RALEIGH — When you think of truly great beards, the chest-length beauties that spout from the nostrils, the shoulder-touching monsters that engulf a torso like kudzu, the majestic gray waterfalls that tumble down the faces of Civil War generals and Russian novelists, you seldom picture them in Raleigh.
We’ve never been a beard town – not in this century, anyway.
Too hot. Too sticky. Too many opportunities for nesting birds.
Seattle. Alaska. Maine. Those are spots where a hirsute chin comes in handy. Places the sun won’t touch. Places where men wear flannel inside their pants. Places where you mop the beer foam out of your whiskers with a sleeve of your pea coat.
But in recent years, Raleigh has gained enough critical fur mass to map itself in the habitat of hairy-faced males. Blame hipsters if you must. But on July 19, the Triangle Beard and Mustache Club will host Raleigh’s first face-hair competition, our entry into the bristly spotlight.
“It seems to be growing,” said Brandon Honeycutt, 27, only half-joking.
So far, the city’s fuzz-match has drawn 38 competitors from Maryland to South Carolina, and word will surely reach the best-known growers on the circuit.
“I know a guy who goes by Johnny Awesome,” said Brad Cool, 41 and vice president of the Triangle club, whose name is real.
At $10 a ticket, all proceeds benefit Raleigh Rescue Mission. The club holds a strategy session today, as it did last week, where it will no doubt decide the finer points of competitive bearding: Does a Fu Manchu qualify as a beard or a mustache?
“It’s a lifestyle,” said Justin Cox, 33 and club president. “A lot of us got into it watching ‘Whisker Wars.’ It’s such a positive thing. It’s all about how can you serve in your community. We always compare it to ‘Toddlers & Tiaras’ for grown men. Share in this, man. And it’s not just for men. It’s for women.”
For more on that, see all 11 categories of beard excellence.
1.) The Junior Beard, aka the Corporate.
“It’s a little bit more than George Michael,” Cox explained. “We should have a George Michael next year.”
2.) The Natural Mustache.
3.) The Styled Mustache.
4.) The Partial Beard, which includes the subcategories of sideburns, goatee and Donegal, famously sported by Abe Lincoln.
5.) The Women’s Realistic beard, which can be described as a fake beard that looks like a real beard.
“We had one where a woman took the hair off a guy’s face and wore it on her face,” Cox said. “It was kind of a bad ‘Silence of the Lambs’ thing.”
6.) The Women’s Creative beard, which consists of nonhair material shaped into windmills, skyscrapers or the rope bridge from “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”
7.) The Freestyle beard, in which anything goes.
8.) The Groomed beard, including any beard shorter than 8 inches with a styled mustache.
9.) The Full Beard/Styled Mustache, which is a longer version of No. 7.
10.) The 8 inches and Under, which is easily the most crowded field.
11.) The 8 inches and Over. Full-on mountain man.
“That’s the big guns,” said Jay Blevins, 32, who stopped trimming his own beard the day he got married.
I’ve grown a pair of beards in my life, both of them patchy and Lincolnesque, and if I still wore one, I’d consider it an honor just to display it in such august and shaggy company. But for all those who compete in Raleigh, there are tins of Beard Bomb to be won, not to mention stylish pint glasses, and a trophy for the winner fashioned from a gourd and pine cone shavings.
There’s also the prestige that comes from adding your woolly profile to the global pantheon of beardedness, to be mentioned in the same breath as Leo Tolstoy and Stonewall Jackson, to be Raleigh’s face on Mount Beardmore.
Staff writer Clare Myers contributed to this column.