Conan O'Brien has gone wild. Now that he's free of the grooming requirements of hosting The Tonight Show - a clean-shaven gig if ever there was one - and no longer under the thumb of his former corporate overlords, the comedian has hit the road with a stage show and a bushy new beard.
Earlier this year, the gossip site TMZ.com referred to it as an "unemployment beard." But it's more like a "I can do whatever the hell I want and I don't care what you think beard."
Because when it comes to feral facial hair, whether it's Brad Pitt's gnarly goatee or Zach Galifianakis's mountain-man shag, the appeal lies in showing off a rebellious independence.
"It says, 'I can get away with this, I'm not a corporate slave, I don't have to follow your standards,' " says Allan Peterkin, co-author of The Bearded Gentleman: The Style Guide to Shaving Face.
But too often, bushy beards don't just send the message "I don't care about conforming." They also send the message that a guy doesn't care about anything, especially his appearance.
"This is one manifestation of a bad habit among men to pass off their indifference as personal style," says James Bassil, editor-in-chief of AskMen.com. "It's a bit of an excuse for sloppiness. It's a look that accommodates laziness. And I think the result is that other men are generally more impressed with it than women are."
There have been a handful of studies, however, that show women uniformly rate bearded men as more masculine than their clean-shaven peers, Peterkin says.
Considering our cultural associations with bearded men, it's probably not all that surprising that women see bushy guys as having more testosterone pumping through their veins. "It sort of invokes the wild man, the frontier, the lumberjack, but in a playful fashion," Peterkin says.
But don't expect to get many dates out of the deal. The same studies in which women rated bearded men as masculine also found fuzzy-faced dudes don't fare so well in the romance department. "When asked if they'd want to go out with you or if they find it attractive, most said not," Peterkin says.
Tamara Glick, owner of Trademark Image Consulting in Toronto, says the key to making facial hair attractive is not allowing it to become unruly. "The point in wearing facial hair well is that it is well groomed," she says.
Still, men can take solace in the fact that, while the beard might not win them any love from the ladies, it will earn them more cred - and not just the street variety.
A recent study in the Journal of Marketing Communications found that men with beards were seen as more credible and trustworthy when they were endorsing things such as cellphones compared with men who were clean-shaven.
Then again, the study only looked at neatly trimmed, medium-length beards. Grow a beard as long and as untamed as Pitt's goatee and you might come off as sketchy rather than credible.
Have you seen Brad Pitt lately? He might look like he doesn't care one iota about anyone's opinion of him, sure, but no one is going to buy a cellphone from that guy so long as he's got that thing on his face.