The Manual’s Guide to Shaping a Beard
Like the man who wears it, a beard is prone to wildness.
While it’s fun to dance with the comely coquette called chaos every once in a while, sometimes a man needs to take stock of his life and rein it in. In facial hair terms, you should really learn how to shape your beard. For help learning how to shape a beard, we turned to Karen Lynn Accattato, who has helped many high-profile men look their best — including the cast of Empire, numerous professional athletes, and a former community organizer named Barack Obama.
Finding Your Beard Shape
Since every beard is special, there are no set of rules that apply to everyone. For year-round care, we’ve compiled her thoughts on shaping shorter, cooler beards and managing longer beards over time, too.
“When I look at a face, I look at it as a landscape,” says Karen. “I’m looking at structure. I love to see the top of the cheekbones, and I like everything to be in proportion. I think if you have a very narrow face, a big heavy beard is kind of overpowering, but if you have a wider face, you can do a wider beard. Just keep it in proportion with your bone structure.”
Reconciling Beard and Head Hair
If you’re going to rock a beard, you should also think about longer locks, too. While a close-cropped beard looks just fine with short hair, a longer beard with short hair can end up looking goofy. “[Your beard] has to be in proportion to the hair on your head,” says Karen. “I’m one who likes harmony and symmetry. So as long as there’s a balance, I think it works. It’s hard if you have thinning hair and you’re wearing a big heavy beard; I think it’s out of proportion.”
Karen has a number of great suggestions for trimming your beard. “When it comes to trimming, using a clipper with a guard is very easy,” she says. “You know, to take off the bulk of the beard so it doesn’t get too heavy looking.” If you don’t have one already, it’s worth investing in a beard trimmer with several guard sizers. I, the author, am personally partial to ¼ and ⅜-inch guards for a close, coiffed look. Start with the longer guard sizes, then work your way down until you find the right length for you.
If you know your way around a pair of scissors, you might also try the scissors over the comb technique for precise cutting. Or you could combine the two methods by using a comb and your beard trimmer on the lowest setting. You can check out more suggestions for trimming your beard here.
Related: How to Grow a Beard
Shaping the Sideburns
If you’re growing a full beard, you’ll need to figure out where the hair on your head ends and your beard begins. We’re talking about sideburns. Too many bearded men dismiss this area as a grooming No Man’s Land, allowing the hair around the ears to grow too long. “If you’re adept with clippers, or with a comb, you can do what a barber does — you can create a nice taper. It’s the best way to blend, and I think it’s easy to do with a clipper.” Again, start out taking just a little hair at a time until you get a taper that looks acceptable. Over time, tapering your ‘burns will become second nature.
Men grow beards for many different reasons. For some men, the idea is to go for a more natural look; however, there’s nothing good about a caveman “neckbeard.” Drawing the neckline too high can also be problematic, making you look unnatural and overgroomed. Generally speaking, a good neckline should be a natural extension down from the curve of your ear. The hair should pass about 1-1.5 inches above the Adam’s apple, in the territory between neck and head.
The bushy mustache may work for legendary cowboy Sam Eliott, but it doesn’t look so great on the rest of us. The “goatee area” around your mouth deserves some special attention when you’re shaping your beard. “Make sure your mustache isn’t going over the upper lip,” says Karen. “You can use a rounded scissors to trim that — the same rounded scissors that you use to trim your nosehairs are good to also trim that upper lip area.” As for the area around your soul patch, shape it carefully using your clipper’s narrow head attachment.
Karen’s beard-shaping philosophy can be summed up in one sentence: “I think a beard can be hot as long as it doesn’t take away from the rest of your face.” Learning how to shape a beard is an art that requires discipline and plenty of experimentation. No one knows your beard better than you, so we recommend sampling products and techniques that work best for you. Don’t be afraid to go nuts — remember, beards grow back.