Although Reg Regenstein has grown a luxurious beard while he’s been waiting out the pandemic at home for the last year, the project didn’t really require much thought or effort.
“I’ve always hated shaving. And so, staying in during the pandemic was an excuse to let my beard go for a day or two and then another day or two. And pretty soon it’s too big to shave.”
Regenstein, who for many years wrote a regular column for the Jewish Georgian newspaper, is descended from the founder of the Regenstein’s Department Store, which was an Atlanta landmark for over a century.
The founder of the store Julius Regenstein, like many 19th century men, had a well-groomed, full beard, but that is not what motivates his great-grandson today. He is fond of telling the story about Oscar Wilde, the famed British author, who saw shaving as a needless exercise.
“Wilde’s son came in one day while he was shaving and said, ‘Daddy, why are you doing that?’ and he couldn’t figure out why he was doing it, so he quit shaving, and so did I. It hasn’t changed my life much.”
Not so for Yuri Abramov, who runs the Vintage Barber Shop in Sandy Springs. He came to America with his parents in 1989 as a child during the wave of Jewish immigration from the Soviet Union. While he grew up in a world of moustaches and goatees in the Russian Jewish community in New York City, it was the COVID pandemic that brought him face-to-face with the many full beards of Atlanta.
“I would say probably seven out of 10 guys who come into the shop for a haircut have some sort of beard. It doesn’t matter whether they are blue collar or corporate guys, younger or older, they just let their beards grow. Many people working out of the house, they don’t have be as presentable as before. Beards have been taking off in the past year, year and a half.”
As beards have become more popular, so have the many new products that are used to take care of them. The global beard care market was estimated to be worth almost $2.5 billion in 2019, even before the pandemic, and growing fast.
Important players in the worldwide beard care marketplace are such familiar brands as L’Oreal, Revlon, and Estee Lauder. Michael Dubin, a 2001 graduate of Emory University sold his Dollar Shave Club company to Unilever for $1 billion in 2016.
Abramov describes the market for grooming products, such as beard oils, as “huge.”
“There are literally dozens of formulations for every size and shape of beard, sold over the internet by such firms as Honest Amish and Wild Willies.”
And if that beard is not quite as full as you would like, then at least one firm in Atlanta offers beard transplants, under strict medical supervision.
That’s something Rabbi Brad Levenberg is not quite ready for yet, although he’s on his second try in the last year to grow a beard he’s really happy with.
The efforts started years ago, during the period between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot, which is traditionally a time when many Jewish men avoid shaving.
But then, as now, he hasn’t had much luck and he’s not sure how much longer he’ll continue to grow the beard he has now.
“I still to this day can’t really grow a good beard. Not only does it not grow in thick enough to be able to style it, but I’m a novice in my ability to groom it. Now I’m at the point where it’s getting a little cumbersome.”
But for Lance England whose beard has gotten some notice at Congregation Etz Chaim, where he’s a member, the sense of freedom that comes with not shaving each day is worth whatever other considerations there are.
“It’s nice to just do something that you want to do. You don’t really have to have a good reason to do it. Obviously [there are] things during this pandemic we can control and things we can’t control. And this is just one really small thing that I can control. And if I want to grow it out, I’m going to grow it out.”