Goatees: Cool and Progressive or Outdated and Passe?

By: Kristen Hall-Geisler  | 

goatee styles
There's a goatee style out there for just about anybody that wants to grow one including (clockwise from top left) the disconnected goatee, the circle beard, the anchor beard, the chin puff, the scruffy goat and the Van Dyke. designalldone/HowStuffWorks

Goatees had a real moment in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Rock bands, boy bands, your dad's cover band, even people who weren't in bands at all — lots of people sported goatees around the turn of the millennium.

But wearing a beard only on your chin never really went away. Stars in the NBA and Hollywood are still rocking goatees without looking out of date or silly. Is it possible for you, a human who is not famous, to wear a goatee and look good even in these times? The short answer is of course yes. But read on to learn how to keep the look modern rather than retro.

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What Exactly Is a Goatee?

Most people know a goatee when they see one. It's facial hair grown on the chin, plus maybe a mustache. But there are a few variations on the style to consider, as some might be more flattering for you than others:

  1. Classic goatee (see image below): The chin hair and soul patch are grown out but kept short, usually less than an inch below the chin.
  2. Disconnected goatee (in graphic above, clockwise from top left): The hair on the chin and the mustache don't connect around the mouth.
  3. Circle beard: This is the style seen most often, where the hair on the chin connects to the mustache around the sides of the mouth.
  4. Anchor beard: The hair on the chin is wider than the mustache so its shape resembles an anchor.
  5. Chin puff: Same as the classic goatee, with chin hair and soul patch, but long — at least 2 inches (5 centimeters) below the chin.
  6. Scruffy goat: Usually a circle beard with stubble along the cheeks and jawline.
  7. Van Dyke: One of the most famous goatees is also one of the fanciest. It involves a neat chin puff and a mustache, often of the handlebar variety. The goatee and mustache are disconnected. A very long and pointed Van Dyke is sometimes called an Imperial.
goatee
The goatee has been a popular way to grow facial hair for centuries. But has its time come and gone?
Fancy/Veer/Corbis/Getty Images

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Goatee History

The history of the goatee is both longer and shorter than you might think. In ancient Greece, Pan the wild god of nature, was depicted as half goat and half man. In early images, he had the head of a goat. Later, he got a human head but kept the little pointed beard that many goats have, along with two goat legs and hooves.

When Christianity came on the scene, it wanted to make other gods and religions seem particularly bad. Pan was wild and hedonistic, so imagery of this goat-man god was used for Satan, including that goatee. This association lingers, it seems. A 2012 study found that triangle shapes that point downward — including faces with goatees — are viewed as negative or angry.

This didn't stop anyone from wearing goatees as a fashion statement, but only because no one really wore goatees anyway. Few people in the ancient world wore goatees, though Egyptian pharaohs did wear metallic false beards called "postiches."

Goatees weren't fashionable at all until one Anthony van Dyck, a 17th-century painter. Not only did he wear one himself, but he painted others wearing a pointy chin-beard-and-mustache combo, including his friend King Charles I of England.

That fad didn't last long, but goatees still popped up occasionally over the years. In the 19th century, they were sometimes associated with the military. General George Custer and fictional characters like The Three Musketeers had goatee variants. And no less an icon than Frederick Douglass had a fierce circle beard in the mid-1800s. But then they went out of style again.

After World War II, the goatee became countercultural, with jazz musicians and beatniks adopting the look. While goatees dropped off during the 1960s among white people, they never went out of fashion for Black people. Goatees involve fewer ingrown hairs, and they're less irritating to facial skin when your beard hair is curly. Malcom X and Julius Erving (better known as Dr. J) wore circle beards, and goatees of various kinds were on the chins of hip-hop stars like Big Daddy Kane and Ice Cube through the 1980s and '90s.

Goatees became countercultural for white people again in the 1990s when people in grunge bands started wearing them, including Kurt Cobain. For the next decade or so, goatees grew in popularity for everyone, to the point that by the turn of the new millennium, they were a sign of conformity rather than rebellion.

Anthony van Dyck
Anthony van Dyck rocked a goatee in the 17th century. Today he even has a goatee style named for him.
Wikimedia/(CC BY-SA 4.0)

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Goatees Regain Greatness

Like anything that becomes majorly mainstream, goatees became very uncool in the mid-2000s. But like anything that falls out of fashion, goatees are making a comeback. While Guy Fieri famously never gave up on the style, others have tried it out more recently, including Michael B. Jordan, Brad Pitt and Steph Curry.

Here's how to create a flattering shape and keep it trimmed:

  • Use beard clippers to remove unwanted hair and create the basic shape.
  • Put a guard on the clippers to get the length you're looking for under your chin.
  • Comb through your beard to find any stray hairs, and clip them with beard scissors.
  • When using scissors, snip into the hair vertically rather than across it horizontally for a more natural look.
  • If your goatee is longer, maybe a chin puff or scruffy goat, use beard scissors to create a curve at the bottom of the beard. Follow the shape of your chin so it doesn't look too blunt.
  • Finish with beard oil to keep it soft or styling balm for shaping.

If you want a precise circle beard but don't trust yourself to eyeball it, you can find tools like My Perfect Goatee. It provides an adjustable template that covers the hair you want to keep and exposes the rest of your face for shaving.

Goatees are easier to grow and care for than most kinds of facial hair. They're especially great for anyone with a patchy beard or who's had a hard time growing facial hair in the past. There's a goatee style for almost anyone.

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