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Jack Passion is the two-time world champion in the full beard natural category. In the bearding world, he's known as "Big Red." IFC.com

The beard is back: Locally and in pop culture, facial hair becoming fashionable

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FARGO - At the Red Raven Espresso Parlor last week, 29-year-old Adam Quesnell, with his long and wispy beard, was ready for standup comedy night.

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Quesnell wasn't the only one in the house with facial hair though; a portion of the audience was there for a beard contest that preceded the comedy (Quesnell wasn't participating).

Quesnell, a comedian, says he grows his beard because "it looks great." And, as the night's well-attended beard contest would suggest, he thinks that beards, and facial hair in general, are starting to become more popular.

Indeed, the beard contest wasn't the only facial hair-related event going on recently. Movember, a mustache-growing contest finished last Thursday with a party at Rhombus Guys Pizza.

And, just a few months away, there's the annual Bros on Broadway fundraiser held at the Hotel Donaldson in February.

Bill Lempe, who participates in Bros on Broadway every year by growing out his facial hair, agrees that beards - and we're talking the large, full, even scruffy types - are becoming more common around Fargo-Moorhead.

"I feel like there are a lot more beards in the last five to 10 years than when I was younger," Lempe says, adding that it just seems to be a style that's caught on lately. "Just like hair styles change, people do different things, their own style."

Hilary Seeger, a new talent student at Josef's School of Hair Design in Fargo, also sees the popularity of beards and facial hair as a recent trend.

"It's kind of like a social status," she says. "To see it in magazines, on TV, walking down the street, (growing facial hair) is a very trendy thing to be doing right now."

Perhaps not surprisingly, pop culture is seen as driving the recent facial hair trends.

"You see it in Hollywood," Seeger says. "Brad Pitt, Jake Gyllenhaal - they're hot. It's a gruff, sexy look."

Like celebrities such as Pitt or Gyllenhaal, musicians often drive beard trends as well (Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill of the rock group ZZ Top have perhaps some of the most iconic beards of all time).

Tom Johnson, guitarist for the Fargo-Moorhead-based Johnson Family Band, says he's been seeing a lot more beards in his fellow musicians.

"A lot of people in pop culture are growing out their beards," he says. "In the Minnesota roots music scene, we're mostly dudes with glasses, hats and beards."

But as popular as beards may be these days, both Lempe and Johnson agree that having a full beard doesn't come without a certain sense of stigma or some unwanted attention.

Johnson says that he often has people come up to touch his beard without asking.

"I don't know what it is about it," he says. "They just feel like they have the right to touch it. That can be sometimes annoying."

Lempe, meanwhile, finds himself enduring ridicule from his loved ones. His family, he says, will sometimes ask him why he doesn't stand closer to his razor.

"There are definitely groups of folks who think that shaving every day is the way to go," he says.

And, with the worst part of winter yet to come, bearded folks agree there are some downsides to having a beard during the season (despite the undisputable warmth it gives).

Johnson says he often is plagued by a case of "old man beard" during winter, when his beard becomes white and frosty.

What's worse, Lempe says a beard during winter can pose difficulties for eating.

"There are times when you have a big bushy beard and all you want to do is eat a warm cup of soup," he says. "It's more trouble than it's worth."

But the downsides aren't enough to make either Johnson or Lempe shave their beards, they say. For them, having a beard helps to give them a unique character or identity.

Johnson points to congressmen from the 1800s that had the kind of large, distinctive beards that we don't see in our politicians today.

"I look back at those pictures, and I just think there's just more character to their look back then," he adds.

More than just character, Seeger says she sees men growing beards because it helps them seem manlier.

"A lot of guys can grow only patchy facial hair," she says.

Jokingly, Johnson says his beard is his "one claim to manhood."

"I can't fix anything," he says, "but I can grow a beard extremely fast."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535

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