August 10, 2004 marks the last time that Professor Paul Roof picked up a razor and shaved his face. Since then, he has been growing, grooming, gelling and garnering public attention for his facial hair. Maybe you’ve taken one of his sociology classes. Maybe you’ve seen him around campus. Or maybe you’ve seen his face staring back at you as you take a swig from a can of a Holy City Follicle Brown brew. It doesn’t really matter how you know him, but it’s almost guaranteed what you know him for: his beard.
Dr. Roof is not a new (bearded) face on the CofC campus. In fact, this semester marks his third time teaching at the College. And yes, he was the man in the news this summer for getting fired from Charleston Southern University because he appeared on a beer can. More on that later. The good news is that he’s back, beard and all. Initially, Roof worked at CofC beginning with a three year stretch from 2000-2003. At which time, Roof, originally from Columbia, decided to leave South Carolina and try something new.
This takes us to where the beard began – Farmington, New Mexico. Roof was teaching at San Juan Community College when he made the decision never to shave his face again. Why? In college, when Roof realized that he was capable of growing a beard, he thought to himself, “This is going to be cool one day.” His girlfriend at the time did not agree. Roof said she made him shave his beard, and that, “while I was doing it, I felt emasculated–I did this for a girl.” From that day forward, Roof stopped shaving almost completely. Luckily, he found a wife who insisted he have a beard on their wedding day. Since the wedding, Roof has shaved a grand total of two times.
After a couple years spent in the Southwest with his wife, the couple decided to return to Charleston in 2005 in order to settle down and start their family. Roof’s first child, KK, was born that fall. Meanwhile, the beard grew longer.
After returning to South Carolina, Roof began developing a blueprint for a new club specifically created for those with interesting facial hair. In 2007, Roof founded the Holy City Beard and Moustache Society and is the current chair (to which Roof remarked, “I’m the Commander…How ‘bout that?”) Currently, this group is made up of 27 members and it’s still growing. The Holy City Beard and Moustache Society meets monthly at different bars around town. In addition to their monthly meetings, they travel to different cities or even countries for beard and moustache competitions. Roof said, “Here’s the thing with a beard competition, it’s an excuse to have a good time.”
Just like any other type of competition, there are categories, judges, a scoring system and even costumes. Roof said, “It’s like a beauty competition.” The difference? More hair. Men of all ages participate in these competitions. Roof said men show up “that look like they’ve been in ‘Lord of the Rings’, without having gone through makeup.” Men with such voluminous beardage have to braid their hair for daily wear because it becomes an inconvenience. Roof explained that having a beard can make it seem like you’re wearing a napkin on your chest all the time. With a chuckle, Roof said, “There can be situations when facial hair isn’t the best thing–but beauty has a price.”
Not all men at these competitions resemble Gandalf the Grey. Beard competitions can appeal to a younger crowd, too. For example, Dr. Roof is preparing to hand down the beard wax to one of his students here at CofC, Daniel Lowder, who has been growing his beard out for roughly seven months. Lowder hopes to join the society in the next couple years when his beard gets long enough, at which time he will participate in the “College Beard” division.
But it’s not all hairspray and Pabst Blue Ribbon for these self-pronounced “beardos.” The Holy City Beard and Moustache Society hosts an annual competition here in Charleston that benefits the Center for Women, a charity for ovarian cancer research. Roof said that in the last five years, the club has raised close to $30,000 for ovarian cancer research. That’s not to say that the weekend of the competition, which typically takes place in the Spring, isn’t filled with tomfoolery. Roof said, “People come from all over. There’s people from all different incomes, ages and professions. It’s a community. People know me as ‘The Professor.’”
Don’t think that this fun is only limited to men. Where’s the thrill without the occasional bearded lady? Introducing, the Whiskerina Category. It’s not necessarily the testosterone-imbalanced woman at the circus that you’re picturing in your head; whiskerinas are women who create beards out of assorted materials and compete in two categories: “Fake Creative” and “Fake Realistic.” Some notable “Fake Creative” beards include ones made of five O’cork Shadow (made of wine corks), Spongebeard Squarepants (made of sponge) or even a Paul Roof Holy City beard (made with beer cans to commemorate Dr. Roof’s famous image.) Roof said, “Whiskerinas are like groupies, the free-lovin’ souls that they are, but they get competitive too.”
Many of you are probably wondering how exactly a beard is judged. In the competition, there is a variety of categories that cover a broad spectrum. Beards are judged in length and measured from the lower lip, color, density and personality. Men can wear their beards au natural, or they can choose to enter the freestyle competition, where they can style or gel their beards to take another form. This process includes assorted hairsprays, beard batters, beard savers, beard balms, pomades, leave-in conditioners and waxes. Unsurprisingly enough, the styling can take hours. This is Dr. Roof’s area of expertise. Coming from a man who has styled his beard into the form of the Liberty Bell (pendulum and all), Roof’s perspective on freestyling is not to be taken lightly. The precision in which Roof styles his facial hair has led him to a plethora of success in the Beardo world. In competitions, Roof takes all details into consideration. Trimming split ends. Taming “flyaways.” All the way down to the color of t-shirt that he wears, there is a very precise plan of action behind every time Roof stands before a judge.
This precision in his art got Roof and his club featured in an episode of the TV show Whisker Wars (available on Netflix, in case curiosity gets the best of you). Roof, who has participated in numerous competitions since 2007, nationally and internationally, said, “Sometimes my wife and I go to the world championships as an anniversary trip, the two that we went to together were Alaska in 2009 and Norway in 2011.” Just last year, Roof took second place in the country for freestyle beard when he styled his facial hair to take the form of a giant pair of scissors.
That same winning style ended up on the can for the Holy City Follicle Brown brew. At the time that Roof’s image was placed on the beer can, he was working at Charleston Southern University. In the midst of the first week of classes during this past summer, Roof found out that he would no longer be teaching at the university due to the fact that his face (and the hair that comes with it) appeared on the alcoholic beverage. Roof commented, “Charleston Southern is a Southern Baptist school and they had a problem with that.” The beer can, which has since helped raise a significant amount of money for ovarian cancer research, can be purchased locally.
Charleston Southern released a statement this summer saying that sometimes difficult decisions must be made for the school, because the values of
Charleston Southern “are always paramount.” Apparently, Roof’s debut on the beer can did not fall under those values. Roof was teaching a class on a Thursday, and by the following Monday, that same class had a different professor. However, Roof is happy to be back at the College of Charleston.
“The College and my colleagues here came to my support when I needed it and the College has been a part of my life since 2000. I don’t plan on leaving it again,” he said.
But let’s get back to that beard. To Roof, it’s just hair that he takes care of. Like the rest of us, he washes it, shampooes it and conditions it just like in any regular beauty routine–with the exception of the daily application of beard oil. “But the interesting thing about a beard,” he said, “is how others perceive it and [let it] define you.” Roof pays close attention to the sociological attention that comes with having a beard. Many undertones of gender, grooming and beauty tend to surface pertaining to Roof’s scruffy appearance. Although he says it can become a master status, he also said that when he’s around town with his family, people don’t see him specifically for his facial hair, “they just see a dad with a beard.” As for his children, they’ve never known him any other way; the beard is older than they are. Roof’s second-born, Matthew (6) aspires to have his own moustache one day.
As for now, Roof will continue keeping his promise to never shave again by growing out his beard until the day he dies. Roof said, “Hopefully at my funeral it will be very gray and I will have lived a long and productive life.” And with a glimmer of happiness in his eye and a grin broadening underneath the 14-inch-long scruff, I can’t help but believe that he’s on the right track.
This article first appeared in the October 2014 issue of The Yard.