Not so long ago, beards in the West had the reputation of being a career killer. They were considered an indicator of dangerously liberal views, anti-establishment militancy and maverick tendencies.
Big companies discouraged their employees from growing them, spin doctors urged their removal and fashion favoured a clean-shaven square jaw.
Something has changed since the recession. Men seem concerned with appearing less vain; maybe they want to indicate an abandonment of material interests; or perhaps, as women take a more equal role in the world, men want to reassert their masculinity. Whatever it is, the result has been a gradual re-emergence of the beard, and a subsequent transformation of its image in the workplace.
Indeed, recent figures from Proctor & Gamble show sales of non-disposable razors and blades falling by 7.8 per cent, with a JP Morgan analyst citing the reason as “increased interest in facial hair”.
Of course, men in the Middle East have long worn their beards with pride, taking immense care over the lines, length and edges.
But then a neatly trimmed Middle Eastern beard is a very different beast to the dense thickets sported in New York’s Brooklyn or London’s Shoreditch, and the suitability of each for the corporate world is well-delineated, says Dave Wilkins, the managing director of the UAE recruitment firms ICI and Capita.
“I think culturally here it is a commonplace thing to have a well-groomed beard, so I’ve never heard it come up in conversation to be negative. But the negative effect would be if it was fairly unkempt. Arab men are very well groomed, so those scruffy beards wouldn’t work in, say, banking or finance,” he says. “On the other hand, I work in IT recruitment, so it’s a bit more trendy, and people don’t wear suits or ties, so that more fashionable beard could work.”
The recently published 100 Beards: Edition 2 documents the continuation of the beard trend through beautiful photographs of hipsters around the world. Jonathan Daniel Pryce’s lavish book pulls together 200 images from his street-style blog, 100beards.tumblr.com, offering plenty of inspiration whatever your facial inclinations.
Certainly some of the men featured are pioneers of the beard trend in high fashion, from the magnificently hirsute Italian fashion writer Angelo Flaccavento (who, ever five years ahead of the curve, has now shaved) to the greaser revivalists, who combine their vigorous growths with slicked-back short-back-and-sides and a proliferation of tattoos.
Equally, when movie stars such as George Clooney, Ben Affleck and Chris Pine grace award-ceremony red carpets wearing their beards with perfectly cut tuxes and suits, a certain glamour and authority is attached to the look.
Those trends are picking up in the UAE, says Janka Wolski, a recruitment consultant with an executive search firm in Abu Dhabi, thanks to expatriates bringing trends over from the West, as well as the media ubiquity of celebrities such as David Beckham, who not so long ago wore a cavalier-style beard and moustache.
For Ms Wolski, though, the influence comes strongly from the Emirati executives, whose emphasis on grooming raises the game for the traditionally scruffier foreigners.
“There has been a tendency towards better grooming,” she says. “People tend to make more effort with how they come across, and for the Emirati men, who wear traditional dress, they can stand out by taking great care of their faces and beards. A well-looked-after beard can really make an impact.”
It is, then, the care and attention that you lavish on your beard that makes a difference.
“When Movember [an annual prostate awareness event involving the growing of moustaches in November] comes around, it’s very positive, but I would be a bit disappointed if someone took that look to an interview,” adds Mr Wilkins. “In the media it’s more acceptable. But if you went to an interview with CEOs or bank directors or law firms wearing one of the more fashionable bushy beards, they wouldn’t appreciate it.”
Tara Roux, co-partner at Kalm Grooming Lounge on The Palm in Dubai, has noticed a significant increase in men enjoying the shaving section of her men’s salon.
“Fashion beards are very much frequented by Gulf nationals here,” she says. “Dubai has a rather glamorous society, so it would be frowned on to look scruffy, and men regularly go to the salons for a quick shave or maintenance.”
And where the beard is beautifully tended, so the clothes should match. “The dishdasha is super smart and clean looking, and you will see men with sharp suits, open, smart shirts and beautifully manicured beards,” adds Ms Roux. “Beards look good when the man looks good.”
Follow us on Twitter @Ind_Insights