Only When I Laugh
by Elouise Bell

FIFTEEN
Avoiding the Close Shaves

 [p.55]Every once in a while, a little bit of pop culture among the male of the species catches my eye and invites comment. Such is the case with the current fad of Not Shaving.

Perhaps you’ve been too busy to notice, but it’s become quite trendy of late for fashionable men to indulge in Not Shaving. We are not talking here about growing a beard or a moustache—that is an entirely different practice, followed, in my opinion, by a very different set of men. No, whatever Not Shaving is really all about (and I’ll pass out my theories on that in a minute), it is definitely not about growing a beard.

Not Shaving means sporting facial hair of several days’ growth as a regular habit—not just saying “To heck with it” on a Saturday or Sunday morning or while on vacation, as Johnny Carson recently did, showing up at the studio with a mini-beard after his holiday. Not Shaving clearly came into our fashionable culture via—what else?—the cinema. Way back in the thirties and forties, some movie heroes were photographed in the Not Shaven state to enhance their macho images. Chief among these were Humphrey Bogart, George Raft and a favor-[p.56]ite of mine, John Garfield. Then of course there were whole squads of “bad guys” who presumably were instructed to show up for photo sessions somewhat less than closely shaven, from Edward G. Robinson to John Carradine (father of David and Keith).

Recently I began to notice that more and more movie and television buckos were “allowing” themselves to be caught by the camera in a pronouncedly hirsute condition. It began to look like more than happenstance. So while waiting in a doctor’s office last week, I took notes from several of the magazines in the rack. May I cite just a few examples?

In New York magazine for last October, I saw a photograph of Alex Kimche, owner of New York City’s Cafe Fidelio. He stood before an exquisitely set table displaying some of the house specialties. Kimche himself was neatly dressed in a fashionable dark striped shirt, a carefully trimmed short haircut, a sparkling white waiter’s apron—and a Not Shaved face.

Esquire presented even more interesting material. On p. 48 there was an ad for “L’Homme,” a product very carefully not labeled “cologne” but “a man’s scent.” In any case, the homme modeling for this ad was shown against a mountain backdrop, with his sleeves rolled up and his shirt open, most emphatically open, three buttons’ worth. He was aggressively Not Shaven (though still without a beard, mind you). I guess if you’re trying to sell “a man’s scent,” you have to really make a fuss about the macho business. Now on page 23 there was an ad for skiwear featuring Olympian Andy Mill in a beautiful parka, and Not Shaved. Well, outdoorsy and sportif, and all that, you say. But stay with us.

Next we have an ad for cigarettes: man and woman in a newspaper office, grinning broadly to each other in congratulations over having once more gotten the paper out. He is in slacks with suspenders and a pink shirt, only two buttons open, sleeves rolled, however. Lightly Not Shaved. All right—from here we go to an ad for 14-karat gold. The handsome model is in a very expensive suit, sleeves down and cuffed, in fact displaying 14K cuff links, no buttons unbuttoned, and more gold showing on finger ring and tie clasp. And his face? Right. A good two days’ growth, maybe three. Millions for jewelry but not one cent for razor blades!

The crowning bit of evidence—still from the same issue of [p.57]Esquire—is a feature article on actor John Malkovich. Malkovich wears a jacket, a shirt with sleeves up and one button open, no tie—and a face that will surely win him the award for Most Thoroughly Not Shaven Actor of the year. The timing on this photograph must have been brilliant. Malkovich’s facial hair is actually curling. Had the photographer shot the portrait forty minutes later, John would have had a beard, and that’s against the rules.

Now as to the why of it all. First I thought it had to be a fairly profound cultural reason—the males, somewhat disoriented by the re-examination of roles that has taken place in the last decade, and concerned about the threat of putative wimpdom, have decided to flaunt the secondary sexual characteristics in an attempt to regain what they see as lost ground.

Then I wondered if it was a matter of males needing more territory in which to be faddish. Obviously, though male fashions do change, the swings are much less flagrant than the trends in women’s clothes. There’s only so much you can change in the basic suit-and-shirt, or levis-and-shirt outfit. And men’s hairstyles, while more imaginative in recent years, really don’t permit the range available to women.

But finally I wondered if maybe our brothers have reached the place many women reached some dozen years ago, when they tired of the whole make-up routine: liquid base, powder, eyebrows, eyeliner, mascara, eye shadow, blusher, etc. and etc. For a while, some of us gave up virtually all make-up.  Today, if my observations are correct, women wear whatever feels right to them at the time, from a touch of eyebrow pencil to the full mufti. Maybe the boys just plain got sick and tired of the dictum that said, “Shave every day, and twice if you’re going out.”

Or maybe, just maybe, this fad is deeply symbolic of our ambivalent times—maybe we should ponder the message behind all those faces that are neither shaven nor bearded. What does it all mean?