Interest in beards continues to grow

WHEELING – Wheeling, and the state of West Virginia in general, seems to have a growing problem.

In celebration of West Virginia’s 150th birthday last year, the turnout for the first ever Wheeling Beers and Beards Contest at River City Aleworks was much better than anticipated and demonstrated a trend in beard growing among men in the Mountain State that remains strong even a year later.

“We had a really good event,” Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation Executive Director Jeremy Morris said.

The WNHAC worked with River City to organize the contest, which consisted of multiple categories presided over by a panel of judges.

About a dozen participants showed off their beards. Those who participated varied in age and lifestyle, Morris said, from those who had been growing their beards all their lives to those who had grown one out specifically for the contest.

Morris and West Virginia Independence Hall Site Manager Travis Henline were among the latter. Both Henline and Morris grew their facial hair not only for the contest, but also in honor of the 150th birthday. Henline grew his out as part of his portrayal of Francis Pierpont – the Father of West Virginia – in the sesquicentennial celebrations. For him, the experience was as much a history lesson as a fashion statement.

“The mid-nineteenth century was the era of the great facial hair,” Henline said. “That was kind of the fashion of the time.”

Henline said the majority of politicians involved in the state’s birth had facial hair, some dramatically styled and some more subtle. Of more than 50 leaders exhibited in one Independence Hall exhibit, Henline said only about seven were clean-shaven.

Likewise facial hair seems to be making a comeback, both in popular culture and in everyday life, according to Misty Carman, an employee for the Wheeling School of Cosmetology. She said most men who grow beards these days do so as a form of self-expression.

“It is a part of them. It makes them look different, feel different,” Carman said.

She added that good grooming is essential even when deliberately letting facial hair grow long.

“Neat or trim beards are in,” she said.

At West Virginia’s 151st birthday Henline now sports a clean-shaven face, but Morris continues to grow his facial hair, carefully styling it for special occasions.

“I actually grew it out for the Greenwood Cemetery tour, so you can come and see it there,” Morris said, refering to the guided tour of Greenwood Cemetery in Wheeling scheduled for noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. He said the WNHAC also hopes to revisit the beard growing contest in the future, even expanding it to give more people a chance to participate.