My week with mutton chops
It was last Sunday night when I realized that I wanted to shave my beard. I’d been sporting it for nearly a year, since my foot surgery back in November 2010, and it had become my “look.” But I was getting tired of it, and because I had decided it was time to start working out daily and lose weight, part of my inspiration would be to lose the beard so I could visibly see the fruits of my efforts in my receding second chin.
So Kelly was at work and Parker was asleep, and I made the choice to break out the clippers. I had been wondering for weeks how it would look with no chin hair…just a side-beard with a moustache connector…and imagined that it would look something in between an Irish bartender and Wolverine from X-Men. Turns out, it was an interesting, different and altogether unique look that I hadn’t envisioned – and still can’t quite decide if it was a good choice.
The tricky part about shaving a beard is, of course, the symmetry. You have to make sure one side is cut the same as the other, or else you’re going to look lop-sided for a few days to a few weeks depending on how long your beard is to begin with. For nearly a year, I had developed a nice routine to shave with a razor every three to five days, beginning with the left cheek then the right. It’s a smooth motion sweeping from the front of the ear down across the cheek and slightly up at the end to transition into the moustache. The other side is done the same way, and if done right looks very clean. The neckline, however, is an entirely different animal.
My neck shaving routine began easily enough, with a razor pressed at the base of my ear and dragged straight down along the tendon on either side of my head. The toughest part about what follows – and which led to more than a few raw spots on the soft part of the neck – is getting the neckline as straight as possible. Often, I’d go straight to the middle, squarely beneath my chin and drag the razor down. That created a nice, even horizontal line from which I could base the next series of cuts. I’d then alternate shaving lanes on each side, making as straight a line as possible from the chin cut to the ear cut. Any obviously flawed cuts would be cut over and over again, taking a tiny bit more hair off each time, until the line was even. That part tended to irritate the skin more often then not, so making an even first cut was a welcome skill to eventually master.
At first, I began making my neckline cut across the base of my second chin. I know that sounds gross, but whatever. I’m over it. Anyway, it worked well because the hair that was left tended to obscure the second chin fold. That’s the way I had it for nearly the entire time. But I couldn’t leave well enough alone, and just a few weeks ago decided to try cutting the neckline higher up along the base of my actual chin. This posed a problem on several levels. First, I didn’t want to be that guy … you know, the one who knows he’s overweight but tries to disguise the neck fat by cutting his beard to where his jawline would have been if he had one. I’ve known (and know) more than one fat guy who tries that and fools exactly no one. Second, not only does it look like you’re trying to create a pseudo-jaw from neck fat but it actually accentuates how fat the neck is because of the stark contrast between the area with hair (the chin) and the area without hair (the second chin.)
Still, I thought maybe my neck fat wasn’t as fat as it looked and decided to try cutting my beard higher up my neck. Big mistake. For about a week I was that guy described in the previous paragraph, and I didn’t shave again for seven days. When I did shave again, I went back to the original even neckline but it left me with two layers of growth…a full beard covering my first chin, followed by a stubbly beard emerging on my second chin. I know. Even grosser.
That, I think, is what finally led me to start considering the chops. After all, if it worked for 19th century presidents, why not give it a shot? So I fired up the clippers and began trimming the chin hairs, taking particular care not to disrupt what would become the line from the corners of my mouth down to my neck. After trimming those down to stubble, I hit it with the razor blade. Ten minutes and several strategic and deliberate strokes later, my vision had become reality. I’d created a mutton.
Now this particular style of mutton chops I’d given myself is sometimes referred to as the “friendly mutton” or “Lemmy.” It is not to be confused with the type of mutton chops sported by Elvis Prestly or the Fonz or Meat Loaf in the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Those are more big, hairy sideburns. No, I wanted my chops to be remeniscent of a classic, 19th century working class look. Hence, the friendly mutton. So there I was, with my newly-cut facial hair. I was so excited to see what Kelly thought that I texted her this picture with the message, “How do you like me now?”
Her reply? “I don’t!”
And that began my weeklong experiment. I wanted to see if I could get away with the new look for a while. At first, I was very self conscious and couldn’t stop looking at myself in the mirror. I would make different faces to see what expressions looked good with the friendly mutton and which ones didn’t. The first thing I noticed was when I look down, my freshly exposed chin(s) double up and look very unattractive. Mental note…don’t look down.
But the other thing I noticed was how absolutely frickin’ badass it looked too. I mastered a few choice expressions before the weekend was out and realized that if I stuck to those, people wouldn’t be inclined to mess with me.
Now it bears noting that the chops looked best with the hat you see in the picture to the right. A very classic Irish look, that with the right outfit can really make me look good. There were a few times during the week where I realized that while my facial hair convey a sort of tough guy persona, my preppie work clothes diminished that persona significantly. The trick was finding some work clothes that struck a happy medium between the two…a difficult task to say the least.
Another thing I noticed was that people tended to stare at me wherever I went. Frankly, I didn’t see why considering that we live in Olympia, Washington, and are constantly surrounded by people with bizzare hairstyles. Still, I found myself being stared at more than I expected. Some looks were approving, others a bit fearful. One mother even gathered up her kids close to her as I passed by in the supermarket. Okay, I made that part up…but still, it would have been kind of cool.
So while I was going for a level of Hugh Jackman coolness – or at least biker dude who was not to be messed with – I found it difficult to pull off when, say, working out at the gym, swimming with my 3-year-old in the pool, delivering a presentation at work, or jogging around the lake on a lunch break. These are things that tough guy bikers don’t do, which is why they can get away with a badass beard cut. If I had spent the week slugging down beer and whiskey and playing pool at a tavern in Shelton, I totally could have pulled it off. As it stands, that’s not me and the mutton chops – while fun to sport for a week – simply weren’t destined for long-term greatness.
One last note. I was surprised by the differences of opinion between men and women. Nearly every dude I encountered either had jealousy in his eyes or actually told me how cool the new look was. I now believe it’s a foregone conclusion that all men wish they could sport some badass facial hair. Women, on the other hand, had mixed reactions. Some of the women I encountered were visibly excited by the new look (I think it was the bad-boy appeal that some women respond to). More often than not, however, I received a polite, “Oh, that looks nice,” or didn’t say anything at all. The few ladies I’m closer to – including my wife – left me with, “Well, as long as you’re happy with it…”
So thus ends my week with mutton chops. I’m shaving them today and will be clean cut, probably at least through the special legislative session in December. Odds are, however, that the temptation to grow facial hair again will become too great to resist before the regular session in January, and I’ll likely be sporting another goatee by the time it rolls around…just because I can.