A hot blonde in a tight skirt and high heels stood on stage with three dudes apparently just arrived from the “Planet of the Apes.”
How did you grow that amazing beard, the blonde quizzed one, pushing the microphone close to his mouth.
“You go to sleep at night and then you wake up the next day and you’re more beardly,” he said to laughter from the crowd. “Also, my beard grows cigarettes, if anyone needs one.”
He reached into the thicket of whiskers on his chin and pulled out a cig like a magician yanking a rabbit from a hat. He threw it into the audience.
Some guys will do anything to win a beard and mustache contest.
This one was a first for Westport, according to organizer Brent Nuro, a 29-year-old Kansas City DJ who organized the competition, noting that November is National Mustache Month.
“My own personal beard comes from laziness,” said Nuro, who runs Kansascitytechno.com. “I’m tired of dragging metal against my skin. I’m so over it.”
Beards and mustaches have been back in fashion for a while. But now, these new young beardos are turning the trend on its head, sucking the serious out of mutton chops and having way more fun with their lip schticks than grandpa ever did.
The Westport rumble went down in the darkened patio behind Riot Room. By night’s end, one man would walk out with a grin on his face and a pocket full of cash.
Would it be the high school English teacher with the D.H. Lawrence bristles? The cable guy with the bird’s nest glued into his 8-inch beard?
Or maybe the Jesus-lookalike with the Yahweh beard would pull one of those Hail Mary stunts. The beer-fueled audience and three hands-on lady judges would decide.
Later, the winner’s picture popped up on Facebook.
So much for the counterculture good ol’ days. Remember the clean-cut lads from Liverpool horrifying fans by going hairy during the Sgt. Pepper years? When Kurt Cobain and his I’m-too-cool-to-shave face turned the ’90s grungy?
Beards stood for something. Men grew them when they got divorced (screw the ex), got laid off (screw the boss), went on strike (screw the man) or lost an election (screw the hanging chads).
But for the laid-back Generation What Next, laying down the razor is more a style statement than protest, a lifestyle filled with jojoba oil facials, beard clubs, Saturday-night contests at the bar and fellowship.
Putting the “soul” in soul patch, they discreetly nod at each other on the street. Yo, bro, I got one, too.
They also are not shy about admitting that, like bangs on a woman with a big forehead, a beard is good for covering a number of flaws. What double chin?
But unlike the guys in ZZ Top, Santa Claus and other old dudes who keep their beards for life, young aficionados are willing to ditch the whiskers at the drop of a Mach 3 razor. Hair today, gone tomorrow.
“I think men now feel free to shake things up,” said clean-shaven beard historian Allan Peterkin, an associate professor of psychiatry and family medicine at the University of Toronto.
“Everything else had been done. Men are trying everything under the sun, and it usually starts with men in their 20s, 30s.
“It’s the final furry frontier.”
Don’t call it a trend
Nik Haahr of south Kansas City installed a Pocket Mirror app on his smartphone so he can check his beard and double-handlebar mustache when in public.
It came in handy before he took the stage at the Westport contest, where he and long-time buddy Duff — just Duff — competed in separate categories.
You don’t have to be Einstein to know that nothing ruins a first impression like food stuck in the beard.
“The funniest thing that ever happened while I was eating — I lost a French fry,” said Haahr, 30, who installs draperies and blinds for a living.
“I dropped a French fry on the way to my mouth and it never hit my lap. A minute later I found it stuck in one of my curls.”
Duff, 31, had three things stuck in his beard. Seven years ago he had his lower lip pierced with a triple labret — three curved, stainless-steel talons. He can jiggle them up and down on top of his beard by moving his lip, which he did for the female judges. The reaction was more “eew” than “ah.”
Duff has had facial hair on and off in recent years. “I don’t see this as a trend,” he insisted.
“It makes me feel more comfortable having the facial hair there on a daily basis. That’s all it is. I’m not trying to make a statement with it. I’m just comfortable. I like it.”
Santa or Satan?
It is hard to consider facial hair a trend when even Moses rocked the look. But hairy comes and hairy goes, according to Peterkin, author of “One Thousand Mustaches: A Cultural History of the Mo.”
“After World War I and World War II it was pretty much de rigueur to be clean-shaven,” he said. “Facial hair was somewhat suspect … thought of as un-American, unathletic. So facial hair kind of vanished.
