Quarantine Scruff Is Here to Stay

Phillip Picardi

As a Washington Post political reporter and frequent guest on cable news, Eugene Scott had “the look” seen on many of his fellow talking heads: a clean, fresh shave accompanied by a crisp button-down shirt. “I assumed it was less distracting and more professional,” he says.

Once the pandemic hit, the phone calls from the television networks subsided—and so did the pressure to keep up a daily shave. Newly liberated, Scott decided to let go a little.

“Growing out a beard can be awkward—there’s a phase where people aren’t really clear about what you’re doing,” he says. But with more time at home and away from the general public, he moved through the uncomfortable phase with ease. Now he’s sporting a goatee.

“Processing it mentally was the most difficult part,” he says. The goatee grew in shades of gray, making him look older than he previously cared to present in public. But suddenly age didn’t seem to matter much.

The beard happened as the news cycles came and went. “I was processing so much personally, and as an American, that my grooming consumed less of my thoughts and, as a result, my time,” he says. When he finally contemplated his new look in the mirror, he realized something about the image he’d previously created.

“It allowed me to think more about the amount of effort I put into essentially looking less like myself,” he says.

With production halted throughout Hollywood, the actor Brian Michael Smith faced a similar scenario. “I was playing a character whose look was clean-shaven, with a goatee,” he says. “But as the world fell apart and the quarantine kept extending, I just stopped trimming it.”

One day, Smith finally took a look in the mirror and realized he had the beginnings of a full beard for the first time in his life. His first instinct was to grab his clippers to go back to normal—but then he took a brush to it and realized he was happy with the results. (It helped that his wife was pleased with the new look too.) He stocked up on beard oil at the behest of a close friend, and maintains it nicely. 

In a way, he says, quarantine “taught me that I wasn’t spending any quality time with myself. The isolation and the surprise beard showed me that there was still a lot about myself to be discovered.”

It turns out that social distancing—and the absence of being out in public or at work, viewed by society—has given a lot of men the opportunity to try something new. For some that’s meant grabbing a bottle of bleach and hoping for the best. For others that’s meant improvising at-home haircuts. But it seems for the overwhelming majority, it’s meant an embrace of whatever may come naturally.

Jody Ruiz, a barber based in Los Angeles, was surprised when she saw her clients again for the first time in three months—that is, before L.A. shut down hair salons and barbershops for the second time. “About 95% of them had grown out their hair and wanted to go with a longer look,” she says. Many came in looking unrecognizable. One came brandishing photos of a ’90s Brad Pitt.

Once she started commuting into work again, Ruiz noticed something else. “I’ve never seen so many men walking around with cool-looking mustaches,” she says. “I guess normally they wouldn’t be able to keep one in an ‘office’ setting.”

Richie Jackson, the author of the recently published memoir Gay Like Me, was one such gentleman. “Quarantine provided me with the best circumstances to experiment because...everything I usually relied on has been taken away,” he says. “What I always did or what I always thought no longer had meaning.”

The story he’d previously told himself—that he’d never be the kind of guy to rock a mustache—was over. Jackson debuted his new ’stache just in time for the end of Pride month, to 781 likes and 67 enthusiastic comments on Instagram. “Ok daddy,” one user wrote. Jackson plans on keeping it intact.

James Lozada, an anesthesiologist, also sprouted a mustache during quarantine, for a very different reason: His 4-year-old son asked him to grow one because he thought it would look cool. “I thought, why shouldn’t I? I wear a surgical mask all day at work. If it looks awful, no one will ever know.”

All of the awkward in-between phases of growing a mustache—the pubescent stubble, the growing out, the untamed stage before it’s nice and kempt—happened behind his N95. “I reached the point that I forgot about it, until it was this new part of me,” he says.

His colleagues did eventually catch a glimpse of it (over Zoom) and handed him plenty of barbs. (“They let you around babies with that thing?” one joked.) But Dr. Lozada was able to take it in stride. “This pandemic has been emotionally difficult for health care workers. We are facing ethical and moral challenges unlike any in modern medicine,” he says. The mustache, he adds, allows for a little bit of fun.

Andi Santagata, a cartoonist based in Vermont, also found a way to make the most of the relative reclusion that came with quarantine. “I decided it was the perfect time to finally start hormone-replacement therapy,” he says.

“I was always paranoid about going through my physical HRT transition in the ‘regular world,’ because it’s a lot like going through puberty a second time,” he says. As the acne came and went, along with various attempts at different outfits and sizes of T-shirts, Santagata eventually settled on a look he’s very much happy with.

“I was always nervous about trying new stuff. I thought longer hair would make me look less masculine, but it turns out I absolutely love the whole ’70s-haircut-and–Top Gun–sunglasses look!” he says. He’s also begun to sprout a “teenage wisp of a mustache,” which he is hoping will be followed shortly by a beard.

“There’s an element of ‘The world’s going to end! I’m not going to die in the wrong body!’ ” he says. “It put the impetus on me to make the choices that I wanted, rather than compromise for the comfort of others.”

While there’s no telling what will remain from these quarantine makeovers once things (or, if things) start to go back to “normal,” at least many men stuck at home got to experience what it was like to be liberated from expectations and try something new. If anything, the mustaches may come and go, but here’s hoping the valuable perspective—that life is just too damn short to do the same damn thing over and over—will stick around in our minds for good.

From touch ups to buzz cuts: GQ grooming columnist Phillip Picardi on how to stay shaped up while socially distancing. 

Originally Appeared on GQ

More From