problem? Variety is good, right?
Sure it is. The problem is that you’re not a Mr. Potato head. You can’t snap on an endless variety of facial hair onto your face - you are unique. Men come equipped with a vast variety of hair thicknesses, coarseness/softness, direction of the grain, the density of follicles, the color, the speed of growth…
None of these things are actually in your control. I’ve gone down some of these lists that talk about all these “types of beard’s, ” and they’re clearly padding the numbers. I’ve seen as many as five different categories that were really just five men with different faces trying to grow the same beard. Now how - I ask - does that actually help you craft an epic look for ‘You’?
The reality is that the huge list of beard types can be reduced to just a few. Key categories with a lot of wiggle room and variation. You pick one that you think you might look good and you tweak it over time. If you like it, keep it. If you don’t, chuck it and try something else.
Here’s a list of the main types of beards and facial hair you have to work with.
Beard #1 Early Growth
The fastest variation to test out is growing out some stubble. Anything from a five o’clock shadow to a few days growth for most men.
There’s a bit more to this style than being a bit leisurely with the timing of your shaves.There actually are ways to play with the shave for texture and effect.
Want to see an example? Pay attention to the covers of GQ Magazine. One of their favorite tricks is to take a celebrity that you’re used to seeing one way, change the facial hair a little, change up the wardrobe a little, and photograph that.
Physiologically this has the effect of communicating to the reader “as you’ve never seen Mr. Celebrity before…”The easiest change is to add a 1-5 day shade to a face that you’re used to seeing clean shaven (depending on how how light/dark and fine/thick the whiskers are).
One could then clean up the edges to create a hint of grooming. Alternatively, you could run one pass of the razor with the grain of the hair, and if done right, leave some texture (which is a fancy way of saying some whiskers will be longer than the others and change the visual a little).
Some early growth beards look best when they’re completely ‘hands-off.' Others look a little better the shaver cleans up some of the edges.
Beard #2 Moustache
Moustaches follow a boom-bust cycle.
More so than any other style of facial hair - they seem to come and go. Thanks to Adam Garone and the internationally successful month-long charity drive Movember, Moustaches are much more popular now than they were a decade ago. This a good thing, as they’re relatively easy to maintain and there’s a lot of options.
There’s actually a history of Moustache’s being a requirement in some military and police forces. It was considered a part of the uniform. That’s interesting because even in some relatively unmixed populations, there can be a lot of variety in hair type and color.
The big themes of solo-moustaches range mostly from tightly cropped moustaches, to bushier ones that are maintained with beard and mustache scissors (or sometimes not maintained at all). To add some style, men can use some pomade or other styling product to achieve a certain look (curled edges, Salvator Dali, Swedish Chef from the Muppets, whatever).
The most tightly maintained moustaches typically are the ‘pencil mustache’ (think Walt Disney or Clark Gable, and the ‘toothbrush mustache,’ Not hugely popular now - although it’s associated with comedy genius Charlie Chaplin, it’s also strongly associated with dictator Adolf Hitler.
Some men prefer their moustaches a little more filled out. Typically the options are to let it go bushy, trim with scissors, or shape it with a product. The Fu Mancu is unique and popularized enough to mention.
It’s a moustache that’s grown long enough to be fashioned into tendrils on either side of the mouth. It’s possible there’s somebody out there is serious about the look, but typically this only shows up in halloween costumes.
Beard #3 Goatee
Strictly speaking, the classic goatee means shaving all whiskers except those on the chin. In modern times this is sometimes called the ‘Billy Goat’ look.
Most people today associate it with whiskers cropped around the chin and vertically upwards along the edge of the mouth. Most often with an attached moustache, but not always. It does tend to require shaving some or all of the whiskers off the cheeks and neck.
Fun fact: you could probably guess the look is inspired by that of a goat. The ancients sometimes used the look in artwork when depicting gods like Pan, a half-human, half goat character. The image was rolled into depictions of Satan and has never completely shaken the reputation for evil ever since.
There’s an ongoing popculture joke in science fiction where a character is split into two people. One being the ‘good’ half and the other being the ‘evil’ half; the evil one of course being recognizable because of the goatee.
There’s something about the image-of-evil that seems to stick with goatees. Because of that, it’s a great style for those with ‘baby faces’ wanting to shake the innocent look for something a touch edgier.
Beard #4 Van Dyke
There’s some “friendly debate” over where the Goatee ends and Van Dyke begins.
