More Beard & Moustache Lore

Pursuant to the post below this one, my hirsute amigo Mr. Majd has supplied me with photographs of the traditional Persian moustache he may grow.


Those British sailors can thank their lucky stars it wasn't Mozafar o-Din Shah who captured them off the Persian coast, although, had they survived, he certainly would have provided them with a better tailor. The Persians were very fond of moustaches. In Olearius's Travels it is reported that the King of Persia ordered his steward beheaded. When the head was brought to him he said, "What a pity that a man with such fine mustachios should have to be executed."


I have told Hooman that if he grows a moustache like the one above I will wear a monocle. My wife, however, is trying to talk him out of growing a shah-handle moustache in favor of this look"



Ah, but Sharif—the great actor, bridge player, and anger management student himself—has gone for the full facial fescue.


As for what Islam says about beards, there is nothing in the Koran itself on the matter, but various hadiths or traditions regarding the words of Muhammed refer to them.

One says: "Act against (contrary) to the polytheists, trim closely the moustache and grow the beard." Of course the Greek polytheists were often bearded. Elsewhere believers are advised to trim of the beard that exceeds a handful. To wear a beard shorter than this handful is apparently the sign of a Western infidel or a hermaphrodite.

The Torah also weighs in on beards, apparently, in the dictate, "Do not round the corner of your head." The Rastafarians, who consider themselves the real nation of Zion, interpret the same verses to grow their dreadlocks and wear beards. Crazy baldheads will of course be driven out of town.

The fashion for shaving was probably initiated by Alexander the Great, who ordered his men to shave because the beard could serve as a handle for the enemy in close fighting. The shave was adopted by the great Roman general Scipio Africanus, who defeated Hannibal, and remained the fashion in Rome (although slaves were forbidden the shave, perhaps because the handle was convenient for their masters) until the emperor Hadrian grew a fine Greek philosopher's beard in the second century after Jesus, or Augustus, whoever you prefer.

I consider my fuzz philosophical and in no way divinely ordained, unless Mother Nature is so considered, but an enemy would be hard pressed to get a grip on it.

The Fine Art of Facial Hair

Since to the immediate left of this entry there is a menu of Topics, I thought I might add a little to the "Grooming" category, to beef it up a bit. Beards are back in style. I had a dinner party last night, and all the men present had beards. And it was not a theme party. We've been seeing scruff in the art world for quite a while, but lately I've been seeing bearded fashion designers, bearded musicians, bearded photographers, even bearded doctors and executives. It wasn't so long ago that Al Gore was sporting one. Wouldn't you love to have a plump, bearded Gore as President? I would.

Anyway, as you may have noticed I've been wearing a beard for a while and getting away with it. My wife no longer mentions Ernest Hemingway or Kenny Rogers in attempts to get me to shave. She acts resigned to the beard, and in fact I suspect she sort of likes it. This is possible because I have gotten quite good at keeping it under control.

I have achieved control over the beard through use of this handy little device, the Conair Trimmer. It comes with a lot of little attachments and, after trying to read the directions, I managed to stumble upon one that seemed like it would leave me with the length I desired. What I was aiming for was a setting that would leave my beard short enough that the magnificent outline of my chin would be visible. Anyway, a few minutes a week and my beard has a permanently perfect shape. (The blue button says "Turbo." I'm afraid to push it.)


My very good friend Hooman Majd (a fine writer and sometime bon vivant) was among the bearded diners last night, and after a lengthy discussion about whether he was an atheist or a bad Muslim, we turned to the beard habits of his native Persia. It was my contention that a handsome man owes it to the world (or God if he's so inclined, or pretends to be) to keep his beard short enough that the contours of his face can be discerned.

Mr. Majd, whose beard is somewhat redolent of unfiltered Camel Turkish-blend cigarettes, argued for more length, throwing up Prince Michael of Kent as an example. We examined photos of HRH on Google Images, and indeed this superbly dressed, regal gentleman, who is cousin to Queen Elizabeth, has a rather longer beard that does not follow the chin line. But it does suggest the chin line, and is perhaps longest at the chin itself. (If Prince Charles dressed as a prince should, Prince Michael dresses like a king. Note the size of his knot, the bold shirt collar, the cut and texture of his suit, and the beautiful boutonniere. Dressed like this he could rule Britain, and Italy, too.)


