This month is known to people around the world as "No-Shave November." It's a time to forgo the razor to raise money for charity and to make a point - facial hair is an option, even in the professional world. Here in Dayton a social club known as The Gem City Gentlemen of the Gilded Beard organized Ohio's first beard and mustache competition to cultivate a local appreciation of well-groomed facial hair.
These contests are a European tradition that has been gaining popularity in the United States recently, particularly with young people in urban areas. Thomas Blurton, a co-founder of the Gem City Gentlemen of the Gilded Beard, says not everyone has such a fuzzy feeling about furry faces.
"My mom actually told me when she was growing up the only people who had beards were potheads and hells angels," Blurton, said. "Everybody from her generation sees that, and then everybody from our generation is like, 'Whoa ! That's a sweet beard or a sweet mustache!'"
Blurton says the Gem City Gentlemen see their facial hair as part of their identities. "This whole beardless thing is really kind of a modern invention. From the early 1900's up until now has just been this kind of Romanesque… beardless…..thing. I guess some of us just want to bring [beards] back."
"Full Beard Natural is going to be out of control!"
The competition was held at Pollen Farm in Kettering. Nathan Stevens, another Gem City Gentleman was stationed at the registration table.
"If you take a look at the sign-up sheets, 'Full Beard Natural' is gonna be out of control," Stevens says, "We are approaching two-dozen competitors from all over the United States and I'll tell ya, the guy that wins that is…. He's got a beard. He's got a real beard."
Out of eight categories, 'Full Beard Natural' is the most difficult for the judges. But for contestants it's the easiest style to maintain; you just let it grow. Many first timers enter full beard natural without realizing how competitive it is - like Michael Scanlan, a retired postal worker from Cincinnati.
"They told me, 'here, sign this sheet,' when I got there," Scanlan says, "that was for full beard natural so I signed up there."
Scanlan has been growing his beard for thirteen years. It's pure white and separated into two dreadlocks hanging almost to his knees. Scanlan says his beard has always gotten him a lot of attention, but he'd never considered taking it competitive until he heard about this contest.
"Are you ready for a competition?"
Every kind of beard or mustache imaginable was on display. Goatees inspired by Abraham Lincoln, long Fu Manchu mustaches and curly, waxed handlebars, beard styles with names like Garibaldi and Verdi, or short and pointy "Ducktail" - there was even a fake beard category for women. But, the most contentious category, 'Full Beard Natural,' was saved for last.
"They finally get to me," Scanlan said, "and the crowd went crazy! You know, just the uproar of the crowd, and I'm lookin' around like somebody in the background dropped their drawers or something. Apparently I was the crowd favorite. I couldn't believe it!"
He may have been the crowd favorite, but the judges deadlocked. Scanlan ended up in a tie with two-time world beard champion Jack Passion.
Passion shook up the scene in 2007 when he became the first American to win Europe. He was only 23 and it made him a sort of folk hero to other young Americans looking to change the public perception of beards. Before the competition started everyone was talking about Passion's big red beard.
"My beard," Passion said, "how I typically describe it is a waterfall of hot lava pouring out of my face and ending up around my waist."
Passion is on a United States beard and mustache tour and so far he's undefeated. This competition in Dayton is his last stop and Mike Scanlan is tied with him.
"And I'm thinking I hope I don't win! Cause I'm nobody and this guy is the king of the beard world. I hope he wins," Scanlan said, laughing.
"Ladies and gentlemen….it is time to announce the winners!"
It took the judges about an hour to break the tie between Mike Scanlan and Jack passion. Scanlin's no Hells Angel, but he is a biker – the kind of guy that's supposedly giving beards a bad rap.
In the end, they chose Jack. It was a win for the younger generation and it gave Passion a perfect record for his U.S. tour, which he sees as a campaign for a cause.
"There are so many facial hair stereotypes," Passion said, "You know, there's that moment where [people] want to judge you, they're trying to formulate what they think about you, and I buy myself a few extra seconds. People are like, 'Whoa! This guy has this huge beard but he's not what I would expect a guy with a huge beard to look or act like.' So that's really important."
Scanlan says he's sure there are others in Ohio with beards better than his, but it still feels good to be caught in a tie with Jack Passion."
"My daughter especially thinks its cool," Scanlan said with a laugh.
To see photos of World Beard Champion Jack Passion visit JackPassion.com. Or, to see what's next for The Gem City Gentlemen of Gilded Beard check out their website.