The L.A. Public Library's Silverlake branch wants to raise a lot of community awareness and a little extra funding. That means they're probably gonna throw a bake sale or a car wash or maybe a used book clearance event, right?
Are you kidding me? This is Silverlake! They hold a beard and mustache contest. Obviously!
A fairly diverse, if hipster-leaning, crowd of more than 250 people congregate in the spacious, modernist structure Tuesday night, some standing in rows two or three deep around the edges, many sitting in neatly arranged chairs facing the makeshift “stage” — an area on the floor in front of a low bookshelf — while a spectacle both epic and humorous unfolds, free to all entrants.
Contestants face off before the crowd in such categories as Hipster/Mustache, Santa Claus, Most Scholarly, Most Outrageous, Go Big or Go Home, Best Fake Beard — Children and Best Fake Beard — Women. Judging is the witty L.A. Times/TIME Magazine columnist Joel Stein, even as facial hair is evident even amongst many spectators.
“I think it's good for the recognition of facial hair as a … valid personal choice, you know?” says Doug Schiess, 28, of Atwater Village, who does not have a beard or mustache but sports thick, several-day stubble. “I once blew a job opportunity in food service 'cause I showed up unshaven, and while I guess I can see why they like that 'clean' look, it's not as if my beard hair is dirty or gonna get in the food.”
Both the variety and fullness of the beards and 'staches is impressive, as is, in several cases, the accompanying sartorial styles that nicely frame and highlight said facial hair. If rocking a scary huge handlebar 'stache, why not dress up as a Wild West gambler-meets-Guys and Dolls-character? If wearing a Dumbledore beard/stache combo, why not go full wizard? Certainly there is an argument to be made of the library/facial hair connection, as so many great literary figures sported distinctive follicular accoutrements.
“I like guys with serious facial hair,” says Amanda Varela, 35, of Glendale. “Is that why I'm here? You can write that I'm supporting the library.” She rolls her eyes in a self-effacing manner. “I do like a good beard or mustache on a man. Maybe it makes him seem more 'manly,' or 'fatherly' — wait, that sounds weird. You know what I mean! Some of my girlfriends like clean-cut guys, always shaved, and so we have totally different tastes, but I think it's good because that way we don't fight over the same men.”
Growing a bread or mustache is certainly a visually measurable or at least assessable accomplishment. But is it a sport? Even more so, can it be a career? In attendance is Jack Passion (apparently his real name), an ex-musician, author of The Facial Hair Handbook and possessor of a mighty, reddish-hued hair stalactite that makes the beards on ZZ Top look like baby-beginner goatees. Passion, who is also an international beard contest champion — no joke — wins his division handily, makes some comments and then takes questions from the crowd. A camera crew from IFC's Whisker Wars stands nearby.
Local businesses like Amoeba Records, Home Restaurant, Trader Joe's, Silverlake Jubilee, Soap Plant and Rockaway Records, along with mustachioed actor Nick Offerman, have donated contest prizes, and the group The Dick & Jane Band has given their time as the event's house band. By selling pint glasses donated by Cha Cha Lounge as well as special branch memberships, the library is able to raise more than $200 on this night.
It's also helped the branch connect with its neighbors.
“We got people who live in the community that come on a regular basis and people who walk by and never come in,” says librarian Jonathan Pitre.