Grin and beard it: How it became cool to sport a beard again

  • Manali Shah, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Feb 18, 2016 20:01 IST
The emperors and sages of yore had them. Now, so do cricketers, movie stars and the man sitting across you at work. We trace the growth of the great Indian beard. (HT File Photo)

Two-thirds of the Indian cricket team have beards. Some of football’s biggest style icons, among them David Bechkam and Andrea Pirlo, flaunt them. Bollywood actors Ranveer Singh and Shahid Kapoor pull them off in style. Beards are suddenly a global phenomenon, with approval from the most fashionable men around. But while it’s officially sexy to have one, growing it isn’t just a matter of, well, growing it. We’ve entered a territory with mind-boggling variety of styles and grooming products (see box).

The great Indian beard

India, of course, has a long history of beards. The wisest and bravest of sages and kings are depicted with beards. It was a sign of power, masculinity and virility. Somewhere down the line, though, beards came to be associated with being messy and unkempt. Unless it was for religious reasons, not many in respectable, white collar jobs really had them anymore. Parents made sure teenage boys — eager to show the world they’re capable of growing a beard — didn’t get very far. Social outings, religious occasions, weddings, all led to them having to shave.

And if it wasn’t family, it was the need to fit in with the office culture that stopped men from growing a beard. That was a few years ago. Corporates, infamous for frowning upon facial hair, are relaxing their norms. Nandan Mangaonkar (37), who works for a private life insurance company, sports a short salt ‘n’ pepper beard. He says his “office dress code permits ‘neatly trimmed facial hair’. I assume that’s a polite way of saying, ‘Go ahead grow a beard.’”

Families, too, are coming around. City resident Karan Agarwal (32), a writer, director and producer, set to marry later this week, has resolutely stuck to his decision of not shaving for the big day. “A couple of uncles did come and ask me: ‘You’re going to shave, right?’ But I’m bullying my way through this. The way I see it, once you’re in your thirties, nobody can tell you what to do.”

In the last couple of years, movements like No Shave November coaxed men to not shave for the entire month and, instead, embrace their hair — something cancer patients lose. It’s a way to raise awareness as well as funds for cancer prevention, and it quickly became an internet sensation. Men around the world put up on social media pictures of them proudly sporting a beard.

Appreciation from the ladies helps: “I like it when my boyfriend lets his beard grow for a few weeks,” says entrepreneur Sneha Krishnan (22). “Men with beards exude a sense of appreciation for their own appearance.”

By Jaikishan Anant Pawar, assistant manager in training, Truefitt & Hill.

The growing market

When the iconic south Mumbai store Akbarallys revamped and relaunched as Akbarallys Men last year, apart from selling apparel, it housed a barber shop. “Men come with specifications about the shape and size of the beard they want. It’s no longer a taboo to go into a formal meeting with a well-maintained beard. On the contrary, it means that a man is trendy and image-conscious. I think Indian men are realising that beards actually suit them a lot more than the clean-shaven look,” says Ummeaiman Khorakiwala, director of Akbarallys Men.

But with great beards come great responsibility: that of grooming. Maintaining a beard requires a little more effort than shaving it all off. A whole new niche within the men’s grooming segment has opened up with beard-care products. Suddenly, you have multiple websites selling products that you’d earlier have to get via your cousin who lives abroad. Oils and roll-ons, washes and brushes promise to make your beard softer, shinier, longer. The variety on offer could shame the women’s cosmetic market: boasts of beard oils with juniper, pine and rosemary, offers ones with jojoba, argan and grape seed blends.

Last August, Happily Unmarried, known for its quirky gifting and décor products, launched a new line of men’s grooming products — Ustraa. Going one step further, it offers mooch and beard tonics. Rajat Tuli, co-founder, Happily Unmarried, says, “Our research showed that Indian men were ignored when it came to good products for facial hair. The Ustraa line is now doing better than Happily Unmarried.” Meanwhile, the team at is working on a line of beard gels — something founder Charanjeev Singh says their customer base has been requesting. Interesting, when the website launched, their target customer was the Sikh community. Yet, a telling 68 per cent of their shoppers are now from outside the community.

In 2014, UK-based Truefitt & Hill, the “oldest barbershop in the world”, tested Indian waters by setting up shop in Khar. In a matter of months, they had outlets in Colaba, Peddar Road and Lower Parel. Anuradha Kumari, marketing manager, Truefitt & Hill India, says, “As with our London outlet, our main concentration is on the royal shave we offer. But here, we created new services for trimming and styling of beards based on customer demand.” Evidently, here’s a fashion trend we’re not aping via the west, but actually leading.

Face value: Move over, soul patch and French beard. Here are 10 different styles to try instead

By Jaikishan Anant Pawar, assistant manager in training, Truefitt & Hill

Take Your Pick

Ustraa: Pick from beard oils, mooch and beard tonics, beard wash and wax. Options include beard oils, wash and wax, hair growth oil, in variants like The Irish Royale, The Black Velvette and The Blood & Sand. A one-stop-shop for beard grooming products, it offers beard brushes, apart from honey drop beard oil and wash. It focusses solely on beard oil, which comes with a glass dropper for use.

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