Facial Hair Comes to Curitiba
By B. Michael Rubin
Men’s appearances, like women’s, are subject to the whims of fashion. Styles fluctuate with the winds of whimsy. The length of women’s skirts, for example, vary from season to season, as do the cut of men’s suits. No one can predict which styles will be popular, as every fashion designer will profess while showing his collections in New York, Milan, Paris, or São Paulo. Sometimes, fashion trends are started by Hollywood, or in Brazil by the evening novelas (soap opera).
For example, this year witnessed the woman’s style of wearing longer blouses that extend onto the backside. The blouse hangs out in the back, but it is tucked in to the front of the woman’s pants, a style that was popularized in a novela. A few years ago, an evening novela set in India brought more colorful fabrics into women’s clothing along with the wearing of multiple gold bracelets.
Similarly, tiger- or leopard-print clothing for women is popular these days in Curitiba, and can also be glimpsed in patterns for bedding and blankets. Additionally, young women are experimenting with a new style for the arriving warm weather – mini-skirts that from the back reveal themselves to actually be shorts. Last summer, the young women were wearing cut-off denim shorts, generally worn very short so the pockets were visible, with extraneous strings of fabric dangling down the leg as if the girls had made the shorts themselves.
Likewise, women’s shoe styles change every year, and today we are seeing the appearance of the Romanesque style in Curitiba. The designs – from high heeled evening shoes to flat sandals – are copying a style popularized in movie re-creations of ancient Rome and Egypt, with several leather straps that wrap around the ankle and can extend all the way up the calf.
The same custom of changing styles holds true for physical appearances as for clothing and accessories, with the noted exception that as one’s appearance has more permanence, it changes less frequently. Certain colors of nail polish are popular for a few years, for example. In Brazil for many years, it’s been popular for women to dye or streak their dark hair with layers of blond or red.
Not surprisingly, it’s common in Brazil to see women paying greater attention to their appearance than men. At a social event, a Brazilian woman might be wearing a dress or skirt with high heels, full make-up, jewelry, and a fresh manicure/pedicure, but her husband will be wearing blue jeans and sneakers. While the man’s clothing must be neat and clean, it’s clearly much faster for a man to get dressed than a woman. A shower and a shave, and he’s ready.
Although men are less governed by the dictates of fashion, some customs do apply to them, as both men and women are subject to the laws of vanity. Additionally, it’s often the wives who are buying clothes for their husbands and deciding which clothes their husbands will wear to parties or restaurants. While fashion trends apply to men also, men have less options than women – dyeing a man’s hair blond or choosing between flat shoes and high heels is not an option.
However, a new trend has appeared in Curitiba recently that has not been seen for decades and perhaps has never been popular in the history of the country. Today, when men are preparing for a party and their wives are choosing their clothes, the women are instructing the men not to shave! Facial hair is showing a dramatic rise as an acceptable style for men. While showing a growth of a few days is fashionable, we are also seeing the appearance of beards and mustaches.
Only recently is it common to see men in Curitiba with facial hair, and even now, it’s still a minority of men. Just a few years ago, it was impossible to find any man in this city of three million with a beard or mustache, with the exception of a few university students.
Why trends begin or end is impossible to say. While TV can influence women’s fashion in Brazil, there’s no way to predict which particular novelty will appeal to millions of people simultaneously and become a popular trend. Similarly, why beards and mustaches are appearing now in Curitiba is anybody’s guess. Certainly, this new look for men’s faces didn’t originate in Curitiba. Possibly the soap operas, which originate in Rio, influenced men in Rio, which spread to São Paulo and then to Curitiba.
Additionally, the popularity and the large number of Brazilian films influence men’s and women’s fashions, not to mention the trends arriving from Hollywood, whose films have had a huge impact on Brazil, going back 50 years to the days of Disney cartoons, probably the first American movies to be dubbed into Portuguese. (It’s no surprise that Disney World remains the number one tourist destination for Brazilians traveling to the US.)
While facial hair on men is more common in larger cities like Rio and São Paulo than it is in Curitiba, even in a city as ethnically diverse as New York, where 50 percent of the city’s residents were born outside the US, until now it has been common to see beards and mustaches only on younger men. Facial hair has not been popular among middle-aged men in the US, particularly the wealthy and powerful, for many decades.
However, these days, even the most powerful men in the US have begun growing beards. For the first time in over a century, an increasing number of the world’s business leaders are showing facial hair. Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin, Goldman Sachs’s CEO Lloyd C. Blankfein, and Marc Benioff, the billionaire founder and chief executive of Salesforce, are only a few prominent examples.
For most of the 20th century, beards and mustaches grew only at the margins of society. In the United States the founding fathers – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin – would never have dreamed of wearing facial hair. The same clean-shaven look, without a beard or mustache, also prevailed throughout Europe among the wealthy and powerful capitalist class.
Interestingly, in Europe in the 1830s and 1840s, socialists and other critics of capitalism began growing beards. As a young man, Friedrich Engels, who would go on to write The Communist Manifesto with Karl Marx, organized a mustache evening among his friends to make fun of clean-shaven bourgeois capitalists. Marx himself cultivated a huge beard and thick mustache.
While the invention of the safety razor by King C. Gillette in 1901 is often blamed for the demise of the beard, businessmen (and labor leaders eager to avoid the image of radicalism) had already opted for a neatly trimmed mustache before going entirely clean-shaven at the beginning of the 20th century.
Since then, beards and mustaches have all but disappeared among politicians. The businessman of 20th-century America was always clean-shaven, his individuality subsumed into a larger, corporate identity. Iconic critics of capitalism such as Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, and Ho Chi Minh kept alive the identification of facial hair with leftist politics.
However, beards and mustaches are now becoming popular on men in the US – both young and old, college students and CEOs. Like women’s fashions that change frequently, it’s impossible to predict whether the new trend is a passing fad, or whether it will remain popular for decades.
Whatever happens, it’s interesting to observe changes in women’s and men’s appearances and how trends move quickly around the world these days, thanks to TV and the Internet. Also, it’s comforting to know that Curitiba has joined the recent men’s facial revolution, and that Brazilian men now have an option when it comes to their faces. Only time will tell if facial hair on men is here to stay. I suspect it will depend on whether Brazilian women are pleased about it.
Michael Rubin is an American living in Curitiba.