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Hairy Decisions

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Corporate-style grooming: Can you keep the beard?

What worked for Abraham Lincoln may not work for you. The thing is, beards and corporate life are a tricky combo. You don't want cling-ons from lunch tagging along to a business meeting. You don't want to look like you just fell off the hippie train. And you certainly don't want to be mistaken for Kevin Federline.

That doesn't necessarily mean that, once you start traipsing through the corridors of power, you have to bid your whiskers goodbye. But you do have to treat a beard just as you would an unruly puppy: It needs attentive care. "Facial hair and the skin underneath should be kept neat, clean and conditioned," says Eric Malka, CEO of The Art of Shaving, a shaving-products company. "You need to select a shape that suits you and know how to properly groom and maintain it."

Here are some quick guidelines to help you decide what kind of facial hair-if any-will suit you on the job.

Look around Do you work at Goldman Sachs? Then it's probably time to reconsider that soul patch. "Follow the same rules as for anything you do," says Scott Omelianuk, co-author of Things a Man Should Know About Work and Sex (and Some Things in Between). "Look for guidance from coworkers. Survey the office." In the most conservative places, it isn't a question of finding an appropriate look: any beard at all is probably a lousy idea.

Get a second opinion You may think you can style your beard all by your lonesome. Your face, your beard, right? Think again: It's next to impossible for a man to judge the quality of his own whiskers. "If you have a spouse or girlfriend, she's gonna have an opinion," says Omelianuk. Trust your significant other on this. As for what your buds think

Keep It Simple Don’t treat your facial hair like a topiary garden: It shouldn’t look like you’re making a statement. “Stay away from edgy facial hair,” says Omelianuk. “Just make sure it’s well-kept and trimmed—and you don’t want it going down the neck or up the cheeks.” Even trimming has its limits: The Don Johnson look is out.

Cut! There’s always the sad possibility that you might have to give up your beard altogether. At least initially. Omelianuk thinks it’s best to go without until you’ve established yourself professionally. “You want to look like you’re a team player,” he says. “A beard could look out of place—like you’ve grown one in seventh grade.” Take the example of Willie Nelson: When he was hacking away as a songwriter in the Nashville system, he was clean-shaven. It was only after he became a star in his own right that Willie adopted his familiar whiskers.
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