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Ryan Johnson, Published December 05 2013

Johnson: Nothing draws the attention of dudes like a beard

To get noticed, dudes would be better off not shaving for a few days than splurging on expensive clothes.

At least if they want to get noticed by other dudes.

Pop culture often portrays men as low-maintenance, more concerned with cars and careers than keeping up with the appearance of their fellow men.

But facial hair proves that stereotype false.

I recently grew a beard, partially because it helps make the cold winter winds a little more tolerable, but mostly because I was lazy and didn’t bother shaving during a short vacation last month.

I returned from that furrier-than-normal vacation intending to shave it off and once again be facial hair-free, but that’s when the comments started.

At first, guys would simply notice I had the start of a beard and mention it. After a couple weeks, things escalated.

“That beard really suits you,” said one friend, repeating it a couple times to make sure I realized just how good it looks.

Another looked longingly at my acceptable but unremarkable beard before launching into a short monologue about not being able to grow decent facial hair.

Sometimes, the comments simply point out that my beard is now slightly longer or fuller than it was the week before. I’d like to take credit, but all that’s required for progress is not shaving, so I usually just thank them for their approval.

Guys who would never feel comfortable complimenting me on my choice of jacket, hairstyle or shoes suddenly made it a point to talk to me at length about my beard.

I eventually realized that the patches of dark brown stubble now jutting out from my cheeks, chin and upper lip added up to an effective but unintentional dude magnet.

Men I’ve never met will comment about it in bars or stores, or stop me to share their own story of growing out facial hair, while my female friends largely haven’t noticed my beard or are indifferent about it.

Whether they can grow it or not, apparently there are plenty of dudes who are in love with facial hair. We all have our preferences – I’m a beard or goatee kind of man, and definitely not one of those rare men that can actually pull off a mustache – but we can bond over our shared experience of having whiskers.

Maybe in a few years, some team of sociologists will study this and fully explain just what it is that dudes are so obsessed with.

Until that happens, I have a theory: facial hair is one of the only safe superficial things for guys to talk about with their friends.

It might seem weird if I tell a buddy that his new shirt really brings out the green in his eyes, or if someone praises a friend on the great fit of their jeans while watching a football game.

Facial hair rises above that fear of saying something too personal about a male friend precisely because of who can have it – men. Most of us can grow some kind of mustache, beard or goatee, though not all to the same extent, and women can’t.

Dudes who have never said something about my appearance before will fall all over themselves coming up with ways to talk to me about my beard, and that’s just fine. I probably act that way, too, when I see a guy with a killer handlebar mustache.

Some men can bond over a shared love of sports, or a band, or cars. But any group of guys could spend an entire night sharing stories of that time they didn’t shave for six months or when they had a neighbor with the worst neck-beard ever.

When it comes to facial hair, it seems us dudes have grown attached to it.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587