Stubble 'n strife

AS economic indicators go, facial fuzz probably isn't the first to spring to mind. But, says Claire Black, there seems to be a connection between the collapse of corporations and follicles being let to run riot

GROWTH. Now there's a word that hasn't been bandied about in the business pages for a while. Unless you include references to jobs lost, or the amount of debt accrued as we seemingly spiral into the financial abyss. But, as big business bombs, I am delighted to announce that a different kind of growth is emerging. An altogether unpredicted, yet curiously welcome response to this global crisis. Brace yourselves, people: the beard is back.

Brad Pitt's got one (he reckons George Clooney copied him). Daniel Craig has dabbled. And even royalty are in on it, with Prince William sporting a fine face of fuzz on a recent shoot at Sandringham.

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Arty (Brad and George), manly (Daniel) or a badge of maturity (young Wills), beards tell a story about their wearers. And the newest recruits to the beardie brigade are the city slickers who, upon losing their jobs (and their Christmas bonuses), are promptly losing something else: their desire to shave.

Freed from the (slightly tarnished) steel and glass of the financial districts of our cities, beards are on the rise. Gone are the 6am starts, the 7am transatlantic conference calls, the boozy business lunches and the need to present a clean-shaven face. Some wag has even coined a term for it, gamely naming it the "face of freedom".

There isn't much to welcome in this global-meltdown-crisis-disaster, but the fact that men suddenly liberated from the corporate grind are revelling in their newfound freedom are allowing their chins to do the talking seems rather good news to me. "I am no longer a wage slave," their fuzzy faces shout; "I will not be ruled by your clean-shaven corporate structure," they yell. The even better news is that you don't have to lose your job to get in on the act.

Steven Moffat, 36, is a successful Edinburgh businessman and entrepreneur. He graduated from a goatee last year to a full beard two months ago. "The way that people perceive me has definitely changed with the beard," he says.

"You look a little bit rougher and bit more hip, so you definitely get a different attitude, especially from women. When you're clean-shaven it's almost like you're seen to be making too much of an effort."

But, before you throw out your razor and let nature take its course, remember, although most faces can carry a beard, not every beard should be carried, if you know what I mean.

Personally, I tend to opt for a five-style scale which ranges from full-on mountain-man whiskers at one end (examples of this can be found in the Black family photo albums, circa 1978-82, when my father, a lifelong beardie, refused to trim his at all), to the topiary-like stubble of American fashion designer Tom Ford at the other, with Kris Kristofferson and Kenny Rogers somewhere in the middle.

If you're thinking of growing one, there are a couple of general rules. First, too much and you'll look like Robinson Crusoe (think James Cracknell when he got back to dry land after that transatlantic rowing expedition). Too little and you'll look like a preening poodle (George Michael).

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Whatever the length, though, it's fair to say that beards and the boardroom have never really gone together. (Richard Branson and Alan Sugar are the exceptions, but even they use their beards to signal they're different from all the other grey suits). Historically, beards have symbolised everything from sexual virility to social status, wisdom and knowledge. The last two at least would seem to be pretty good traits to exhibit in the business world, you might think, but it's the hint of wildness, of a rejection of the rules that has kept the beard out of business over the past decade. But perhaps no more.

Moffat reckons his beard marks him out as a free thinker. "I like the way a beard makes me look," he says. "It's more interesting. It suggests a depth of character. I've let my hair grow in long and the beard grow full and I think I just look a little bit more like a creative type."

At times of crisis, things change. The Bank of Scotland's gone, as has Woolworths, and thrift is the new lifestyle choice – so why shouldn't beards bloom again?