Jamie Dornan, one of Hollywood’s hunkiest bearded men. Via Loewe

Jonathan Seidler is an Australian writer. This is his column for Esquire.

MY DAUGHTER IS GETTING into high concept picture books about human evolution because, as any new parent discussing their children would say, she is a total genius. These books trace how tiny cells become complex organisms, and eventually modern humans. Her favourite one has a page with lots of illustrations of different types of people, and she is always quick to point to any heavily bearded man and say that it is me. I find this hilarious, because these men look like lumberjacks, or Moses, or waistcoat-wearing Bon Iver fans from 2010. I never fancied myself a bearded man, but somehow, this is what I have become.

Facial hair, like most forms of hirsuteness, is a cause of constant rumination among men. Some people grow too much of it. Others can barely summon their follicles to create any type of stubble at all. More than the hair on our heads, our chests, or, you know, other non-PG areas, our facial hair plays a big role in how we are perceived by the world. The illustrations my daughter points to are of men with different colour hair to mine entirely, often even bald. But they have a beard. This is the defining feature that matters to her.

The human evolution book in question. According to my daughter, I am ‘Animation!’, sometimes ‘Self-reproduction with variation!’

When I was in high school, there were strict rules around growing a beard, which is to say it was outlawed entirely. If you were unlucky enough to start sprouting stubble at 13 or 14 years old, you had to shave every day before you came to school. I had a friend back then called Adam, whose parents were Libyan-Italian. You can imagine how useless a razor was on his face. He was often sent home for sporting a 5 o’clock shadow at 11 in the morning. 

For much of my upbringing, being clean shaven was a sign of respectability. It was how you got your first job, appealed to the opposite sex, became a functioning member of society who was taken seriously. Unshaven men were deviants, unclean, musty. To have unkempt facial hair, or sometimes any at all, was a sign that you could care less about yourself or the world you inhabited.

At some point during recent societal evolution, this changed. I switched from a razor to an electric shaver when I was 18, and the period between shaves went from one day, to three, to a week. Showing up to work with stubble had made a rapid transition from being professionally reprehensible, to a sign of creative joie-de-vivre. At the first advertising agency I joined around 2012, there was not a clean shaven man to be found – including the CEO. Slowly but surely, my friends who worked in more white collar roles like finance and consulting started letting their facial hair down. Now, there are fully grown adults with jobs and mortgages who sport moustaches you’d associate with circus performers – and not just in Movember.

Not unlike feminine beauty ideals, In the space of a single generation, our conventional grooming standards have changed. Famous men with all variations of facial hair – from Jamie Dornan’s thick stubble to Pedro Pascal’s wispy situation to Dev Patel’s rugged goatee – are the flavour of the moment. 

Pedro Pascal has made the patchy beard part of his personal brand. Photography: Getty Images
Dev Patel beard
Dev Patel, king of the unkempt goatee. Photography: Getty Images

Of course, there are no hard and fast rules here. Most luxury brands still tend to send clean shaven models down the runway. And yes, there are other big contemporary film stars, from Timothée Chamelet to Barry Keoghan, who look like they’ve never considered the different length settings on a Braun in their lives. But on a local level, I can now let my stubble inch towards a catastrophic beard without anyone fearing I’ve given up on life. Aside from my daughter, who, as we have already discussed, is a genius.    

This morning, as I prepared for my weekly face-mowing, I wondered if the time to fancy myself as a bearded man has arrived. Like many of the opinions we hold about ourselves and our appearances, owning my beard has occurred in tandem with the culture at large. Perhaps institutionalised facial hair is our generation’s way of rebelling against the stiff (shaved) upper lip of our parents and educators? Lord knows there are plenty of billion-dollar D2C companies hoping we sculpt our beards more often.

As for me, the last time I was clean shaven was for a TV audition in 2009. My face broke out in a rash, I barely recognised myself and I bombed. My daughter is right. I am the man with the beard after all.

Jonathan Seidler is an Australian writer, father and nu-metal apologist. He is the author of a memoir called It’s A Shame About Ray and a novel titled All the Beautiful Things You Love, which is out now. Jonno has some interesting things to say about music, fatherhood, Aussie culture, mental health, problematic faves and the social gymnastics of group chats. This is his column for Esquire. You can see all of his previous columns here.