Consider this newest and perhaps hairiest of trends in Silicon Valley these days: The hipster lumbersexual has merged with the tech elite, creating the world’s wealthiest cavemen.
Jack Dorsey, of Twitter and Square fame, was the first to be spotted sporting heavy chin whiskers, in a picture Kara Swisher tweeted after visiting him.
She described it as a Lincoln beard, but a real Lincoln beard lacks the mustache part. Dorsey’s face fur strikes more of a Jesus or Orthodox Jewish note. He’d also be welcome among the hipsters of the Mission section of San Francisco.
Soon enough, Fusion’s Kevin Roose was busy photoshopping facial hair onto the likes of Marc Andreessen, Elon Musk, Tim Cook and Swisher herself.
But the joke was on him: Andreessen had already grown a major real-life beard, no retouching necessary. Its 19th-century fullness rivals that of Dorsey’s.
Both were following design-conscious Medium and Twitter founder Evan Williams who had earlier joined the stubbled elite.
Were they inspired by each other, or was it former San Francisco Giant star Brian Wilson — of “Fear the Beard” fame — who planted the seed? Are they making a fashion statement of some kind? Did they misplace their razors? Did they lose a bet? Or is this the result of Movember gone wild?
All the hirsute gentlemen declined to comment.
A handful of beard experts, however, provided some context to help us understand the phenomenon.
“If you look at the history of beards, men have typically grown them in periods of transition,” said Dr. Allan Peterkin, a psychiatrist who penned the book “One Thousand Beards: A Cultural History of Facial Hair.”
He referenced Jewish men forsaking their shaves when sitting shiva, men sprouting beards after leaving marriages, Al Gore growing long whiskers of chagrin after he lost the 2000 presidential election. “Changing your profile, your stature, your job — that’s often when men will do it,” he said. “[They] may not be fully conscious why [they’re] doing it.”
Beards made their big comeback about five years ago, colonizing the faces of movie stars like Ben Affleck and George Clooney. As the months passed, celebrity beards grew longer, morphing into wild, cumbersome things on the cheeks of Jared Leto, Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio.
The 2013 Red Sox team grew beards of almost Biblical dimensions, wearing them as talismans of luck, Dothraki-style, as they rode to victory in the World Series.
Studies have been commissioned to explore the beard epidemic.
Some blame the 2008 recession, arguing that men with less economic stability attract mates through other displays of virility. “Beards represent masculinity at its finest,” Southern stylist Nathan Siegal told Re/code in an interview. Siegal has his own beard growing long and wild.
Meanwhile, the shaving industry is struggling, and companies like Dove have developed beard-care products to fill the gap. The modern beard is a thoughtful choice requiring maintenance, trimming and styling with pomade. Going long, so to speak, is a commitment. “It can be a little uncomfortable,” Siegal said. “It’s heavier on your face. Your face can actually hurt for a little bit.”
It’s hard to say when the beard made its way to tech.
Rameet Chawla founded app development company Fueled, and his unruly beard got him featured on the website “Beard Porn.” He estimates the Jesus beard, which covers both jaw line and chin, arrived in tech a few years after it hit the fashion industry.
So does that mean Dorsey, Williams and Andreessen are behind the times? “It depends on where you’re standing,” Chawla said. “If you’re standing in fashion, sure, they might be late. But if you compare them to other public figures, wouldn’t you say they’re early?”
Plenty of public figures have grown beards in recent years — President Obama’s then-Press Secretary Jay Carney prompted a beard trend piece in the New York Times when he grew his. But the Jesus beard — a longer, more committed look — is still rare among businessmen, bankers and politicians.
That hasn’t stopped Andreessen, Williams or Dorsey. These “are guys who are creative, they push the envelope in their fields,” Dr. Peterkin said. “They’re perhaps saying, ‘I’m no corporate slave, I’m rich enough, smart enough and powerful enough to do as I wish.'”
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.