Beards are back and bushier than ever.
"I'm a total sucker for beards,'' comedian Virginia Gay says. ''I like the kind of beard that I can sink my fingers into and lose a digit in. Maybe even a whole limb. The kind of beard that needs its own conditioning routine. And there really are a few out there right now.''
She's not kidding. Facial hedges are thriving. Take a stroll through Bondi or Surry Hills and it's hard to avoid being tickled by bristles. Not since the days of Jesus has the beard had so many disciples.
The beard has been back for a few years now but the trend just keeps growing. And so does the volume of the fuzz. Take Gardening Australia host Costa Georgiadis, once described as half-man, half-hedge. Or the Snowdroppers, the Sydney rock act whose furry chins could frighten small children.
When Grand Royal Barbers opened in Darlinghurst in 1999, co-owner Maria Dillon trimmed about one beard a week. Now she does about 10 a week for clients aged 25 to 35. The trend has really taken off in the past two years, she says.
''Guys come in for a haircut and they have a beard trim, too,'' Dillon says. ''And we're seeing a lot of fuller, longer beards.''
The return of the beard is linked with the rise of the hipster, an urban subspecies that has been breeding wildly in small bars. Hipsters cherry-pick from previous fringe movements such as beat, hippie, punk and grunge, then mix those elements with tokens of ethnicity or gay style. One identifying characteristic of the male hipster is his bushy beard. (Another is his distaste at being called a ''hipster''.)
''First sightings of hipsters in Bondi date back as long ago as late 2008,'' says Christiaan van Vuuren, one half of the Bondi Hipsters comedy duo, whose weekly clips are an online hit.
As the Bondi Hipsters sing on their track, The Life Organic, ''What do you get when you take a hobo, add some emo, and a touch of metro? A hipster! Ha ha! Not me, though!''
Van Vuuren, who sports a mid-length beard, says women nowadays want a manly man. ''For a while, the metrosexual was really challenging for women,'' he says. ''The turning point was the film 300, when every girl started frothing over Gerard Butler. Then Brad Pitt grew a beard and chicks always froth over him. It's normal practice for men these days to use hand creams but, as far as I'm concerned, men are supposed to have calloused hands, big beards and low balls.''
For men, the appeal of the bushy beard is obvious. It requires less effort than a daily shave. For some women, the appeal is its masculinity. ''I want the full rugged beard that smells of cloves and manliness,'' Gay says.
For many men, she adds, beards are the ultimate in anti-grooming grooming. These men may look like they've simply let their faces sprout, while in fact they've been styling and trimming with obsessive zeal. Their untamed look is carefully crafted. Then again, there are men who don't think too much about it.
They just wear a beard and have done for years.''I started growing a beard in 1967,'' film critic David Stratton says. ''That was a goatee but by 1969 it was a full beard. I haven't shaved since. Think of the hours I've saved.''
Stratton hasn't really noticed the current flowering of facial follicles: ''Fashion, as [At the Movies co-host] Ms Pomeranz will confirm, is not my thing.'' Nonetheless, Stratton is, as they say, on trend. And Dillon says that trend hasn't peaked yet. Beyond her vague prediction, however, the hairdresser is too busy to talk. ''Gotta go,'' she says. ''Gotta do a beard trim.''