In Defense of the Performance Beard

Shaving is not an option when facial hair is this useful.

The nicest thing anyone has ever said to me? “You look like a skinny Kenny Rogers.” 

I was running through the neighborhood and stumbled into an old friend who I hadn’t seen in a while. More specifically, he hadn’t seen my beard in a while. I’ve had a beard for the last 15 years and it’s always had a little gray in the mix, but within the last few years a “little gray” has turned into a full-on white pelt. Much like the beard Kenny Rogers sported. Long live The Gambler.  

What I’m saying is my beard is white beyond my years. It’s so white that it seems to glow in photos, like it’s emanating its own source of light. It’s the beard of an old man. Biblical, almost, and it definitely adds a solid decade onto my perceived age, a fact that leads many people to wonder, “Why doesn’t he just shave that thing off? He’d look so much younger.”  

My wife wonders this often, usually out loud. But shaving isn’t an option because my beard is the most useful piece of gear in my quiver. It is an unsung multi-tool. 

Let me explain. 

You’re probably familiar with the notion of growing a “winter beard.” Plenty of men grow them. It’s like a seasonal accessory that pops up around the holidays. And that winter beard isn’t just fashionable, it’s practical. Having a layer of fur is insulating during the winter. Thanks Mother Nature! It also looks cool with flannel shirts and performance fleece jackets. Like many men, I started out with a seasonal beard. It was cute. Kind of thin. Definitely not the gray beast I have today. You might have called it “scrappy.” 

But I didn’t understand the true value of the beard until I stopped shaving it off in the spring. What I discovered is that the same beard that keeps my face warm in the winter also helps keep me cool and comfortable in the summer by wicking sweat away from my face on muggy, Southern days. That’s right, my beard is a performance wicking layer, operating like the finest layer of merino wool. 

Beyond these practical attributes, the beard also comes equipped with certain benefits that are less tangible. Specifically, the beard gives me instant street cred in a variety of situations, helping me look the part, whether I’m in a backwoods dive bar or a hipster cocktail lounge. It’s camouflage. I can look homeless or refined, depending largely on the shirt I’m wearing on any given day. I can pass as a Civil War reenactor or a shipwreck survivor. If I put on a bolo? Dead ringer for Kenny Rogers. More importantly, people assume I’m good at “mountainy” things like chopping wood or skiing powder, simply because I have the beard of a person who would probably be good at those kinds of things. 

Let me be clear, I’ve done nothing to earn that street cred. I am neither a backwoods lumberjack nor a hipster in the know, and if you spend more than 30 seconds talking to me you’ll realize pretty quickly that I’m just a stay-at-home dad with a beard. But for a few seconds when I walk into the bar? You might assume that I know what I’m talking about. 

The fact that my beard is white beyond my years also gives me a certain credence that I don’t deserve. People assume I know more than I actually know because my beard looks wise. You might even seek out my advice on financial planning or handling nuanced relationship challenges. This would be a mistake because I have the maturity level and worldly wisdom of a 13-year-old going through puberty, but the beard suggests otherwise, and people unwittingly give me the benefit of the doubt. 

I’ll admit that having this white pelt on my face isn’t all roses. Soup can be challenging. And I find myself having to wear sportscoats just so people don’t mistake me for a vagrant in certain social situations. And I’m not sure how I feel about little kids thinking I’m Santa. But listen, no piece of gear is perfect. This beard of mine is a Swiss Army Knife, a valuable multi-tool that I can’t imagine living without, no matter what my wife says about it.  

Photo courtesy of the author

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