Forr years, beards at the workplace were associated with “creative types"—a polite term for men who were rough around the edges, free-wheeling, hard to pin down, even unkempt. Being clean-shaven meant you were dependable, focused, and worthy of a suit. But over the last few years, something seems to have changed.

US-based research firm Mintel reported late last year that more than half of American men aged 18-34 have a beard or stubble. Beards are now as common in banks and boardrooms as they were in newsrooms and advertising agencies.

Aravind Nair, a 37-year-old marketing communications professional, has had a beard for four years. “As you grow older, you realize what works for you. And I think I look best with facial hair," he says. After experimenting with a number of styles, like the French beard, he settled for a full beard that he trims every few days.

Rajat Tuli, founder of men’s grooming brand Ustraa, which sells beard-care products, says: “We have always been a beard-loving country. In survey after survey that our company has conducted, we have heard that facial hair is linked to masculinity."

Beards are no longer considered improper in the corporate universe. But, of course, there are rules when you pair your beard with your suit.

For one, the raw and wild, with a life-of-its-own, beard is not acceptable in a formal environment. Which means that you need to trim it every three-four days and not experiment with styles like the Garibaldi (unkempt and full), Van Dyke (narrow and sleek), or even a thick stubble. “Grow a beard that suits your face shape and then follow three rules—clean, trim and moisturize. Visit a barber regularly, otherwise it can start looking unkempt," says Jay Kishan Pawar, head barber and trainer at international men’s salon Truefitt & Hill, Mumbai.

You can also invest in a good beard comb and trimmer. “I’ve tried using oil when I had a longer beard," says Nair. A beard oil or balm is essential for men with thick beard hair because it helps moisturize and keeps stray hair in check. This is especially important before presentations or meetings.

Today, Indian beard-grooming brands are all over the internet. But why does one need separate products? Tuli explains, “The skin under the beard is more sensitive. A beard also requires more maintenance as it gets frontal exposure to dirt and dryness."

Tony Simon, 28, a business development executive at a pharmaceutical company in Bengaluru, has had a beard for three years. He spends 10 minutes every day trimming it to a thin stubble because his workplace is strictly formal—though facial hair is accepted, it must be neat.

Beards may be here to stay but there is a clear divide between the beards and the beard-nots: The ones with beards generally fall in the below-40 bracket. It’s rare to see chief executive officers and senior managers sporting them.

Not for long though, it seems. Simon says: “I’ve heard there was a time when our CEO asked people why they were wearing beards to work. A few months ago, he grew one too!"

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