Yesterday I had a video conference call and was startled to see a male participant who was clean-shaven. In these Shutdown Days of 2020, he is in the decided minority. In fact, between the guys sporting elaborately coiffed beards even before we first heard of the coronavirus, and the guys who’ve decided to just let their face go to hell during this work-at-home period, I’d wager that the chins of American men are more bewhiskered than they’ve been at any time since the Civil War.
It’s not surprising that so many men have decided that the COVID-19 pandemic is a pretty good excuse to try their hand at growing a beard. For one thing, growing a beard is a lot easier and less painful than scraping your face free of stubble every morning. Why do it unless you really have to? And if you’ve never actually grown a beard before, the prospect of how you would look with a fully grown out chin can be tantalizing. You’re naturally curious: will you look adult and distinguished, like one of the Smith Brothers featured on the cough drop box, or like the poor guy sleeping on the bench down at the park? And will your beard come in lush and full, or will it look like the patchy, pathetic, ill-tended lawn that makes the neighbors want to call the homeowners association?
And the great thing about growing a beard is that it’s the path of least resistance. For years, you’ve been fighting a desperate rear-guard action against the hairs that insist on sprouting up from your face overnight, and now you can just give up and let them have their way. And since most of the coronavirus beard gents have no idea about actually tending a beard, their efforts look as shaggy and snaggle-toothed as an overgrown field. You wonder how their wives put up with it, and then realize that many of the wives have probably decided to stop wearing makeup during the shutdown period and aren’t likely to raise a fuss — for now, at least — if their husbands have decided to go au naturel, too.
Speaking as somebody who’s had a beard for most of his adult life, I think the acid test will come when the shelter-at-home period ends, and the coronavirus beard barons have to decide whether they’re going to expose their hirsute efforts to the world at large, rather than just their families. At that point, they’ll be making a declaration: am I a bearded guy, or not? I’m guessing that we’ll see a lot of coronavirus cropping at that point, as the pandemic whiskers hit the cutting room floor and male chins are once again exposed to the world.