Recessionary beards: When the going gets tough, the tough stop shaving!

On March 14, hirsute New Yorkers competed in the city's fourth annual contest for the best beard in the five boroughs. In addition to its normal selection of events, including "Full Beard Natural," "Full Beard Freestyle" and even "Ladies' Artificial," this year's competition debuted a new category: "Recession Beards." (EDITOR'S NOTE: If you've got a great recession beard, upload a photo to our Facebook group, and we'll put together a gallery and let you help us select a winner!)

To compete in the Recession Beard event, contestants had to fulfill two requirements: they had to be out of work, and they had to be proud of their beards. The winner, Nate Stahura, who recently lost his job as a financial broker, said of his unkempt chin (and his prize), "It feels awesome [...] I'm awesome!"

While some media outlets have commented on the recession beard phenomenon, few have hazarded a guess as to its cause. The consensus opinion seems to be that unemployment offers the beard grower a greater level of freedom to experiment with his appearance. Many workplaces frown on facial hair, and those that allow it often have rules about length and cut. As unemployment releases the worker from the strictures of the office, the theory goes, he can use his newfound freedom as an opportunity to explore his chin locks.This theory explains a lot, but barely shaves the surface of the phenomenon. It completely ignores the evolutionary power of whiskers. Facial hair is a visible, outward sign of one's masculinity; by growing beards, unemployed workers suggest that, evidence to the contrary, they have not been "unmanned" by their recent job troubles.

Taking this assertion as a starting point, it follows that the longer the beard, the more masculinity it exudes. Thus, while John Waters' pencil-thin moustache offers an air of sleaze and David Niven's well-trimmed lip locks suggest sophistication, Grizzly Adams' thick beard indicates a bottomless well of high-powered testosterone. The same, of course, goes for facial hair icons ZZ Top, Gimli the Dwarf and Rutherford B. Hayes.

The recession beard phenomenon has come at a very seredipitous time, at least in terms of men's fashion. In many ways, today's slim silhouette and natty fabrics suggest a return to the styles of yesteryear. Recession beards are well poised to take advantage of that trend, particularly given the fact that beard styles for the past couple of decades have been downright anemic. After all, as impressive as Kenny Rodgers' chin locks are, they hardly hold a candle to Ming the Merciless' satanic "French Fork" beard. Other notable beard wearers, from Franz Josef to Napoleon III offer options both iconic and exciting.

If you're contemplating a recession beard, Wondermark has a fantastic piece on beard taxonomies. Personally, I'm contemplating a full handlebar with twisted ends, possibly paired with a petit goatee. My current goatee/moustache combo is just a little too 2005!
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