We’ll remember the great financial crisis of 2008 for many reasons. The $3.4 trillion loss in real estate value. The estimated $648 million in lost income. The 5.5 million jobs lost. But there’s one side effect that isn’t normally attributed to the massive economic downturn—the resurgence of the beard trend.
Initially, this might sound like a stretch. Most of us remember the birth of the Occupy Wall Street movement during this era. But the rebirth of the hipster beard trend seems relatively minor compared to everything else happening during that time. We hear you… but consider this food for thought.
The Beard Trend in Times of Strife
Beard popularity is cyclical. When you look at different periods of history, there are some decades when the most powerful men established authority with a beard while they remained clean shaven in others. Thus, the 2008 beard boom could just be part of the normal turn of events. However, it goes deeper than this.
Think about why men have beards. They’re an evolutionary tool. Historically, men have used beards to express their masculinity and succeed in the sexual selection process. A great beard signaled reproductive capability to women, and these men went on to produce offspring. To this day, women are still more attracted to men with facial hair than those without.
But men weren’t just growing their beards to find reproductive partners. They were also using them to stand out amongst other men.
Popular news site Quartz conducted a Facebook study in which researchers analyzed beard trends by city. They found that cities with thriving business environments attracted more men. Consequently, they increased competition for coveted positions at top companies, and they skewed the gender ratio in these cities. So, when those 5.5 million jobs were lost in 2008, a lot more men were fighting for a lot less jobs. And they outnumbered the women. Their beards were a way to show their dominance. Not only did they appear as more suitable romantic and reproductive partners, but they also seemed more authoritative. Their beards were associated with a struggle to succeed. The clean-shaven faces belonged to those who’d already made it.
Today, you’re more likely to see bushy beards in places like the Rust Belt and the South—the parts of the country dealing with the most economic difficulty and loss of jobs.
A Grooming Rebellion
There’s also a rebellious angle to this. Think about the people who protested during Occupy Wall Street. They were the 99% who felt abandoned by the big banks. They were businessmen who lost their jobs, and they were graduates who couldn’t gain entry to the workforce. These men grew their beards as a form of protest. If success meant maintaining a clean-shaven mug, they wanted the opposite. They wanted to represent everything that opposed the traditional sense of success. The hipster beard was a way to flip the bird to a dated image of professionalism.
Fast forward almost 10 years, and you’ll find men with beards in the C-suite. Of course, these men have cabinets loaded with beard products and they’re well versed in beard grooming—a far cry from the anti-establishment beginnings of this trend. But still, they can attribute their more relaxed corporate style to the protestors who were wronged by the crisis.
Looking forward, perhaps there’s another trend waiting in the wings. In a sense, men will always gravitate toward beards. There’s just something very rigid and polished about a clean-shaven face. But given the pockets of economic stagnation throughout the country, even in the wake of Occupy Wall Street, beard trends could further become subtle, regional forms of protest against corporate culture.