It's around three o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon at Back Alley Barbershop in Makati City, and Banjo de Leon quietly rises from the barber's chair. He considers the beard that's just gone through some tidying. His facial glory is short and boxed, covering the sides of his face in a long, narrow strip before turning a little bushy on the chin. You know, the kind Bradley Cooper or Ben Affleck sports on occasion during awards shows. Banjo, who is no Hollywood movie star, is just catching up on his grooming after a month of neglect. But, he tells me, this sense of nonchalant dishabille is the best part of keeping a beard, anyway.
"I can do it myself," he says of grooming his facial hair. "I got all the tools at home to trim my beard, but I just go to the barber every three weeks or at least once a month when it gets really out of control."
Today, the marketing professional is spending the little time he has off from work having another pro take care of his facial hair. It's been a year since Banjo decided to go especially hairy, preferring it over being clean shaven, which he said was "too hard and expensive to maintain." He'd run through a supply of Gillette MACH3's to keep his face hair-free every day. This is his standard look now: hair lightly waxed, his beard carefully groomed so as not to disrespect (or intimidate) his clients, a button-down shirt and crisp tailor-fit jeans. The look, he says, is like "the guy on Mad Men when he's off set." Not scruffy like a lumber sexual, but cleaner, sharper and corporate-approved.
While sites like Mashable have declared the "hipster beard" dead a few years back (and with model and facial hair "purveyor" Joel Alexander confessing on Instagram not long after that he got fewer bookings because no one else was digging his beard), there are those who disagree (i.e. Cooper in the upcoming "A Star Is Born"). Guys are still wearing theirs everywhere. And Pinoys are now just cottoning on to the bushy face. Those who are especially fond of the "hipster beard" are, well, hipsters, including millennials—i.e., those too young to have reveled in facial hairiness the last time it was all the rage (which was when their dads or grandpas paired mustaches and beards with extreme bell-bottoms).
But Abbey Road-era Beatles were just an example for bearded wonders of the past. The ancient Greeks wore theirs, as did Jesus Christ. Beards, then, are style constants. Bill Watson, Beijing-based Toni&Guy international artistic director, agrees, with "a little bit of long hair creeping in," he told me when he visited Manila. Even as Watson scratched his shaved chin, he asserts that "the barbering thing is still cool and it will be cool for a long time, like for the next three or four years" (he said this in 2015—which means the scruffy look is on its last breaths?) While we can debate whether beards will be around until we're blue in the face, the real reason men today continue to ignore their shavers is pretty simple. A well-grown beard makes you look good. "Dude," Banjo whispers to me, "with my beard, I can hide my double chin."