Beards are all the rage and have been for quite some time now. But whether you go for the full-on Ragnar Lodbrok or the wild Karl Marx look, the neatly trimmed Roger Delgado goatee, the classic Hemingway, or anything in-between, it can be hard to stay on top of your facial artwork.
This is especially the case since most men decide to go for self-maintenance (which many of us wouldn’t dream of for our actual hairdos).
However, if you prefer to trim and upkeep your whiskers yourself (and who doesn’t?) then we’ve got you covered. We’re about to show you how to shape your beard, either short or long, and how to maintain the perfect neck and cheek lines.
A quick note on cutting and trimming
Before we begin, we need to bear in mind one of the most important rules for shaping your beard, no matter its style or length: don’t take off too much, too soon. Below, there will be plenty about trimming and shaping, which will include a lot about cutting your whiskers, naturally. Each time you do, take it slightly easy, especially as you get used to shaping your beard.
You can always cut more off if you’re too timid. You can’t stick whiskers back on if you cut them too much!
This will apply in particular when using scissors. Trimmers can be set to certain lengths, allowing you to manage the risk to a large extent. Razors will only generally be used to cut down to the skin, so there isn’t too much to fear, here. Scissors go freehand, however, and it’s common enough for people to go right in at the deep end and gouge out a big chunk of hair.
Remember, always go easy.
It’s worth combing against the grain of your whiskers when using scissors. This will make the whiskers stand up, which will make trimming with scissors (and getting an accurate view of their length) a lot easier.
Shaping your beard
This said, let’s get onto the main event and take a look at how you should be shaping your beard.
Shaping a short beard
Short beards are perfect for most men- they generally take less commitment and maintenance, make less of a statement, and take far less time to come to fruition than long beards. They are also generally more accepted in professional environments.
When trimmed and shaped properly, they can be as striking as any longbeard’s face fuzz.
We’ll go into detail about how to best shape your neckline below. For now, however, it’s worth emphasising something with regards short beards. This is that you should never trim your neckline too high. It will be unflattering to have a beard that ends too soon (emphasising neck fat and smudging your jawline a bit) whilst arguably being a little ugly in its own right.
Use one of the two tips in our section below to determine where to cut your neckline. Alternatively, don’t cut a neckline at all. Though this may look shaggy and unkempt, this isn’t always a bad thing and will be better than a chin beard with no neck.
It’s best to go with beard trimmers when maintaining a short beard. They will come with length settings to make it easier to control how long you cut, so that you’ll never accidentally gouge a chunk out.
With a trimmer, use longer settings in the early days. When you’re just starting your beard and looking to shape it, allow it to grow out but use a longer guard to keep it even. Take a little off each side, making sure to keep it symmetrical, but never cut too close to the cheek.
Alongside neck lines, we’ll go into cheek lines below. But once again, there are a couple of things to bear in mind whilst working on your short beard. Long beards can get away with being a bit straggly and all over the place. Short beards are less forgiving.
You will want a clear boundary to your cheek line (see above). When you have this, use a razor to cut away excess hair above it, creating a clean, sharp line. Cutthroat razors are best, though safety razors will also do a good job.
Finally, when your short beard gets to the length you like it, don’t be scared of getting out the scissors. Use them on the sides and chin every week or so to remove excess growth. It can be hard to keep it symmetrical here, so be careful. As mentioned above, try taking small amounts first rather than going in at the deep end. Use your scissors to trim the moustache back as well, keeping it off your top lip.
Shaping a long beard
Growing and keeping a long beard takes some dedication. Most men can have a decent looking short beard within a couple of weeks. Long beards will take several weeks more to see them on their way, during which maintenance will be required. Then, when it reaches your desired length, it will take even more regular grooming.
There are a few things that go into shaping your long beard and keeping it in the state you want for it.
