The Goatee - a Critique
Created | Updated May 28, 2008
It starts as a small follicle on a man's chin. Pretty soon there's a small forest of short and curlies. He's sick of shaving, so he only scrapes off half the whiskers; next thing you know, he's walking around with the facial fashion statement of the 1990s. Enough already. The goatee sprouted on the faces of Seattle rock stars such as Soundgarden's Chris Cornell, and Nirvana's Kurt Cobain at the start of that decade. Grunge is now dead. So is Cobain. The check shirts are long gone. What's so special, so loveable, about this hirsute affectation that it can still be seen flourishing on the chins of men the world over? Oh, they can look pretty cool, depending on the compliment it pays to the wearer's mug. A man's chin is his own business. But why stick a tuft on it, and yet leave the cheeks bare? Why? Why? Please, why?
Fashionable Young Things
I hate shaving, so I'd like to have a full beard because it just frees you from that. But then you start looking like your old geography teacher. I'd see it as middle-aged affectation (he's in his early 30s). I used to make fun of goatee wearers in the early 1990s, whenever the fashionable young things started wearing them. I'd had beards at various times and then one day I shaved one off and left a bit of a goatee. It's a very thin strip and it seems to get smaller and smaller because I shave before I put my contacts in so it gets shaved very rudely.
- The words of an old-enough-to-know-better possessor of a goatee, who is reluctant to use his name - how revealing.
He has even had a barber offer to trim up his tickler. It sounded like the sort of proposition he could refuse, but evidently it was a reference to his facial affectation, the strip under the bottom lip often known as a soul patch.
Fashion's predictable cycle: it starts as counterculture, a statement that the wearer is not like everyone else. Then through some inexplicable symbiosis, it is absorbed into the mainstream and eventually loses its appeal because by the very act of becoming mainstream, it is no longer a statement.
A Place in History
Goatees had their place in history - Buffalo Bill, Lenin, Freud, the finger-licking Colonel Sanders. Satan is often pictured with a flourishing goatee and there is some speculation that this is because his image is based on the half-man, half-goat, Greek god named Pan. In Elizabethan times, it was worn by the smart set - the courtiers and scholars, and Sir Walter Raleigh. Flemish painter Sir Anthony Van Dyck did a series of portraits in the 17th Century of men wearing goatees. In 19th-Century Paris, goatees thrived as a badge on the chins of poets and painters in the Latin Quarter of Paris. Then came 'Gen X'. Followed by Hollywood. Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Bruce Willis, Spike Lee.
A lot of guys have probably thought, 'that's an interesting look for me', or 'it would make me more attractive', or 'different from the way I used to look and a lot of other people look'. And then a lot of people end up adopting that attitude. And then lots of people end up having the same thing. That's when fashion trends become sad and mainstream. It's like piercing and tattoos and scarification. They were very counterculture to begin with and then they started permeating mainstream culture.
That's the point, really. Goatees surely have reached the high-water mark? It's probably levelled out. People are coming up with different ways to construct facial hair. Those really razored sideburns, cut across the cheekbones. You see quite a few of those around these days - and now people are doing a whole lot of different versions of goatees. More like big moustaches, or just that little tuft of hair under the bottom lip, which is just about the most disgusting version of the goatee.
Like, there's a difference. Clearly, it is time to stop acting the goat when everyone from alternative Christian rockers to your local mortgage manager or accountant (well, maybe not accountants) is busy trimming that facial folly. No longer is it a valid, low-maintenance form of self-expression. 20th-Century science fiction film makers often depicted 21st-Century mankind as hairless. Fashion-conscious people everywhere will hope these visionaries are proven correct, at least as far as chins go.