Fiona McCade: A hairy line between sexy and scruffy

A bearded George Clooney and actress Stacy Keibler arrive at the Oscars. Picture: Getty
A bearded George Clooney and actress Stacy Keibler arrive at the Oscars. Picture: Getty
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“I know what you’re thinking,” quipped Grant Heslov, “the three sexiest producers in Hollywood.” It was one of the best – and certainly most self-effacing – jokes of the 2013 Academy Awards because at that very moment, Mr Heslov was standing between Ben Affleck and George Clooney.

On a normal Oscar night, the three sexy producers would have been even easier to tell apart, but this year Mr Heslov had one very important thing in common with his handsome colleagues: all three were wearing full beards.

And it’s not just Grant, Ben and George, either. Everyone who was anyone was hirsute last Sunday night: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Bradley Cooper, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux, Jean Dujardin. After a while, it seemed like the only man not sporting a faceful was Daniel Day-Lewis, and only then because he’d spent the past year or so buried beneath his Lincoln chinstrap.

Some of the beards were better than others, but I believe they all made their wearers look more attractive. Take Ben Affleck for example. I had never noticed this man before. OK, perhaps I’m unique in this – right now, women everywhere are going “Duh!” – but despite his illustrious career, he’d never made any impression on me whatsoever. Then he grows a beard and … hello, handsome!

I’m glad that western men are finally getting over their fear of looking like Open University lecturers. In fact, according to a recent survey, 62 per cent of British men think they look sexier with some sort of facial hair. I can understand this; it’s an on-yer-face way of saying “Look! Testosterone!” However, a bit of fuzz also helps define the cheekbones, brings out the eyes, covers all sorts of defects and always gives an aura of gravitas. And the likes of ol’ silky-whiskers Affleck make you want to nuzzle right up.

John Lewis is certainly tapping into the zeitgeist because, for the first time, it has employed a bearded model to advertise its men’s clothing range. Johnny Harrington is 6ft; with blue-grey eyes; lank, red hair that’s so straggly he piles it up into a bun; and a beard you could lose an eagle in.

As I hope I’ve made clear, no girl likes face-fur more than me, and I thoroughly approve of the latest fashion, but I’m not convinced that John Lewis knows what it is doing here.

A spokesman said that Harrington’s look was “deconstructed” and “dishevelled” and that he represented “an everyday hero”. An everyday hero just back from six months in the Arctic, perhaps; or an everyday hero recently released from a Middle Eastern hostage situation, but, sadly, not the sort of everyday hero I’d like to give me mouth-to-mouth.

I want bearded men back in the mainstream. I want to see more bearded models (well, male ones, anyway), but I don’t think bringing back Catweazle will help the cause.

The flowing-hair-and-long-beard combo is a difficult look to pull off and I can think of only two men who have ever managed it – Santa Claus and Karl Marx. But neither of them have tried to flog fashion. However, they both have something that Mr Harrington unfortunately lacks: whatever’s happening with the reindeer, or however persecuted the proletariat may be, both Santa and Karl always look washed. If Johnny Harrington’s vagrant-chic is supposed to inspire female fantasies about naughty lumberjacks, it fails. He just comes over as rough, not rugged. The clothes are nice enough, but since he looks like he’s been raised by wolves, you find yourself wondering why he’d ever need to wear them.

A lot of people are scared by beards because they think they signify a lazy attitude towards personal hygiene. In fact, a well-trimmed beard is the highest form of grooming to which a man can aspire. It’s a sure sign of masculine pride. It says: “I’m a man, and I care.” On the other hand, Johnny Harrington’s unruly explosion of follicles says: “I may be a Highland cow, I’m really not sure.”

But there’s hope even for Harrington. A few judicious snips here and there and he could become the new James Robertson-Justice.

In the meantime, if any of you gents are asking the question: “To beard, or not to beard?” My advice is go for it – but please, make it sexy, not scruffy.