Is it just us, or does this latest shutdown seem a bit less hairy than the last time there was a long-term government-funding dispute? Back in 2013, when things came to a halt for 16 long days, many furloughed workers marked the time by growing their beards out, often tweeting pics of their shutdown scruff with the hashtag #ShutdownBeards.
Now the situation seems significantly different. Sure, there are a few #ShutdownBeard bristles here and there on Instagram and Twitter, but it’s nothing like it was six years ago. So why aren’t DC’s furloughed workers excited about their face fuzz this time around?
We called up beard expert Eric Bandholz for some insight. As the founder of facial-hair-care company Beardbrand, he spends a lot of time thinking about what dudes do with their faces. Bandholz is very familiar with the idea of beards as markers of some current chapter of the bearer’s life, whether it’s a beach vacation, paternity leave, or a scary state of temporary unemployment due to the failings of a brutally dysfunctional federal government. “You look in the mirror and see that change every single day,” he says.
But these days, facial hair might not be as much fun as it once was. According to Bandholz, the initial #ShutdownBeard trend came at a time when the popularity of beards was rapidly increasing. Now, bushy facial hair is commonplace, and growing one doesn’t make the statement it once did. “It’s almost like the first time you ever have sex,” Bandholz says. “It’s the greatest thing ever. You tell all your friends about it. Then, ten years into marriage, nobody knows about it.”
But Jon Schwabish, who grew a shutdown beard in 2013 while he worked at the Congressional Budget Office, offers a different theory (he no longer works for the government). Maybe people are afraid to share their beards publicly because this shutdown could go on so long. “You could see the light at the end of the tunnel [in 2013],” he says. “This one I don’t really see that way.” Two weeks’ worth of scruff is one thing; if this goes on for months, as Trump has threatened, the beard situation could fast get out of control.
Then again, beards are pretty easy to ditch, should the desire arise. Just ask Ben Goldberg, who works for the State Department and had been growing a beard during the current shutdown. He recently shaved it off, though, and not because the shutdown was dragging on too long. So what did it? “We’re going to a bar mitzvah in New York this weekend,” he says, “and I didn’t look appropriate.”