“A beard is a scarf that works great while bike riding,” and other observations on the significance of facial hair in the beardiest city in America.

By Paige Williams May 19, 2009 Published in the January 2009 issue of Portland Monthly

Lately we’ve noticed scruff on more than just a few faces. In fact, Portland may be the beardiest city in America right now. Here’s our proof.

John Wray, 36, SE, bartender/artist

“I started growing a beard to appear older, wiser, but more so to look burly, and because it was a way to stand out. That was 1997, and almost twelve years later I continue to grow it because it’s become a part of my personality. It’s one of the things I’m known for, including bad jokes and drinking beer in dive bars. As far as it being a Portland thing, I think it’s more of a young hipster thing and that they are growing beards for the same reason I started. I suppose ‘back to nature’ would describe a good number of beards on older men, in their thirties and forties. I think of them as mountain-man types. Myself, I’m just gonna let it grow.”

Greg Hennes, 29, SE, partner in camera & lighting company


Greg Hennes, 29, SE, partner in camera & lighting company

“Whether or not the hairy plume of fully bearded face is a strictly Portland phenomenon, I care not to proffer. Rather, I’ll make a broad generalization about the city I call home and why it makes conducive the opportunity for a wide range of men (even those who by any measure cannot be considered members of the BOB, Brotherhood of the Beard) to grow and sport facial hair. It is here, near the end of the Oregon Trail, where explorers from all walks of life came to seek a better life. The fruitful, silty soil of the Willamette Valley offered women and men, children and dogs (and oxen, according to the Oregon Trail video game), the perfect life. Under these conditions, little more than hoeing the soil and tending one’s flock was important—personal grooming habits and matters of hygiene took a distant second. Later, when the hippies arrived (which, incidentally, screwed everything up), they, too, didn’t care about grooming (or) their own stink.

“What we can take from this history lesson is that our ancestors’ utopian vision has manifested itself in the men of Oregon (and some women, too) being able to grow beards unencumbered. We have a populace and an electorate whose easy-like-Sunday-morning attitude allows all of those who are too lazy or cheap to buy a razor the good grace to go without one. Mostly I’ve grown a beard because I’m just too lazy to shave.”

Mark Searcy, 33, NE, art director 


Mark Searcy, 33, NE, art director

“There are many benefits to having a beard—warmth, protection from beard burn while making out, not having to shave every day, etc.—but ultimately the only reason I have one is because I simply enjoy beards. I enjoy looking at them. I enjoy having one of my own. I’ve had mine for about seven years now. I started growing it as soon as my face would allow enough hair to at least cover the empty patches on my baby face. I had to patiently endure a whole year, waiting for the sides to fill in. About three years ago, I added a handlebar mustache. I like the idea of groomed mustaches and am fascinated with old portraits of gentlemen and their distinctive facial-hair variations of olde. I am tired of the way our culture has turned to jeans ’n’ tees for everything. It all feels so lazy and dated. I look at old, classic photos and wonder what happened to the fedoras, the suits, the ties, the bearded gentlemen. Bring back the gentlemen!”

Seth Gross, 35, N, bar owner


Seth Gross, 35, N, bar owner

“I’ve never seen my dad without (a beard); as my brother and I became adults (my dad) would express disappointment, friendly of course, at our lack of trying to grow one, and for keeping our hair too short! After high school, I moved to a fishing and logging town in Alaska. Beards were everywhere. Some of the beardos we’d see up there blew my mind. Beards that are more than four decades old! It created a sense of normalcy—a big beard was typical. Another reason I love beards is my personal distaste for manicured facial hair. Focusing on what part of your face to shave and what not to shave, without irony, seems a little vain. Heck, even just shaving on a regular basis seems like you’re trying too hard. I feel lucky to be part of a community that embraces beards. My beard-growing goes with my life philosophy: not why, but why not?

“(Yet) I have been contemplating a change; all my friends at work have implored me not to shave. This leads to what might be a drawback to having a big beard: it becomes who you are, a permanent part of your identity. Without the beard, would I get the same respect from friends and strangers? Would I miss being part of the club? Are these things I should worry about? As far as this particular beard: although I still struggle as far as sideburns are concerned, this beard is definitely my best yet.”

Justin "Scrappers" Morrison, 30, SE, writer & activist


Justin ‘Scrappers’ Morrison, 30, SE, writer & activist

“A beard is many things for me.

“A beard is a bullshit filter. It keeps me from working at lame places and interacting with lame people.

“A beard is a reminder that I am wild, that my roots are from the wilderness.

“A beard is a scarf that works great while bike riding in this climate—it’s better than wool!

“A beard is a confident vote for manliness.

“A beard is a friend who is always there to give you a hug.

“A beard honors all the loggers who lost limbs and died harvesting the timber that built our great city—these buildings are made of old-growth Douglas fir and gravel dust from Mount Hood.

“A beard helps solidify the cultural significance of the Pacific Northwest and the rugged people who live here.”

Brush up on your facial hair history with our web exclusive: Whiskery History, Trendsetters of the Bearded Northwest.

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