Putting Your Best Beard Forward

Tonsorial tips from a celebrity stylist on the latest fad in men's fashion

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When I first met hair stylist April Barton at a party in the famously bohemian Chelsea Hotel in New York, she mercifully suggested a new beard style. Before: Lincoln-esque. After: a trimmer look that rounded out my longish face. Little did I know Barton is considered, within beautiful-people circles, to be a diva of men's grooming. Who wouldn't take advice from a stylist whose client list ranges from Elvis Costello and Bono to Jake Gyllenhaal, Adrien Brody, Matthew Modine, and Jerry Seinfeld.

While facial fuzz is the rage in Hollywood and the hipper environs of Manhattan, most business executives and corporate climbers are strangers to electric beard clippers, sideburn trimmers, and other such mowing tools. But, hey, why shouldn't the suits loosen up and give handlebar moustaches, goatees, and soul patches a try? The early 21st century welcomes self-expression and celebrates those who dare to be different.

I found out about Barton's rep as a celebrity stylist only when I visited her recently to learn the secrets of successful facial hair care. Her Suite 303 Salon occupies an airy nook overlooking bustling 23rd Street. Barton, a high-energy 39-year-old dressed in a denim jacket, miniskirt, and knee-length black leather boots, bears no resemblance to the elderly Italian gentlemen who usually snip my hair in the suburban village of Pelham, N.Y. She grew up in a Florida mobile home park, got her start styling hair for the high school cheerleading squad, and at 15 promised "to cut my way out of here." After gigs at salons in Florida, England, and New York, she opened Suite 303 some 10 years ago.


Barton's approach TO facial hair boils down to this: Don't think of your face separately from the rest of you. Facial hair should be a natural extension of your overall look, taking into account head shape, hair quality and style, and body type. It shouldn't be cultivated simply to disguise a weak chin or chubby cheeks (although it can certainly do that). Barton doesn't typically urge clients to grow beards, but she welcomes the decision. "It's the one thing a man can do that a woman can't to alter his look and make a statement," she says.

Facial hair is a highly individual matter, so Barton is reluctant to lay down hard-and-fast aesthetic rules. But full beards usually don't work, she says. They take attention away from the rest of the face. When trimming the beard and moustache, men should avoid straight lines. They create an unbecoming peel-and-stick effect. Also, when styling sideburns, one should find the natural break where the cheek meets the jaw and trim them off there.


On a visit to the salon, I discovered I had run afoul of another of her principles, having trimmed my beard sharply at the jawline. This was a no-no, it turns out. Barton had meant for me to gradually feather the beard in from under the jaw for a softer effect. So she sat me down on the spot and took corrective action. While she was at it, she fixed my unruly mop of hair, too.

Barton almost goes into a trance when she's styling. She furrows her brow and peers at her subject with the intensity of a bird of prey. She sculpts with scissors and clippers, chipping, flicking, and stabbing away in a controlled frenzy. When she was done with me, she stood back, spread her arms, and pronounced: "Movie star!" For a brief moment, I felt like one.

Barton hasn't styled for high-profile businesspeople, but she relishes the idea. When I asked who she'd like to take on, her instant answer was Donald Trump. She didn't have anything particular in mind. "I'd go buck-wild on him. His hair would tell me what to do," she says. "Donald, if you're reading this, I will change your world."

By Steve Hamm

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