By Alan Neff
Last week, the New York Times, aka “The Gray Lady,” aka “The Paper of Record,” aka “The Most Expensive Media-Subscription I Buy,” published an account of the return of facial stubble as a fashion statement.
According to my digital Times, “Like sideburns and chest hair, stubble is one of those organic male accouterments that perpetually cycles in and out of favor. These days, it seems, everybody wants a little scruff.”
Okay, let’s get this out of the way: not everyone “wants a little scruff.” My spouse, for example: she’d prefer that I shave my entire face. Hourly.
She has conceded, grudgingly, that I may wear a Van Dyke, where mustache and goatee form a seamless whole, without destroying our marriage. I’m grateful for this allowance, because I hate shaving my chin and upper lip, which tend to break out, even though I’m far removed - far removed - from puberty.
Also, I save a little time each day because I don’t have to shave those facial precincts. Those spare seconds can add up, leaving a larger amount of the day for me to waste even more time pointlessly cruising the Interwebs.
However, if you’re entering the working world, realize this: most traditional employers don’t want to see stubble on applicants, even if it’s artfully presented. Here’s a comment from “Target Jobs,” a UK website, on the subject of facial hair: “It’s best to avoid goatees, stubble, long hair and full-on beards; the clean-shaven, short-haired look is the safest bet.”. A site called the Online Education Database agrees: “Men, eliminate stubble“.
You’re also running another hidden risk with stubble: it can wear out shirt collars a lot more quickly than a cleanly shaven neck. In other words, there’s a wardrobe cost to stubble.
A little research on this subject shows that the acceptability of facial hair actually varies from industry to industry. Beards, mustaches, and combinations can be acceptable, if they’re neatly trimmed. I’ve interviewed, and my employers have hired, men with facial hair. Check the customs in your industry.
However, these industry-by-industry customs can only be preferences. They can’t be hard and fast rules: refusing to hire men because they have facial hair, even stubble, might amount to illegal religious discrimination against practitioners of certain faiths.
Fashion-stubble, however, is a different matter. If you work in the creative arts, you probably can sport stubble whenever you want, engineered as precisely as you want, however lush or sparse it might be.
This is especially true if your services are in demand, like the usual celebrity suspects named in the New York Times article – Mr. Hamm, Mr. Clooney, and Mr. Timberlake. Who among us is going to tell Mr. DiCaprio, for example, how much or little he must shave when he enjoys an evening out?
If you must have stubble for social occasions, but you have to confine its appearance to weekends, you can shave Thursday night so you’re decently presentable on Friday – a casual day in many offices, when an open collar is allowed and, coincidentally, will take less abrasion from stubble. Hope for the best – or most – growth by the time you’re ready for fun.
If you have a heavy beard, you’ll have your stubble by Friday. If not, you can plan to look fashionable by Saturday or Sunday, if you’re not a blonde.
If you are blonde, the whole idea of stubble seems faintly ridiculous. Or just, well, faint.