In search of the perfect shave

God forbid

Facial discrimination


Facial Discrimination

This article was published in GQ Active magazine in September 1997. Re-reading this I see that business has become kinder to beards over the years and that most of these strong preventive measures would no longer be tolerated. Here goes:

Beards and moustaches can seriously damage your wealth. Dominic Joyeux finds that stubble can be trouble in the job market.

Cover of GQ Active magazineThere are a quarter of a million men in the UK who would be sacked if they grew a beard. And believe it or not there are millions more worldwide whose jobs specify that they must shave every day. These days facial hair is a hotly contested workplace issue which has caused some militant men to sue companies on the grounds of sexual, racial and religious discrimination. But the fact remains that the majority of employers do not want their male staff to go around looking like the blokes form Z Z Top.

Khalid Aziz, who runs a management consultancy business in Winchester, thinks that beards are seen to be bad for business. "We get sent middle management, high flyers and individuals of high net worth, and thief executives often say to me, "If you do nothing else with him, at least get him to take his beard off." There are presumptions made about people with beards. I've often heard it said that if a man can't be bothered to shave in the morning, then he can't be bothered to work."

There is even a maxim in the City that dictates, "Never lend money to a man with a beard", and this reflects the widely held prejudice that bearded men are trying to hide something and are therefore not to be trusted.

Andrew, a futures broker in the City is aware of this kind of prejudice. "A few guys may grow goatees while on holiday, but when they return they receive so much flak that they have to shave them off. At Lloyds, they prefer the beardless look; this means short hair and a clean shaven complexion for the young traders. There are no rules as such, it's just peer pressure."

Peer pressure? Boss pressure? Surely there is someone who likes the estimated 400,000 bearded men in Britain? My own partner was definitely underwhelmed when I grew one last summer. She liked the initial swarthy look (very George Michael) and the new sensation bristling over her skin. But she lost her enthusiasm in the second week of growth, when the chin is caught in that fuzzy no-man's land between designer stubble and kosher beard.

She gave my fortnight's growth the thumbs-down with the A A Gill line, "Beards on anyone under 150, look absurd." It would seem that my girlfriend is one of the 85% of women who disapprove of full facial hair on their partners.

Margaret Thatcher certainly didn't beat about the bush. She said, "I wouldn't tolerate any minister of mine wearing a beard" and not one dared try. New labour is so worried about the 30 men with facial hair in its party, that the image consultants are urging them to come clean. Moustaches are seen as the trademark of wide boys - spivs like George Cole at St Trinians and James Beck in Dad's Army. Spin-doctor Peter Mandelson was the first to sacrifice his tash for the cause. But the bearded front line of David Blunkett, Robin Cook and Frank Dobson are holding onto theirs, and it's unlikely that Tony Blair will risk splitting hairs with his heavyweights.

Face fuzz might just about be acceptable at Westminster, but you'll never see a bearded fireman, soldier or airman among their combined ranks of 200,000 men. Unless he is working undercover, the most any soldier can grow is a moustache, and that mustn't come down over the upper lip. A recruit has to ask permission if he wants to grow one, and if it is granted he has to do so on his fortnight's leave or while on night manoeuvres. No stubble on duty. No excuses.

The navy doesn't allow moustaches (Queen Victoria insisted that her mariners shouldn't have one) but a 'full set' (a beard) is permitted. Some sailors even have beard-growing competitions at sea with the captain deciding on the best and worst beards. Woe betide the poor sailor who can only manage a straggly covering of bum fluff à la Shaggy in Scooby Doo. A failed beard is an ex-beard, and is shaved off before reaching shore.

Back on British soil, there are few professions that have written rules prohibiting beards but where it seems to be a matter of practice or convention to go bare-faced. Traditionally, barristers and judges have not had beards, and butlers, too, tend to go clean shaven. (Geoffrey, the bearded butler in Fresh Prince of Bel Air is a televisual misrepresentation.) Ivor Spencer, who tutors butlers in London, explains: "Butlers have very, very high standards. To avoid body odour and bad breath, they must clean their teeth seven or eight times a day and bath twice a day. Of the 130 butlers that I've trained up and sent to royalty or abroad, only four have kept their beards. I know for a fact that theses four go to a hairdresser twice a week for a trim and that they wash their beards at least once or even twice a day.

Tradition may not play as large a part in beard discrimination in the United Stares, but money counts for a lot. Entrepreneurs Ross Perot, Walt Disney and Thomas Monaghan have all run hugely successful businesses while employing strict anti-beard policies for their US and UK workers.

Texan billionaire Perot also allowed no beards on his Presidential campaign staff, and issued a "code of ethics" for workers at his EDS computer company that prohibited the wearing of beards and insisted that women wore tights at all times. Walt Disney's UK Casting Department for Florida's Disneyworld and Disneyland Paris will still not allow facial hair, even though Walt himself always wore a moustache. Thomas Monaghan's Domino's Pizza, with over 5,000 outlets worldwide, has spent six years in the US courts defending its company policy, which bans beards.

In Britain, the Domino's chain sticks to its founder's preferred no-beards policy on the grounds of kitchen hygiene. The company confirms that if one of its motorbike delivery drivers did grow a beard - even though he would never touch the boxed pizza- then he would have to wear a rather less than stylish beard net.

This was such a lovely image that I contacted the BBC's Food and Drink programme to ask why Michael "Crafty Cook" Barry didn't wear a net over his beard. Luckily for Barry, the programme's producer Tim Hincks intercepted the call. "We've done 250 episodes of Food and Drink with an average audience of five million, and we've never had a single letter complaining about Michael's beard," he told me.

"If a cook had long hair dangling down with little animals dropping out of it, then we'd have complaints. But Michael, Anthony Worrall-Thompson of Ready, Steady Cook and the famous Nico Ladenis, all have closely cropped beards that they keep clean and tidy."

Furthermore, all three celebrity chefs can sleep soundly at night, safe in the knowledge that they'll never get hit on by Margaret Thatcher at a party.