Megan and Derwood Willhite were driving cross-country from North Carolina in 2011 when Derwood decided he was ready to take the plunge.

They were moving to Rocky Mountain country. It was time to free his follicles.

"I had a beard roughly an inch, it was scraggly and itchy, and I didn't know what to do with it," said Derwood, who told his wife he wanted to go full "Mountain Man."

Megan didn't bristle at the announcement, per se, so long as her husband promised to keep things tidy and fragrant - not the raggedy whiskers he'd sported after getting out of the Army or while touring the East Coast with his reggae band.

At the time, cultivating and maintaining one's face topiary was easier requested than done. Aside from shaving cream and aftershave, beard and mustache care options mostly were limited to homemade offerings for sale on websites such as Etsy.

That realization, combined with a gift of beard oil from Derwood's stepmother and a timely viewing of the movie "A Million Ways to Die in the West," led the couple to start Vintage Grooming Co. in 2014. The storefront on Nevada Avenue opened a little more than a year ago in Colorado Springs selling all-natural scented and unscented beard oils, hair and body balms, mustache waxes and soaps, and other grooming items. All body products are handmade by Megan and as locally sourced as possible.

Since the Willhites launched their company, the "sir"-lon industry has gone full-beard, taking in $34 billion in 2016.

"It's grown tremendously. We started as a beard company and were one of the first 10 beard companies that you could find on Google," Derwood said. "Now there are upwards of 400. Now every state in America has had a beard company named after it."

Colorado a key part of trend

If numbers alone don't make the point, look around. From snowboards to boardrooms, the beard is back - especially in Colorado, whose capital came in No. 6 on a 2015 ranking of the "Most Facial Hair Friendly Cities in America" by Wahl grooming products.

"I would say Colorado is one of the driving forces in beards," said Jason Crampton, owner of Lincoln St. Barbers in the Springs.

"There are lots of great beard companies coming out of here. It's definitely a mecca for facial hair."

In his 10 years in the industry, and especially in the nine months since opening his shop in Lincoln Center on Cascade Avenue, Crampton has seen the popularity "snowball."

"We see more and more guys come in with their starter beards," said Crampton, who sports an impressive handlebar 'stache. "The trend is getting bigger and bigger and I don't know when it's going to slow down honestly."

Until relatively recently, however, barbering appeared to be "kind of a dying industry," said Brian Aguilar, whose grandfather founded the family's Pueblo-based chain of barbershops and hair salons in 1968 and, for a time, owned a barbering school in the city.

"We've got more schools and are seeing a lot more people coming in with a lot more variations of beards wanting to add more style, design and distinction," he said.

Men are using more products, too, and seem to be more willing to indulge in a salon-style "experience" - so long as it's a manly one, Aguilar said.

"The popularity of men's grooming is driven by guys wanting to go back to traditional barbershops, guys wanting that gathering place they can hang out in that's built for guys and has licensed barbers working for it," he said.

The beard was king before

Not in a century has a hirsute countenance been so haute.

Once upon a time, for a very long time, the beard was king. Society's taste for the clean-shaven look is relatively new, the practical result of chemical warfare and the need for a tight seal when strapping a gas mask to the face.

"Up until World War I, beards were the most common thing in the world. Then the military began issuing razors," Willhite said.

When whisker-free soldiers returned victorious to America, little boys dreamed of one day looking like their heroes.

"Nowadays little boys want to look like their favorite ballplayer, and many of them now are sporting beards. But you have to take care of it, and a lot of guys don't know how," said Willhite, who's recorded a series of instructional videos on YouTube. There's also a private parlor at his shop where gentlemen can be treated to a $100 spa package, with haircut, beard trim and shave, provided by Aguilar's, and a local craft beverage - perhaps from the coffee shop next door, Inertia, which Willhite also owns.

"More and more guys are just looking for a place where they can relax and learn something about how to take care of themselves. They want to, their wives are wanting them to or their work is wanting them to," he said.

A fella doesn't need a ZZ Top fuzzy waterfall or a mug that could hide Chuck Norris' third fist to be in need of some stylin,' either.

"We tell guys size doesn't matter when it comes to beards," said Willhite, adding that oils and balms can help grow a healthy crop and stave off the dryness and itchiness that often sets in at the critical 1-inch point. "Be yourself, that's what a beard is. We want guys to sport their character. Grow it long, grow it big, grow it short or whatever you feel like doing, but do it right."

Vintage Grooming products can be found online and everywhere from barbershops to a reptile pavilion in Georgia, the gift shop at Cave of the Winds and Pikes Peak Harley-Davidson.

"There are bikers all over this town taking care of their beards," Willhite said. "They might be a little more quiet about it, but they're still doing it."



Stephanie Earls is a news reporter and columnist at The Gazette. Before moving to Colorado Springs in 2012, she worked for newspapers in upstate NY, WA, OR and at her hometown weekly in Berkeley Springs, WV, where she got her start in journalism.

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