Firstly, hygiene is important. At a pinch, you can get away with simply standing under a shower with a short beard (shampoo and oil are, however, highly recommended). If you want to have any friends, you cannot do this with a long beard. It will collect food, drink and dirt, no matter how careful you are.
Wash it regularly with a good shampoo or beard wash. Do so before grooming to make your life easier.
With your beard clean, you will next want to comb it. This will get rid of any knots and will make sure that your whiskers are in place for an even trim as you shape it. Use a comb’s narrow teeth and brush away from your chin. Comb every part, including your sideburns and moustache.
Now you’re ready for your trim.
You can use a beard trimmer, a set of clippers, or a set of sharp scissors for this.
Scissors will generally give the best cut, but only in experienced hands. If you’re not confident in your cutting skills, a trimmer or set of clippers will generally be a good, safe option. Obviously, you will need to use trimmers with a long guard setting. Again, take off less rather than more, slowly coming into the length and shape you want.
Don’t forget your moustache. Brush it out at the same time as your beard, as mentioned above, then clip it to your desired length using scissors.
Your jawline will need some attention. Use a trimmer or set of clippers to remove any stray hairs. Use a longer guard setting on your trimmer to shape your cheek line- this will allow you to keep things neat without being in danger of cutting off too much hair. Use a similar length for your sideburns and cheeks.
Bear in mind that you will likely want your beard to be blended well. Fade into your cheek line and sideburns by applying slightly more pressure on your clippers as you come into them. Use a pair of scissors and a safety or cutthroat razor to tighten up the edges.
When you’re done with shaping your beard, use your scissors for a once over. Go over everything, making sure that there are no stray hairs sticking out where you don’t want them. Cut any you do find down to size. Then simply brush out the cut whiskers, apply some beard oil or wax and comb it all into shape.
You will want to go through this either weekly or fortnightly, though this really depends on how quickly your beard grows.
Shaping your lines- some vital tips
A beard can be made or broken by its lines. No matter how unruly you like the beard itself, having a clearly demarcated set of boundaries will give it a degree of style and control that will take it to the next level.
We’re talking about neck and cheek lines, here. Necklines are where the beard begins on your neck, cheek lines your face (so far, so obvious). Allow these to fall by the wayside, or trim them incorrectly, and you can ruin your beard. Get them right… well, that sense of style and control is yours. Enjoy.
It’s not set in stone how one should trim one’s neckline. However, do bear in mind that a bad neckline can ruin the best of beards. Cut it poorly and you’ll lose all elegance, let it grow out and you’ll look wild and unruly (not always a bad thing, but something to consider.)
However, if you follow the advice below, you should be able to work out how you want your neckline to look and how you’re going to bring it about.
The most important step in shaping your neckline is defining it. What will the height and depth be? You’re welcome to try freestyling it or going for trial and error, just beware that you may end up looking foolish as you get your bearings.
Alternatively, there are a couple of rough but reliable methods for determining your neckline that you can begin right from your neck shave.
The first is the two-finger method (shame on you if the name has you sniggering). It’s an age-old way to maintain consistency and clean lines in your beard shaping. Simply put your index and middle fingers together and stack them above your Adam’s apple. Your neckline should be roughly at the outer edge of the top finger.
You could also try the second technique, the double chin method. It’s unflattering and perhaps humbling, but it works well. Tuck your chin inwards to create a temporary double chin. This should create a natural line where your double chin meets your neck. This is your neckline: cut everything below it.
Timing can be quite important when shaving your neckline. If you maintain a beard in general, you won’t be up-keeping it every day. In fact, the lack of daily shaving is one of the main benefits of having a beard. Nonetheless, you will want to pay regular attention to your neckline, especially if you have a shorter beard.
With this in mind, it’s best to trim it every few days when you get out of the shower or bath. The warm water from the bath or shower, and the humidity in the room, will have opened your pores. This makes shaving easier and cleaner.
If you can’t do this for whatever reason, press a warm, moist towel to your face for a couple of minutes before shaving. This will bring about a similar effect.
