Etiquette: Men's facial hair can affect crucial first impressions

January 27, 2014 

Q. A big discussion (and disagreement) in our office lately has been about whether it is properfor businessmen to sport stubbles, beards, goatees or mustaches in the office. It appears more and more professional men, of all ages, are trying it. Even Matt Lauer is now in front of the camera with some kind of weak looking grayish-brown facial hair.

Is the Hollywood fashion trend now creeping into the business world or what? Please, your opinion for our ongoing debate?

A. Forgive me if I sound trite, but the applicable bottom line here is this: "There is a time and a place for everything."

The professional business office or workplace is not the appropriate place for serious-minded men to sport facial hair. That is my longstanding opinion. It is also the opinion of many other female etiquette experts, including Emily Post, as well as William Hanson, who is an etiquette consultant for The English Manner.

Even today's pogonologists (beard scholars) advise that facial hair often leads to an undesirable first impression.

John Malloy, well-known "dress for success" author, reports that "goatees have not tested well" in his opinion surveys.

First impressions, are made within seconds. Whether that first impression is made subconsciously or consciously, or whether it is right or wrong, it is made. Many minute details are involved in that first impression, such as, type and perceived quality and style of clothing, good or poor posture, hair style, facial hair, accessories, body and clothing cleanliness, facial expression, etc.

Various types of facial hair have long been associated with different cultural walks of life and behavior. A beard on a longtime professor or a lumberjack is acceptable. However, a beard on a banker is not acceptable, not considered professional.

Is facial hair in the workplace possibly a fashion trend, or what may be referred to as a "beard boom"? Yes.

Is it a good trend for the man who wants to be taken seriously in his profession? No.

Is it a permeation of the look some Hollywood men are espousing, even if they look better without facial hair? Yes. Does Matt Lauer's scruffy looking, grayish-white beard make him more interesting or appealing or does it make him look like an older man who thought he had to come up with a new "gig" to try to stay on top. To each, his or her own opinion.

Do the razor companies and barbers or facial hair stylists like this new trend? Of course, it generates more interest in their products, talents and more customers. It takes a certain amount of training from a professional, as well as, the purchase of the correct razor to be able to establish and maintain a meticulously clean and neat Anchor Beard, The Chevron, the Chin Strap Beard, the Mutton Chop, The Gunslinger, The Soul Patch, or the many other options available.

Will the goal of growing facial hair to hide a smooth baby face be reached to make one look wiser, more mature and more experienced? Possibly? Or will he still be the young, handsome man who is perceived as obviously attempting to add another dimension of acceptability to his professional abilities?

Before making the decision, we etiquette experts suggest men check into the current policies, both written and unwritten, of their company or profession. And remember: facial hair is not considered appropriate or a plus for white collar, office-type positions.

Dianne Isbell is a local contributing writer. Send your etiquette questions to Lifestyle Editor Pat Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427. Or email to pkuhl@bnd.com

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