JUST AS A beard is the most obvious symbol of the difference between a man and a boy, so is a well-groomed beard the clearest distinction between a civilized man and a barbarian. And yet, despite thousands of years of practice, even the most refined men still have trouble maintaining a smart-looking beard.
Unlike the ancients, whose grooming aids were limited to primitive tools such as bronze knives and red-hot iron plates, modern man now possesses a host of high-tech beard-trimming devices. These resources notwithstanding, do-it-yourself trims continue to produce distressingly lopsided results. All too often, to save his beard, many a man has had to shave it off.
But beards no longer need be sacrificed on the altar of expediency. Grooming aids are relatively inexpensive, and they're easier than ever to use. Experts say the only other investment required to keep a beard under control is time. "There isn't much to it," says Elton Pamplin, a beard wearer since 1971.
Pamplin recommends beginning a beard-maintenance program with a visit to a barber. Considering that Pamplin was the 1971 National Barber of the Year and manages the Rosston School of Hair Design in Anaheim, this may sound like self-serving advice, but a barber can perform the invaluable service of showing how a beard is supposed to look after it's trimmed. Next, former salon owner Robert Diemer, who founded a skin-care company in Fountain Valley, suggests buying a small electric or battery-powered clipper, also called an edger. Clippers designed for home use are sold in drugstores for less than $20, while professional-quality edgers can be found in beauty-supply shops for as little as $50.
Grooming a beard involves two procedures--shaving around the outline of the beard and trimming the beard itself. Before shaving, Pamplin lathers his face with soap rather than shaving cream, which obscures the beard. He then shaves with a single-edge razor blade held between his fingers. "That way, you can see what you're doing," he explains. Although the blade must be handled more carefully than a razor, Pamplin says, it's more maneuverable in tight corners--under the lip, for instance.
Trimming the beard is trickier. The traditional shears-over-comb technique involves lifting the beard with a comb and cutting it with shears. Besides straightening the hair, the comb doubles as a measuring stick that enables you to cut to a uniform length. But beware: All but the most experienced practitioners find this to be hazardous, and not just aesthetically. "When I first started," writer-director Jeffrey Pohn says, "I would actually cut my earlobe."
Enter the edger, the bearded man's best friend. By using a guide-comb attachment, which elevates the edger from the face, it's possible to trim the beard without fear of cutting too deeply. "I wish I'd known about them 10 years ago," says actor Greg Michaels, who bought one after repeatedly victimizing himself with clumsy scissors work. Depending on the size of the guide comb, you can achieve the Don Johnson Look, the Ed Bradley Look or, presumably, the Crazed Hermit Look.
And if something goes irretrievably wrong, try Michaels' line: "I just tell my friends, 'Hey, I was nervous this morning.' "
Grooming: Kirt Masami/ Zenobia; model: Greg Michaels