Probably the most recognizable image of the Van Dyke is the Guy Fawkes mask. Ironically, where the goatee has this connection with the embodiment of evil, the Guy Fawkes style of Van Dyke facial hair has symbolic connections to citizenry pushing back against overbearing and oppressive governments.
Usually a Van Dyke emphasizes a fuller moustache with an unconnected and slim beard and shaven cheeks. Sometimes a goatee style beard (hence the argument), sometimes a soul patch, or something in between. Where it tends to be more distinct from the goatee is the extra emphasis placed on the moustache, which tends to be fuller and more likely to be using a styling product for shaping.
The look is popular enough that it typically is split into it’s own category. The name comes from Anthony Van Dyke. The Van Dyke surges and falls in popularity. It requires more daily maintenance than most other facial hair arrangements.
Beard #5 Sideburns
Sideburns are an extension down from the hairline in front of the ear. Many end somewhere between the middle and the bottom of the ear and can be combined with many other facial hair elements.
Sideburns are everywhere. Mid-ear length sideburns are by far the most popular. Enlarged sideburns are sometimes called ‘pork chops’ or ‘mutton chops’ because of the similarity of shape.
Mutton Chops tend to be characterized by shaving away whiskers from around the mouth and the neck. Though most definitely worn year round, Mutton Chops see surges of popularity for Halloween costumes because of their association with Elvis Presley, and more recently the live action portrayals of the comic book character Wolverine.
Although not overly common today, there is a version of sideburns that are connected with a moustache. Everything else is clean shaven.
Beard #6 Chinstrap
The chinstrap almost resembles the chinstrap one might use to keep a helmet secured to the head. Starting with the sideburns, the hairs run down, and traces along the jawline to the chin, and back up the other side.
Usually getting the title ‘chinstrap’ requires the beard to be well groomed. But not always, versions with more growth exist. In America, the most recognizable of such beards is that of Abraham Lincoln. Coincidently, this look is particularly visible in Amish communities.
It slips under the radar, but there actually is a distinct beard worn by the Amish (largely by older members). It’s characterized by a full beard with mustache removed.Once upon a time, it was common in Europe that military men were required to wear a mustache as part of their uniform. Wishing to distance themselves from militarism, the Amish took to the practice of removing their mustaches. The tradition actually goes back centuries.
The Amish were, and are, pacifists. In the United States the Amish are to this day exempt from military drafts as conscientious objectors under the articles of their faith (true fact).
Aside from those, there is a beard called a ‘Neck Beard’. It is essentially the chinstrap with the sideburns removed. Visually, it requires shaving of everything above the jawline. It is not hugely popular. Think Henry David Thoreau.
Beard #7 The Full Beard
This is the ‘style of no style.’ The basic technique you’ll need is to put your razor down…. and don’t pick it up again.
This look has surges of popularity with younger men. The full beard is very manly, and requires more or less maintenance depending on the desired look. It becomes more common as you look at mature men. When done right, it brings an air of distinguishment.
Some men use products like beard softeners and conditioners to keep the hairs healthy looking. Generally the longer the beard, the less grooming of necklines and cheekbones you would see.“The Bush Man” is literally just stopping shaving/grooming altogether.
To be fair, there’s more to this than being lethargic when it comes to your grooming. There actually is something to be said for planning a look around beard that’s just doing what it wants.
For example, think of someone with a full beard (even one with tangles) but a very neatly groomed haircut or shaved head, and a crisp well tailored suit. This look leverages contrast and leaves an impact. The best part is that it doesn’t really matter what “look” you’re going for, so long as the contrast is present.
That being said, the main contingent of men going for this style don’t necessarily care about style. Some care about being pragmatic above all else. Men who earn their living in isolated locations care more about functionality of their clothes and gear.
Full beards mean not having to carry facial hair grooming products with them. Why waste the time if you don’t care what you look like? Or if there’s no other humans for an hour in any direction?
This covers the main categories of facial hair. With very few exceptions, everything out there falls into one of these buckets.
Changing up the look is largely a matter of playing around with it. Try growing in a moustache - if your gut reaction is that you like it, try growing it out, or cropping it tighter and see if you like one of those more. Try adding the billy goat goatee, or a Van Dyke and see if you like that more.
Or maybe start with a full beard and work your way backwards. There’s no right or wrong answer. There’s only the types of beards that work for you.