Perfecting a look of subtle stubble
Skin Deep: As stubble on men becomes more popular and acceptable, companies are designing grooming products to maintain the look.
The New York Times
NEW YORK — In a world where men sport permanent stubble on their faces, the capacity to grow a thick, bristly beard in just 48 hours can be considered an evolutionary advantage. Alas, not one conferred upon Clinton Weber, the smooth-cheeked runway model forced to endured a futile "stubble trim" backstage at the Duckie Brown show during New York's Fashion Week.
"I just don't have a beard face," said Weber, 23, who is otherwise short on flaws. "It could come in, but it takes a while. I have very thin hair."
Like sideburns and chest hair, stubble is one of those organic male accouterments that perpetually cycles in and out of favor. These days, it seems, everybody wants a little scruff.
Jon Hamm, whose role on "Mad Men" inspired many a clean shave, was among the actors pairing stubble with a tuxedo at the Emmys last week, just as Brad Pitt did at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month. Lots of male models, for whom facial hair is traditionally verboten, walked the runways unshaven at this year's Fashion Week. George Clooney always seems to have a shadow on his jaw, and good luck finding a recent picture of a cleanshaven Justin Timberlake or Gerard Butler.
The producers of the Duckie Brown show wanted their models to exhibit some facial growth, too, genetics be damned. So they invited Conair to set up a "stubble station" backstage. Conair, eager to promote its new line of stubble trimmers, was happy to be there.
"Stubble is always in fashion, especially now going into the colder months," said Garrett Bryant, a senior stylist at Antonio Prieto Salon in Manhattan.
But not patchy, unmanicured stubble.
"It's just a question of keeping it maintained and not making it look messy," Bryant said.
Grooming companies like Conair and Philips Norelco are retiring the term "beard trimmer" and calling their new models "stubble trimmers." These models, which arrived on shelves in 2010, are specially calibrated to deal with facial hair at close range, manufacturers say.
They are not the first. In 1986, Wahl introduced the Miami Device, a trimmer designed to approximate Don Johnson's sandpaper jaw on "Miami Vice." Fearing copyright infringement, the company soon changed the name to Stubble Trimmer, but the device proved unpopular and was quickly discontinued.
But "society has become a lot more accepting of guys having stubble," said Michael Schwartz, a brand manager for Philips Norelco, "so we designed a specific product" to maintain the in-between look. Indeed, he added, "our primary focus for the beard and mustache segment now is stubble."
The main difference between stubble and beard trimmers is slight but cosmetically important: The minimum length that the razor guards on Philip Norelco's beard trimmers would allow was 1 millimeter; the guards on its stubble trimmers go down to 0.5 millimeter.
Sales for the trimmer category increased 14 percent in 2010 and are up nearly 17 percent so far in 2011, according to the NPD Group, a market research firm. Schwartz said his company had seen a "large spike" in sales for the category, "even with the higher prices." (Its top-of-the-line stubble trimmer retails for $59.99, about $30 more than its best beard trimmer.)
Whether these trimmers can really keep a man in permanent stubble is another question. Bryant does recommend them for his clients, albeit without the guards.
"Just don't keep a guard on" and apply the blades directly to your face, he said. "That way you're getting a clean look, but that keeps it right at a 5 o'clock shadow."
To prep, Bryant advises applying a hot towel to the face a few minutes before shaving. Giovanni Giuntoli, the stylist working the Stubble Station for Conair, applies talcum powder before shaving. And both advise always shaving against the grain, which can get tricky around the neck and cheeks.
Regardless of how you achieve your scruff, cleaning these areas, as well as the section below your nose, is essential to the modern, clean stubble look.
"Neck scruff is a no-no," Giuntoli said.
Use a traditional razor to shave those areas clean.
Don't get carried away, though.
"I don't like to do that George Michael close-shave thing, where it looks almost feminine," Giuntoli said. "Fade it in a little bit easier around the neck. Letting it grow a little natural, but clean is definitely a stronger statement this season."
For men who can't be bothered, there is a kind of follicular rhythm method: Decide which day you need to look stylish, then shave all the way to the skin two to three days before that. (Just remember, again, to clean around the edges before you suit up.)
Otherwise, the perfect stubble is a lot like the perfect bed-head: Looking casual can take a lot of work. Scott Donaton, the chief executive of Ensemble, a New York advertising firm, is known among friends for having maintained an impeccably charcoaled jaw every day for nearly a decade.
"I think women really like it," he said.
Donaton said he used a Philips Norelco QT4070 stubble trimmer — without the guard — every day before his shower. After the shower, he cleans his cheeks and neck with a Gillette blade.
"I always say it takes me more work to look like I don't shave than it would for me to shave," he said.
Donaton is one of those men genetically inclined toward thick, quick-sprouting stubble. Men who aren't so fortunate, whose hair arrives in thin, wispy patches, may want to follow nature's lead.
"If it looks kind of sloppy or prepubescent even when you maintain it well," said Bryant, the stylist, "I think I would just shave it off."
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