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Beards: Coming Soon to an Exec's Face Near You

Mens facial hair, image and appearance, personal style, image consultation

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"Acceptance is growing for facial hair within the financial services industry, and whiskers can indeed do wonders for some men’s mugs.

Since Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein appeared in late January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, sporting stubble, more attention seems to have been paid to his beard than to the forum itself.

While beards and mustaches have permeated hipster culture for years, facial hair is now beginning to catch on among more conservative, once clean-shaven financial professionals.

But men should beware: While a close-cropped Bernanke-style beard can impart an air of stateliness, a Chewbacca-length soup strainer may look more Rasputin than Hemingway.

“Facial hair sends a message that you’re not afraid to take a challenge, you’re not afraid to take risk,” says Erika Chloe, CEO of My Image Expert, a New York–based image-consulting, personal shopping and personal styling service. “Finance, along with many other industries, is becoming more casual. People want to stand out.… Facial hair can work to your benefit, as long as it’s not hanging off of your face.”

Workers under 35 years of age tend to be more accepting of facial hair than their elder peers, Chloe says, though beards are still sparse in offices.

“We really are a minority, but it does seem to be [more common],” says Ben Norquist, CEO of Convergent Retirement Plan Solutions. Norquist grew his goatee about 15 years ago while on a fishing trip in Norway, returning home with the prominent souvenir. “I decided it was marginally better than the previous version of me, so I decided to keep it.”

Length and cleanliness are critical to successfully wearing a beard. Whiskers should generally not be long enough to grab, and the borders should be shaved smooth, especially before meeting with a client, Chloe says. On mornings before a critical meeting, it pays to use an electric shaver rather than a blade, she adds, noting that razors tend to cause more irritation and unsightly nicks.

“The key is to keep it neat and tidy,” says Aspire Financial Services CEO Pete Kirtland, who for 27 years has maintained a carefully sculpted mustache. While clients and colleagues now tend not to notice, an overgrown cookie duster would certainly attract attention. “If it were out of control, they would definitely look at you differently…. I trim it every two or three days.”

Facial hair can improve some men’s appearances. A beard can cover blemishes or hide a double chin, making one’s face look slimmer, Chloe notes.

But there can be unforeseen difficulties in maintaining a beard. Facial hair may not fill in well, leaving obvious patchy areas, Chloe says. And often, whiskers do not match one’s hair color. However, a bit of dye can fix a gray streak, Chloe says.

Facial hair also tends to make a man look older, though that could work in one’s favor in financial services.

“It is part of your image. While some people say that [shaving] would make me look younger, I don’t know that that’s necessarily a good thing, in the position I’m in,” Aspire’s Kirtland says. “We’re basically safeguarding billions of dollars in retirement-plan assets. People want to feel you’re older and wiser.”

That notion has some support. Pimco CEO Mohamed El-Erian proudly wears a mustache, and until recently so did the firm’s founder, Bill Gross.

Firms’ workplace policies typically do not discourage facial hair; forbidding beards could clash with certain religious beliefs, law firms often warn. T Rowe Price, for example, has a policy for employee attire but not for hygiene or grooming. Workers are nonetheless expected to present themselves as professionals, according to a spokesman.

Some firms even support facial hair, at least seasonally. A large group of SunLife employees has participated in “Movember” by growing mustaches during the month of November and raising funds for cancer research.

Financial professionals considering a beard can usually gauge the aesthetic success of the venture early on through coworkers’ reactions, Chloe says.

“People are very quick to give their opinion, even if they’re not asked for it,” Chloe says. “That will tell you whether facial hair is a good idea or a bad idea.”

Conversely, removal of a well-established beard or mustache could surprise people. Perhaps more dramatic than the ballyhoo over Blankfein’s new beard would be the world’s analysis of Bernanke shaving his.

“It probably would be big news, and people would speculate it was a fundamental change in his plans or his thinking. People do tend to read into it,” Norquist says. Regardless, he adds that the clear benefit of facial hair is obvious in January.

“It’s 34 below this morning in Minnesota, so that’s the best justification for it.”

By Emile Hallez February 4, 2013 - Ignites

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