While London hipsters sit poised on the vertex of the beard craze (no doubt waiting to see who will be the first to take blade to throat), our East End fashion vixens are reclaiming the trend by growing their own.
I’ve gone undercover as a Vice journalist to infiltrate this hairy subculture in East London’s throbbing trend district, Dalston, where I meet a bearded lady who only wants to be known as Rockabilly Holiday: “They’ve taken our pouting, they’ve taken our androgyny, we’re taking their beards.”
Asked whether this new look was inspired by Austria’s 2014 Eurovision victor Conchita Wurst, Ms Holiday says: “I only watch Eurovision ironically.” After she swoons in front of a shop, throws a can of Red Stripe at her boyfriend’s slim-fit chinos and changes her vintage sunglasses, I repeat the question. “Oh yeah no, it’s not a fad. I’ve been growing this beard since puberty, way before it caught on. Like since when Kings Of Leon were good.” That’s quite a commitment, I remark. “It’s kind of a living art piece.” Not like Kings Of Leon, I quip. She strokes her bushy beard pensively but still doesn’t get it.
According to Holiday – who is doing her thesis on Gender, Consciousness and General Studies – there’s a feminist argument, which she explains to me on Snapchat as we now sit next to each other at Café Oto: “Why should it be the exclusive domain of men to look like complete tossbags. As women we are equally – if not more – capable of wielding a misappropriated symbol of virility.” (She mumbles something about the transience of commentary and disappears, so I write this from memory on the bill she leaves me for a lemon verbena tea and spiced rum. Her boyfriend refuses to pay.)
In the designated smoking area outside Alibi there’s a willing subject lurking in the 5 o’clock shadows. I ask her: What about the awkward stubbly cultivation period? “Most sisters just spend a few months hiding out in their Haggerston warehouse space eating noodles, being miserable, reading the odd page of Heidegger and working on ideas for hidden conceptual art.” But what about growing a beard? “Oh yeah, well we’ve actually made that cool as well. There’s that period when you can’t stop scratching your beard and we’ve owned that with selfies and instead of ‘My beard is itchy’ we just tag it ‘bitchy’. It’s so post-feminist.” She proudly claims to have started the Instagram hashtag #BTCHY. I point out that she only dropped the vowel. “It’s quicker!” She shoots me a glare that makes me feel like a 105-year-old who is still using the Old Textalenglish and can no longer spell anything.
And those not blessed with hirsutism are simply following their guys into beard transplant salons for the ‘Brooklyn beard’. Yes, while New York City hipster dudes are fast-tracking their way into street-style fashion blogs with while-you-wait beard transplants, our London femme counterparts have followed suit. Looking for beardettes on Kingsland High Road I feel like a kid in a vintage store. I pull the Vice card again (literally, I have fake business cards) and two more open their hairy mouths. “There’s a Harley Street specialist Mumsy has an account with who basically prises out my pubes and staples them into my face. It’s totally amazing,” she says with emphatic nonchalance. Her friend chimes in, “Yar yar, my transplantist literally ripped off my boyfriend’s beard and stuck it on my chin. It took 5 minutes. I can’t believe I actually had to wait that long.”
“I’ve never waited for anything in my life,” another says as I interview her in the queue outside Birthdays (disguising my microphone as a set of headphones and recording her from my head), “Why should I start now? It’s like all the stubble and massaging and grooming, it’s like ‘ew’ and then it’s like how long is this going to take, it’s like looking at my watch literally every second. I did this personality quiz online which was totally ironic and I’m a results-based person anyway so it totally fits my personality type.” I ask if she thinks maybe this trend of female beard transplants is simply emblematic of the hedonistic style-consciousness of Generation Y, or is it something deeper – is it a new kind of vital organic self-expression for women in a patriarchal age when automated robots reduce our utility to mere aesthetic experimentation. In short, is this craze the woman-youth screaming out “We are still human! Look how much we hate ourselves!”? I refocus through my non-prescription glasses and she's taking photographs of me on her DSLR. “It’s for my photography blog,” she says predictably. “I really like what you’re saying with that microphone sticking out between your cans, dude, very post-phallic. I totally get it, you’re saying dickhead — natch — but you’re being ironic and retro-intro-outrospective. Likes.” Grasping for some way to reconnect I ask her about her interest in digital photography. “Oh no, this is just my new iPhone cover,” she says, pulling her phone out of its fake plastic DLSR case and making me wait while she puts me through a series of Instagram filters.
Desperate for conversation at this point, I simply ask some guy in a fez and eyeliner if he is attracted to bearded hipster chicks. “Yeah man, totally. But I’m way ahead of that, like my ex-girlfriend shaved off her beard before it was even cool.”