Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Discreet Charm Of The White Goatee

Again, nothing to do with books; perhaps just the result of indigestion. This appeared in today's Hindustan Times.

Opinion is divided when it comes to facial hair, with one side belonging to the Remove-The-Fungus camp and the other swearing allegiance to the Too-Cool-To-Shave faction.

In recent times, however, a new breed has emerged: that of Men in White Goatees. Amitabh Bachchan is, of course, the most famous exponent of such a goatee, but its advocates include people such as Subhash Chandra, V.S. Naipaul and, till recently, His Maharashtraness, Bal Thackeray.

A diverse lot, but speculatively speaking, the one thing they all desire is to project youthfulness and experience at the same time. A quality that, no doubt, assists the public image of a veteran actor, a Nobel Prize-winning author, a politician and a businessman seeking to queer the BCCI’s pitch.

The hirsute mode of expression they’ve chosen is well suited to promote this image. The goatee itself, whether straggly or barbered, stands for a certain Jack Sparrow rakishness and what in the Sixties would have been called hipster cool. Its colour, white, signifies experience and – in the refusal to use hair dye – an acknowledgement of age. A simple white moustache would be too louche, too old-fashioned; a full white beard, too spiritual and Tolstoyan (perhaps that’s why Mr Thackeray has one today). But the discreet charm of ther white goatee? Perfect.

Tufts of facial hair themselves come in various styles – from the soul patch to the chin beard – but the classical Van Dyck version with its attendant variations, is the one that’s been the most popular over the years. And not just in jet black, but salt-and-pepper and white as well. Interestingly enough, examples of the latter variety can be prominently found among those representing the spirit of those erstwhile Cold War foes, the USSR and the US.

No aged, self-respecting Wild West backwoodsman was spotted without his straggling, pasty goatee and the illustrated version of the soul of America, Uncle Sam, would be unrecognizable without one. Photographs of Vladimir Lenin always show him with a goatee, whether a youthful black or a later grey (which could well have been a response to baldness, a stratagem in use till today), and Nikolai Bulganin was almost as well-known for the natty strip of grizzled hair adorning his chin as for his premiership.

While the American and Russian pioneers may have had their own sartorial imperatives, the fabled Indian respect for age combined with an younger target audience make the white goatee a faultless symbol to convey youthful flair and hard-won experience at one and the same time. Look at me, it says proudly, I’m distinguished and mature and hey, I’m one of you guys, too. Perhaps Salman Khan will grow one now.


Anonymous said...

Falling about laughing.

Anonymous said...

The article is very interesting and I liked the way you described goatee as a symbol of both experience and youth. I am 58 and just started sporting a goatee with a rice and pepper look. I was searching to get the opinion of others on goatee and got more confidence after reading your article!

Unknown said...

Thanks. I like the 'rice and pepper' metaphor!

Unknown said...

I beg to differ with the previous person, White means old, and Iam 51 and I don’t want to look older, who wants to look older?...Nobody!