Facial hair is in! And for these Paducahans, its more than a style; its a passion. Read about the Wandering Whiskers of Western KY!
Beards, mustaches, and mutton chop sideburns. Is that something to get excited about? For many in Paducah, the answer is a big hairy yes!
The popularity of facial hair ebbs and flows. The last great peak was ushered in by men like Tom Selleck, Barry Gibb, and Hulk Hogan. Then, for a period of time, to sport a full beard or mustache meant you'd probably been living under a bridge for a while.
The most recent spike in facial hair aficionados eclipses that of the late 70s and early 80s and harkens back to the late 1800s when images of bearded infantries, highly waxed and curled mustaches, and sideburns so bushy that one could loose the family dog for weeks in them was the norm.
And, in a new twist, a local facial hair enthusiast club is being organized by a couple of fans who cannot grow beards at all! Meet Kelsey Doyle and Jean Schrage, organizers of the Wandering Whiskers of Western Kentucky.
"I guess it's gotten bad when I have facial hair in my dreams," laughs Jean whose curiosity was initially piqued by the television show Whisker Wars. So how does a lady get involved in the world of facial hair? "It's about creating and crafting," explains Jean. "In competitions, you can create realistic or craft beards and mustaches. It's fun but maybe a little unfair. All my dude friends have beards. They get all the fun without having to pay for it!"
Jean's friend Kelsey also partakes in unique facial hair creations. "We're called Whiskerinas and compete like the guys do. Some go realistic, and some of the craft beards are rockin'. We've seen them made out of things like wood and gears and even pennies."
The duo competed at the annual Whisky, Whiskers, & Women competition in Lexington where Kelsey took third place in the realistic/artificial category. "The competitions are serious," she explains. "They go all the way up to national and international competitions. For the guys, the big categories are full beards and freestyle."
In freestyle, the hair is waxed and molded into various patterns and designs. Kelsey, a stylist by trade, is a beard sculptress. "She's really good at it," says Tim who sports an Imperial Half Beard. "It's a passion."
Tim, who has been a facial hair fan for a long time, has watched the tide turn in favor of facial follicles. "I had to make that decision a long time ago. I wanted to grow it, and I wasn't going to let anything get in my way. You gotta hold your ground, even when it comes to jobs and relationships."
For many years, Tim had a goatee that was so long that he had to be extra careful zipping up jackets. "I did change it not to long ago, and I shaved all the way down to my chin. My friends were astounded. Most of them were unsure that I even had a chin!"
Tim enjoys meeting other enthusiasts at the competitions. "They are very encouraging. These elite guys don't rub it in your face. They are encouraging. They say, 'Keep growing, you'll get there!'"
Friend John admits he doesn't have a competition beard, but he enjoys it nonetheless. "We had a period of time when to have facial hair wasn't good. But if you look back to the 1850s, for example, if you were a guy, you simply had one, no questions asked!" John sports the Alaskan Whaler. It is also referred to as an Amish beard. "I have people ask me about it in the most bizarre circumstances," he laughs. "I'll be at a bar, and someone will ask if I am Amish!"
The facial hair enthusiast movement in Paducah is in its infancy, but the group knows that growth is coming. Facial hair is accepted more now than in decades past. And there are many who, like Jean, Kelsey, John, and Tim have fun with it!
But just because they have fun doesn't mean they don't take it seriously. "In Norse and Celtic cultures, the worst insult you could give was to call someone beardless," says Jean. Now that gives the term 'big hairy deal' a whole new meaning!