Cheetos. Legos. Googly eyes. Christmas ornaments. Toy soldiers. Froot Loops. Dandelions. Tiny rubber duckies.
If it’s a small, lightweight item, there’s a good chance Johnathan Dahl and Brian Delaurenti have stuck it in their beards. The Portland duo runs an Instagram account called “The Gay Beards,” a gallery of follicular fancy that boasts almost 240,000 followers. Delaurenti and Dahl have been best friends since childhood—early entrepreneurial ventures included selling Oregonian subscriptions and raking leaves in their Beaverton neighborhood—and in 2014, a goofy experiment with flowers from Dahl’s parents’ garden catapulted their current enterprise. From flowers, they moved to Rice Krispies, feathers, and fall leaves.
Then came the glitter beards. Delaurenti and Dahl, who both turn 28 this spring, helped spearhead the sparkly trend, which went viral in 2015. “We realized later that glitter is not very biodegradable,” Delaurenti says. “Now whenever we do glitter beards, we salvage as much as we can.” (While shooting, they also walk around with plastic bags tucked around their beards and over their ears to minimize the mess.) Soon after, thanks to brand sponsorships, they quit their day jobs.
Though the project began in the spirit of whimsy, it’s made them into unlikely activists. “Just naming it ‘the Gay Beards,’ to a lot of people that’s a revolutionary statement,” Delaurenti says, adding that the two regularly get messages of gratitude from internet fans. (They’ll expound on that topic on April 21 at TEDxPortland, where they’re slated to speak about love and hate.)
Along the way, the two have also learned all kinds of other lessons. Like, umm, Vaseline? Great beard moisturizer. Terrible Skittle glue.
“We had these rainbow, Vaseline-smeared beards,” Delaurenti says.
“Vaseline does not come out,” Dahl adds.
“Our beards were so soft!” interjects Delaurenti.
“We made such a mess,” replies Dahl.
“We felt pretty defeated,” Delaurenti concedes.
“It was terrible,” Dahl concludes.
But bamboo skewers? Revolutionary. Once they realized they could hot-glue skewers to tiny items—from M&Ms to dreidels to blueberries—their options for facial hair frippery flourished. The skewers interlock into scaffolding within the duo’s beards. “Skewers changed our lives,” Delaurenti says. “Bobby pins are crucial, too.” Also important: pre-shampoo, beard oil, wax, and hairspray (Aussie Instant Freeze Level 4, in case you were wondering).
Dahl and Delaurenti, who do all the styling and photography themselves, bring that hard-earned wisdom to the masses via how-to videos on YouTube. Their glitter beard video has nearly 650,000 views.
They’ve got plenty more in the works, too, including dreams of a coffee table book and a kids’ books. So what’ll we see in their beards next? They tease the possibility of saltwater taffy, mini Rubik’s Cubes, maybe bacon. But one item, according to one half of the duo, is off-limits.
“Brian has always wanted to do live ladybugs,” Dahl says. “I refuse.”