BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- Some guys express their anger about the recession by tussling with London bobbies outside the G20 meeting. Some guys protest more silently -- by letting their beards grow.
Hence the "recession beard," a theory propounded by Philips' Norelco and its recently retained brand spokesman, Esquire grooming editor and New York salon owner Rodney Cutler. Mr. Cutler said he believes more men are letting it all grow out as an act of "playful rebellion," a sign of defiance and of not being a "corporate slave."
Not to mention a sign of not being employed. Hundreds of thousands of layoffs monthly are reducing the number of men who feel the need to shave daily. All of that would seem to be bad news for makers of shaving products. But it's not, actually, for Norelco, which also makes products for grooming beards and stubble.
Sales up for electric groomers
Sales of electric groomers, including products such as the Norelco BodyGroom as well as devices for facial-hair grooming, grew 3% in 2008, according to Philips. Multipurpose kits that address beard trimming grew 4%, compared with flat sales for electric razors, said spokeswoman Shanon Jenest. Norelco has benefited disproportionately, with a 24% lift in sales of grooming products last year, she said
"Everything points to a very healthy category with new users coming in," she said.
"I don't think everyone decided all of a sudden to grow a beard," Mr. Cutler said. "I think it's more this desire to be a little more natural and organic and casual. We saw it in Hollywood, and now it's hitting Main Street. The recession is obviously a big part of that. A lot of people are coming in, they've lost their jobs, and this is their time to let go a little bit."
Like the recession, this beard thing has been a long time coming. First goatees gave way to pervasive stubble among urban hipsters earlier in the decade. Now the stubble is giving way to full-blown beards, Mr. Cutler said.
It's a bitter pill to swallow for the wet-shave crowd, led by Procter & Gamble Co.'s Gillette, which has been pointing out in ads lately that its Fusion blades cost only $1 a week.
End of a trend?
But the recession beard could actually mark the peak of a decade-long trend to be followed inevitably by a shift toward clean-shaven faces down the road, Mr. Cutler said.
To be sure, all this is based more on observation than on data. Even the folks you would expect to have statistics on men's grooming proclivities -- including Gillette and Norelco -- don't.
"We don't have any hard data to back up what's happening," said a spokeswoman for Gillette in an e-mail. But, she added, "we believe it's more important than ever for guys out of work to be well-groomed, because they never know when they'll meet someone who could help them get work. Let's face it -- the guy who's clean-shaven and showered has a better chance of getting the job (or keeping the job, or getting/keeping the girl for that matter) than the scruffy, grungy guy."
She said, however, that Gillette welcomes Mr. Cutler's theory that the recession beard could represent the culmination of a trend that will give way to a return to clean-shaven faces.