“But if we look after World War II, it seems that every decade had its own little pocket of facial hair.”
Beatniks had their goatees in the ’50s, hippies their bushy beards and sideburns. Mustaches decorated disco faces until Don Johnson came along with his “Miami Vice” designer stubble in the ’80s.
And the grungy ’90s became a facial hair nirvana. “All of a sudden, everyone had facial hair. Your dentist had it. Your neighbor had it,” Peterkin said.
In this long, storied history of facial hair, mustaches have had a particularly rocky past. In Victorian times, men with mustaches “were either fops, foreigners or fiends,” said Peterkin. The porn staches of the ’70s were creepy.
But today? Competitions like the ones popularized by the hit reality series “Whisker Wars” and special events like Movember, when men are asked to grow mustaches for charity, are encouraging guys to grow them again, said Peterkin.
“I think with younger men, they want to be playful. So you grow a Salvador Dali mustache and it looks like a tightrope across your face,” Peterkin said.
“I think guys think of their faces as blank canvases and you can kind of have this experiment grow on your face and see how it goes. The meaning is constantly changing.
“With facial hair you are either Santa or Satan. Depends on who is looking at you.”
‘Yeah, it’s hot’
If Emily Farris is doing the looking, she likely has lust in her heart. The 30-year-old cookbook publicist from KCK was too sick to attend the Westport contest, or she would have been front and center in the audience, as she’d planned.
She’s a hard-core beard lover. Actually, she calls it a fetish, a fetish for beards and bellies. Watch out, Zach Galifianakis.
“For me, I think of a woodsy woodsman, a man who’s going to chop some wood and have his way with me,” she said. “And that is very sexy for me.”
Is she alone in this? Historically, surveys have shown that most women, nearly all women in fact, prefer clean-shaven men. Peterkin, on the other hand, cautions: Some of those surveys are sponsored by razor companies.
“I would say that, up until the ’90s, the studies said that if you showed a woman a picture of a man with a beard, she would rate him more virile or masculine,” Peterkin said. “But if you asked if she wanted to kiss him? No thanks.
“But this new generation of women whose brothers and boyfriends and dads had facial hair from the ’90s on has a new disposition. So if you interview college women they would say, ‘Yeah, it’s hot.’ ”
The first man Harris ever loved had a beard — big, bushy and dark. “I cannot pinpoint when I first became obsessed, but creepy as it probably sounds, I probably can trace it to my dad had one,” she said.
So does her fiance, Kyle Hopkins, the high school teacher she’s marrying this month. “There is nothing I love more than the smell of my fiance’s beard after he’s been grilling,” she said.
Jokingly, she wondered what it would be like if all the men in the wedding party had beards.
“But then I thought, ‘Wait. Why not?’ It’s the one time you can tell your friends how to dress and wear their hair.”
And so, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, she and her beloved will exchange vows in front of a bearded father of the bride and father of the groom, and six hairy groomsmen.
One of the beardos
With two little words, Scott Kellough, who splices AT&T cables for a living, stopped shaving last year.
“I was ready for something different,” said Kellough, the man who glued a bird’s nest into his beard for the Westport contest.
Kellough is a founding member of the Kansas City Beard and Moustache Club, which started meeting in October 2011, inspired by “Whisker Wars.”
Member Chris Jacquin, 37, an English teacher at Park Hill High, wore a club T-shirt to the contest. He’s been growing beards on and off since he turned 30.
Over the years, the beards grew longer and longer. He last shaved in early June. He calls the look his “free-range beard.” His wife thinks it adds 40 pounds.
“I think I’ve just been waiting for my principal to say, ‘Hey, that’s enough, Jacquin. It’s time to tone it down a little bit,’ ” he said. “But so far he’s been cool with it.”
While they waited for their time on stage, the two men recounted the singular blessing that comes with wearing a beard.
“Typically it will take a man five minutes a day to shave,” Kellough calculated above the loud music. “So if you think five minutes times 365 days, you’ve gained a couple of days.”
“As an English teacher,” said Jacquin, “that’s another two books I can read.”
But on this night, there was an even bigger payoff for Kellough.
He went home with the money.
To reach Lisa Gutierrez, call 816-234-4987 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.