Mr. Majd said he would contemplate trimming closer in the jowl zone, while retaining a Kent-like point at the chin. Then we discussed the possibility of his growing a moustache in the traditional Persian manner, in which the points extend beyond the width of the head. This style was popular among the military, and I believe it was the impressive moustaches of dandyish Persian cavalry that spread that style to Brits. Here is Sir Claude Maxwell MacDonald in such a 'stache.


I am all for it. There have been few courageous moustache wearers in the public eye since the great Hall of Fame pitcher Rollie Fingers retired from the Major Leagues. He was a warrior.


My Imaginary Afro

Haircutting is a strange business. It seems to have been normal and traditional up until the 1960s when, like many other things, it freaked out. Normal-looking guys became hippies; normal-looking barbers became hairdressers. Guys started going to salons or just forgetting about cutting it altogether. I know my hair probably grew out about fourteen to eighteen inches at the end of that decade. I went from what was called an "executive" haircut to a Jesus haircut. As I recall, I was ideally going for something similar to what Mick Jagger sported in Performance and Rock and Roll Circus, but today that looks a bit styled to me.

Anyway, in the seventies, when cops and accountants were growing their hair long, I rebelliously went back to "the executive," along with my cronies at Andy Warhol's Factory; and then, in mid-decade, with that punky feeling in the air, I went back to my boyhood hairstyle, which the barber called a "Princeton," aka "Ivy League." My friend Jean-Michel Basquiat called my hairstyle "atomic," and I called his dreadlock look "the Bullwinkle." John Lurie still calls me "Heiny," which was another nickname for the astronaut cut. It was convenient. At the height of my bohemian anti-social rebellion and victimless criminality I could easily pose as a wholesome U.S. Marine on leave.

The problem with this social upheaval was that it did almost kill off the barbering profession. Men started going to salons and getting styled and generally looked the worse for it while paying more. I learned to cut my own hair to save money, as a good barber was hard to find. I remember going to Japanese guys who couldn't speak English and trying to use sign language to indicate what I wanted.

One of my favorite songs of the early seventies was "Nassau's Gone Funky." I can still sing along. "Miniskirts, maxiskirts, and Afro hairdos… People doing their own thing, they don't care about me or you… Nassau's gone funky… Nassau's got soul…" And I loved all of the things mentioned in that song and couldn't believe it when they were gone, particularly the miniskirt and the Afro. I just assumed they would always be there. I loved the big Afros, of the Angela Davis and Sly and the Family Stone variety.



I still can't believe they haven't come back. I'm hoping Ben Webster catches on. But I figure if I had African hair it would be a tough choice between the Afro and dreadlocks. And not only would it be a tough choice, it would be a lot of work. But I'm not going to fake it. White guys don't look right in Afros, even the guy in the MC5; and dreadlocks, well, I had a friend who managed to get some but he could never wash his hair. He had to have it dry-cleaned. Too much trouble. Better to chain smoke ganja as an atomium.

I don't work on my hair anymore. I've got a Sicilian guy who's a master, just like in the old days. He doesn't call it a Princeton. He probably thinks of it as an "Augustus." But if I were black, what would I do?

I know. I would go up to Harlem, to 116th Street by Fifth Avenue, and get serviced in style at B.Braxton. This is a handsome salon, right next to the groovy Asian restaurant, Ginger, that was very recently opened by Brenda Braxton and her husband Anthony van Putten. Brenda is a great Broadway star, a Tony nominee who was in Dreamgirls, Legs Diamond, Jelly's Last Jam, Smokey Joe's Cafe, Leader of the Pack, Chicago (with Usher)… et as they say cetera. Anthony is a famous fitness trainer, although fitness trainers are never as famous as Broadway stars, but he's widely admired, and they are a great couple. And now they have this place that is not only handsome and luxurious and operated with expertise, but it is specifically designed for men who need artisinal African hair care. I couldn't believe the equipment they have for dealing with dreadlocks. It looks like something developed by NASA.

Of course the elegant and luxurious B.Braxton is a full service men's spa, and they have universal barbering expertise. In other words, this is a shop for all men. I may go there as a client myself next August when my man downtown is vacationing in Sicily, because I don't want him to do a pre-emptive scalping on me like he did this last summer, and B.Braxton is probably the coolest barbering and grooming emporium on Manhattan Island.

Anyway, here's Brenda with Rita Wilson at the star-studded (Tony winner Lillias White, Tamara Tunie of Law and Order SVI, Obba Babatunde, the adorable Bebe Neuwirth, author Brian Keith Jackson, Emil Wilbekin, and my man Huey Lewis!) opening of B.Braxton.