Once the mark of the itinerant folk musician, the beard is now a carefully manicured accessory for the upwardly mobile gentleman. For most of the 20th century, the beard was cruelly stigmatised as unruly, untidy and generally uncouth. But happily, these days a strong beard is recognised as the symbol of bushrangerly virility it really is.
But no beard is an island. Being the custodian of a beard means taking responsibility for grooming, trimming and feeding it every day. In other words, you’ve got to take good care of your beard or people will begin to think you’re an itinerant folk musician. Not that that’s a bad thing. But, you know. We spoke to one of Melbourne’s foremost beard specialists, Fab Sfameni of Uncle Rocco’s Barber in Port Melbourne, who rightly considers himself an expert on the subject.
“I kind of specialise in beards,” Sfameni explains, priming his clippers. “I had a really big clientele called ‘the bears’. They used to come to me in Richmond back in 1995 and a lot of them used to have really, really big beards. I started specialising in beards and got a real following.”
With the resurgent popularity of the modern non-bear beard, Sfameni has had his work cut out for him.
To groom and shape a beard, a barber will use his clippers, scissors and a straight razor. His plan, generally, is to take some of the beard’s thickness out of the cheeks while keeping some weight and length at the bottom. Think Ned Kelly. “It’s like trimming a hedge, really. You’ve got to get it right. I like to be able to look at the face, and trim it into the face,” says Sfameni, lining up the beard in question in the mirror.
He also assiduously trims the moustache, which, as anyone who’s ever even seen a beard will know, is essentially a pantry for food that doesn’t make it into your mouth.
Once Sfameni has trimmed the beard into a pleasing shape, he breaks out the straight razor to make a line around the neck. As a second-generation barber, Sfameni’s own father tended Melbourne’s beards before him. He remembers watching his dad readying the cutthroat razors on a Monday morning.
“Back in the day when my Dad was shaving, he’d have seven cutthroat blades, a Bunsen burner out the back and he’d heat the blades up,” he recalls. “It was awesome.”
Sfameni’s dad kept the blades so sharply stropped that he’d only have to use one per day. These days, however, cutthroats simply aren’t practical for barbers, who have to have to change the blade after every shave. The good news, according to Sfameni, is that modern razors are just as good as the traditional blade.
“I wouldn’t say it’s better. My dad would probably admit you can get the same shave,” he says. “The best thing is that they’ve made cutthroats now that are similar to the old style. They’ve got a bit of heaviness, and they feel like a normal cutthroat.”
Controversially, Sfameni shaves up the cheek above the beard, which he believes gives it a better line. “It’s a good idea to shave above the beard,” he explains, his razor snaking up the face. “Plus, there’s just really light hairs there you’ve got to deal with.”
Once Sfameni’s satisfied with his beard topiary, he brushes our Beardo off and sprays him down with a pungent, rum-based cologne. He assures that it will have an intoxicating effect on whoever catches its scent.
As far as beard-care goes, there are a number of specialist shampoos that soften the coarse follicles, though some beard enthusiasts recommend washing them with soap. Conditioners will also do some important work in keeping the thing under control. There are also a range of unguents and potions designed to keep your beard healthy, though our expert urges caution on that front.
“I wouldn’t use wax on a beard. I’d use oil on a beard,” says Sfameni. “But I’d use wax on a moustache. If you want to get a good curl on your moustache, you need a strong wax to curl it.”
Sfameni reckons his work is good for about a month before it needs another trim, though he suggests that beard-wearers should feel free to eradicate any stray hairs. Otherwise, he advises, you should probably just leave the thing alone.
“Give it probably four to six weeks and you can probably start combing your beard a bit to put it in place,” he ventures. “If the beard’s groomed properly, then you shouldn’t have to comb it. It should be cut properly so it just sits there.”
If you do get the temptation to give beard sculpting a go at home, a pair of clippers and a barber’s comb will help, but as anyone who’s ever cut their own hair knows: we have professionals for a very good reason.
Uncle Rocco's Barber Shop
1 Fennell Street, Port Melbourne
0403 283 837