Why Men Grow Beards When Times Get Tough

Jim Carrey called his quarantine beard a ‘meaningless transformation,’ but psychologically it’s not meaningless at all

Jacqueline Detwiler
Forge
Published in
4 min readMar 31, 2020

--

Photo: Norbert Kamil Kowaczek/EyeEm/Getty Images

JJim Carrey is doing it. Stephen Colbert had something going on in that last episode before The Late Show went on hiatus. My own husband, who couldn’t grow a full beard with Rogaine and Jason Mamoa’s mandible, is currently sporting a kind of adorable patchwork-type thing. A lot of men are responding to the coronavirus crisis by swapping their ordinarily clean-shaven visages for scraggly quarantine beards.

But why?

Is it because extreme times call for extreme grooming decisions? (We’ve all seen Mad Max.)

Is it because the beard is a calendar, measuring time like tick marks on the wall of a prison cell?

Is it because beards are cozy and warm and don’t require a lot of effort? Because they’re the sweatpants of the face?

In an informal survey on social media, many of my male friends told me they’ve at least partially altered their grooming habits since the onset of isolation. Growing a full beard, skipping the beard trim but keeping up with the ’stache, letting carefully trimmed edges run wild, or going whole-hog in-country SEAL Team 6. Some said they just didn’t like shaving or were using this time to test out alternative beard looks they’d been curious about. Some hoped to please a significant other who preferred a facial hair style not sanctioned by work.

Most of them claimed they were growing beards out of a combination of laziness and curiosity. But that still didn’t explain why everyone had the same idea in reaction to the same event, or why growing a beard feels like a natural response to a temporary breakdown in social order.

So I called Christopher Oldstone-Moore, a history lecturer at Wright State University who wrote Of Beards and Men: The Revealing History of Facial Hair.

“I call it the quest beard,” he said.

Quest beards, Oldstone-Moore says, are a common phenomenon in facial hair. Soldiers and explorers once grew them as a way to bond over common purpose. The classic modern example is the sports team en route to a national…

--

--

Jacqueline Detwiler
Forge
Writer for

Jacqui is the former articles editor at Popular Mechanics. Her work has appeared in Wired, Esquire, Men’s Health, and Best American Science and Nature Writing.