You also want to use the right tools when you’re sculpting your beard. These include beard trimmers, clippers, safety razors and even old-fashioned, Sweeney Todd cut-throat blades (I had to mention the demon barber at least once…)
It’s generally a good idea to go for beard-trimmers for the neckline. They will help you shape it with dexterity and will allow you to vary the length of the hair as you cut it, which will help you to create a nice fade.
Though there is a lot to be said for a clear-cut line, many prefer to go with a fade to their neckline. Fades create a gradation in hair thickness from the neckline upwards, so that it naturally thickens as it approaches the fullest part of the beard, around the jaw, cheeks and chin.
Men wearing their beards longer will have far less work to do, if any, when they’re crafting their fade. It will be far less noticeable than with a shorter beard or will even be obscured entirely. In fact, a short, overly clean neckline can look quite odd with a long beard.
To create a fade, you will want to have your neck hair shortest, with the hair on your jaw, cheeks and chin the longest, with a gradual lengthening and thickening between the two. To achieve this, use a beard trimmer and set the length to two to four notches lower on your neck than you use for your cheeks. Use this for the majority of your neck.
Use an even shorter setting for trimming around the neckline itself. Make sure you shave off any stubble and strays below the neckline to give a clean finish.
Your cheek lines
As with a neat neckline, keeping your cheek lines in check will help you to maintain a sharp, crisp looking beard, no matter the length or style. You will be able to turn the longest, most unruly beard into a professional and stylish thing of grace.
If you leave your beard rough around the cheeks, then you will look like you’ve simply not bothered shaving rather than like you’ve spent time and effort consciously growing it out.
A cheek line that comes in too low is a bit like a neckline that comes in too high- it will end up looking foolish and a little bizarre.
To get it spot on, resist the urge to cut into the dense portion of your beard right off the bat. This can make the line look overly sharp and overly straight. Rather, begin by working your way down from the highest point of your cheek line. Move downwards, clipping away stray hairs until you get to the beard proper.
This will give you a smooth, natural transition from skin to bush. It will look organic without looking untidy, neat without looking overly manicured. You will be able to keep a nice taper going by simply trimming this pre-beard part every few days.
This will also be far easier to maintain over time. Go for too straight a cheek line and you’ll be forever adjusting and amending. Leaving a little bit of a natural look will mean that a few strays or a bit of a wonky line won’t look out of place.
Focus on keeping this natural beard shape, maintaining a well-kept version of your own natural beard line rather than trying to dictate where it begins and ends.
Then you come to the actual beard. The first thing you will want to do is to cut down any hairs that have grown especially long. Use a pair of scissors to clip these down to size so that everything is near enough uniform and in-keeping with itself.
This done, you’re ready to begin the shaping process itself. Move cautiously, here. You can get away with sculpting the main part of your cheek line once a week or so, so you can afford to take it slowly. Give yourself plenty of time, breathe deeply and try to remain patient: rushing is the quickest result to hacking your beard to pieces and having to shave it down and begin again.
Then work out how long you want the portion of your beard fading up to the cheek line. You will need a clear idea of this before starting- the last thing you want to do is experiment on yourself. Use a pair of clippers, adjust them to the length you need, and slowly begin to trim.
Move downwards from the cheeks, beginning by applying a lot of pressure. Ease the pressure as you come down away from the cheek. This will give you a gradual fade that will look perfectly natural.
Not all beards are created equal. There are ways to look after your own beard to really make it pop, to emphasise what needs emphasising and bury what needs to not be seen. No matter the actual cut of your beard, if you follow the above shaping advice, it will look fantastic.
Remember, shape it slowly. Use scissor for a longer beard, if you can, and clippers for a shorter beard. Most importantly, look after your cheek and necklines. These will be the difference between a suave, professional looking piece of facial accessory and the look of someone who just hasn’t bothered to shave in awhile.