From the high-fashion runway to the streets of the city, there's no doubt that beards are having a major moment. Here in the great wilds of Alaska, facial hair—and lots of it—has always been in style among those who prefer a rugged look, or perhaps because there's nothing quite like a big full beard to keep a man's face from freezing solid during the long Alaska winters.
"It goes back to the pioneering days of Alaska, even before it was a state," said Adam "Capo" Capossela, owner of Capo's Alaskan Beard Oil, a line of facial hair grooming products made in Anchorage. "The trappers, the hunters, they are busy doing a subsistence lifestyle; they didn't have time to shave."
His own beard is a thick, dark rectangle that brushes his camouflage t-shirt. "It's part of Alaskan culture to be bearded," he said, adding, "It's part of my culture now. I own a strongman gym, and beards are very heavy in the strength community." At his Heavy Metal Gym in Anchorage, tough guys (and gals, too) train to become "strongman" fit by dead lifting beer kegs and flipping giant tires. It's a kind of lifestyle meant to be relevant to real-world pursuits like hunting or surviving in the wild.
Just like regular workouts, the care and grooming for a full beard is a daily task—shampoo, condition, brush, oil and trim regularly. It's why Capossela developed his own line of beard oils and balms—he saw a hole in the market for masculine grooming products, and his products—well, they are definitely unafraid to capitalize on the strong Alaska man image. Photos of snarling wolves, gleaming hatchets and foggy forests decorate the website where he sells his merchandise to all 50 U.S. states and 14 countries.
A Different Kind of Hair Club for Men
Jon Smiley, president of the South Central Alaska Beard and Mustache Club, agrees that caring for his own thick, long beard and full mustache requires a lot of daily upkeep. "I shampoo and condition every day and oil at least a couple times a week. I brush it twice a day. It's a lot of work." More work than many women put into their hair on a daily basis, I commented. "True, but you don't put food and beverages in your hair daily, either," he said, moments after automatically brushing his mustache aside to take a sip of coffee.
So, are any foods or drinks off limits then? "Yeah, we were camping last weekend and everyone was eating s'mores, and melted marshmallows aren't a good thing," he said, adding, "and soups, I don't really eat soups."
Smiley said the club originally grew out of the Mr. Fur Face competition held annually during Fur Rendezvous in Anchorage. The guys had such a good time with one another that many now plan and travel to national and international competitions as a group. It's what binds them together as a club—that and getting "involved in at least two charity events every year," Smiley said. He and the 10-15 active members have raised money for autism awareness and testicular cancer research.
At monthly club meetings they discuss facial hair upkeep, yes, but, according to Smiley, mostly they're "a bunch of easygoing and fun-loving guys. In the summertime most of us are out fishing or hunting. We like to hang out, have fun, drink a couple beers."
A Little Off the Top
Alaska guys can also be found hanging out at AK FADEZ, a hip, new barbershop in Anchorage where it's not uncommon for clients to stick around after a haircut for an impromptu barbecue or after-hours poker game. Owner Alex Von Dincklage, a tall, tattooed, soft-spoken father of four with salt-and-pepper hair and a full beard, said their most popular service is the hot towel shave, a slow, relaxing facial hair clean-up for guys wanting that old school treatment. But his place is about much more than getting your beard lines straight. "We're an 'urban barbershop,'" he emphasized. "It's a place where guys go to feel comfortable, watch a lot of sports and listen to good vibe music."
Here they do everything from a standard buzzcut to more intricate designs resembling tattoo art. The shop's Instagram account is filled with photos of hair "carvings" or tight cuts portraying sports team logos or graffiti-like design all done with a razor.
It's clear that for for these guys there's nothing girly about getting groomed; it's a matter of pride, of feeling good.
Lorraine Park, vice president of the Spa Division for Remington Hotels that manages the ICE Spa at the Anchorage Sheraton, knows this very well. She's helped to design a masculine space that combats the (perhaps waning) male stigma attached to going to the spa. She said the percentage of their male clientele (made up of "business travelers… local military and oilfield workers") has grown from 8 percent to "more than 35 percent" since they began also catering to men in 2008.
A menu of men's treatments like the deep tissue massage and a "sports pedicure" are popular. The atmosphere appeals to guys, explained Park. "Once we tour them through our facility and they see its masculine design of the rugged fireplace, dark woods, rich steel gray colors… the eucalyptus steam room in the men's locker room and other men in the facility, they really start to relax."
And relaxing seems to be entirely the point for these laid-back Alaska men who are ultimately more focused on the communities they are forming than on following any current trends.
But don't discount the popularity of beards any time soon. "As far as Alaska goes, I think it's here to stay," said Capossela. "I mean, I don't see it changing. Ever."
4 Fresh Grooming Tips from the Experts
For fresh feet:
"An easy at home tip to do in your shower is to mix white sugar with coconut oil to a paste-like consistency and rub that on your feet in the shower. Add some essential oil of sweet orange, mint or eucalyptus to your liking. The sugar will help exfoliate rough skin, the oil will help to hydrate your feet and the scented oil helps to deodorize the feet."
–Lorraine Park, VP Spa Division, Remington Hotels
For a fresh beard:
"Wash your beard every day and apply beard oil when hair is damp but water is no longer coming off on your hands. Watch online videos for instruction if needed."
–Adam "Capo" Capossela, Owner, Capo's Alaskan Beard Oil
For fresh hair:
"Men should wash, comb and use a product of their choice on a daily basis. I recommend Layrite pomade or Elegance pomade and hair gel. And get it cut every other week."
–Alex Von Dincklage, Owner, AK FADEZ barbershop
For fresh overall style:
"Do what makes you comfortable. You don't have to spend a lot of time or money to look good; it's more about your attitude anyway." –Jon Smiley, President, South Central Alaska Beard & Moustache Club
This article appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of 61°North. Contact 61° editor Jamie Gonzales at firstname.lastname@example.org.