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The Bearded Man

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When John Lewis decided to take on 'hobo chic' and star a bearded man for their new menswear range, it was perhaps the most on trend action the old British traditionalist giant has taken.

Whether it is an Autolycus style or chin curtain, facial hair is rearing its bristly head up and down the country.

Mounting its way into celebsville - Hollywood is now eclipsed with designer stubble; magazine covers are hairy, internet sites are furry, boys in bands don some kind of facial fluff and then the everyday folk joined the bandwagon - leading to the youth of today developing Viking-type facial disturbances.

Hairy Maclarys now line the streets - it is too late for Santa, and it definitely cannot be Jesus, but guys all over are abandoning the razor and growing a small ecosystem on their faces, all in the name of manliness, or more likely fashion.

But what do the other half of the population think of this spectacle? Are women uniting over the love of cosying up to a human sheep on a cold winter's night? Are they loving that itch only a woman feels when canoodling with a bearded man?

A study which ran the mill last year, came to the conclusion that women find men with beards unattractive, and prefer a clean- shaven look.

Reported in Behavioural Ecology, the study used photographs of men from New Zealand and Samoa, doing normal poses and then making angry faces, with no facial hair, and then sporting six weeks in the making, full-on beards.

The researchers from Canada and New Zealand showed the two different states of facial hair to 200 women, and asked them to rate the men's attractiveness.

It did not matter where in the world they were, women found the clean-shaven men considerably more attractive. Not only this, but the photos were then shown to other men, who stated that the guys with the beards looked older and angrier.

However, both the women and the men stated that facial hair created a sense of 'gravitas' to the male, and gave an appearance of a higher social status and earned the men more respect.

In Behavioural Ecology, it states: "The beard is a strikingly sexually dimorphic androgen-dependent secondary sexual trait in humans. Darwin posited that beards evolved in human ancestors via female choice as a highly attractive masculine adornment. Others have since proposed that beards evolved as a signal of male status and dominance."

Women might not see this beard love as innately being the case, but without bowing down to the hands of scientific dronings, you only have to look at the history books to see the beard has been put on a pedestal.

In The Troubled History of Beards, it states that beards were in the vogue in Greek society, where a healthy beard was a sign of wisdom and knowledge.

But then Alexander the Great put a spanner in the works and came along all freshly shaven - but for military purposes - forcing his soldiers to shave for fear that an enemy could tug on a man's beard and disadvantage him on the battle field.

But beards eventually came back into fashion; the Vikings got serious, and rulers like Henry VIII donned some kind of facial fuzz, but rather hypocritically passed taxation for the ordinary folk to grow a beard. Indeed these scientific assumptions that females think of beards as a highly attractive masculine adornment in choosing a mate might have shown that Henry wanted to be the only guy in the village with one.

But is this power and wisdom that men supposedly portray with a beard perhaps innately stored in the female psyche - do women really choose men with beards, subconsciously?

Conducting my own research around my University, London College of Communication (LCC), I was surprised to find that 90 per cent of the girls I asked loved a guy with a beard. They thought it was very masculine, but also very on 'trend', and of the moment. It appeared that the New Zealand researcher's findings had been scuppered in the name of fashion.

But whether it is just that time of year where beards grow a little longer to keep those winter chills away is to be considered - practicality could be the reason first and foremost for most beard hosts.

However, what about those poor souls who cannot actually muster growing a full on Gimli forest?

In a New York Times' article, Oh to Be Just Another Bearded Face, Steven Kurutz explains that in New York, sometimes the inability to grow facial hair makes men feel so bad about themselves they are worried they will not be able to take public transportation. He cites Steven Wilson, who runs Beards.org, a website created to "increase awareness, appreciation and understanding of the beard", who explains that many men who suffer from this "terribly profound personal problem" are "extremely distressed" by their lack of beard-growing aptitude. They experience "pain and suffering" and "face ridicule" from their bearded friends. And they can even be "intimidated by the sight of someone with a great beard".

This might seem extravagant, and what the hell - hysterical, but beard envy could be a modern day phenomenon - with everywhere you look a burly beard stamping its heavy weight onto the one solitary hair standing its ground on the incapable-of-growing-one-man.

Indeed men, why not be the envy of the town, and let your face seek comfort in these cold months, whilst becoming a fashion hero and working that just-crawled-off-the-curb look.

Or for those less fortunate souls, who cherish their isolated strand, work that Team America disguise. And women, why not humour your other half by convincing him that hair equals power and wisdom. If it worked for Henry, why not.