Armitage beard aesthetics

[I’ve been so busy that I haven’t been able to continue “barbatus,” so I’m going to see what new data appears from Comic-Con before deciding how to proceed on that. I really hope he still has the beard. Mr. Armitage, don’t change your hair for me, not if you care for me! Don’t shave your beard for me, since it’s so dear for me!

Updated: okay, this probably means the beard will be gone. Darn. But Armitage as father, oh, yeah; he was amazing as Alexandra Porter’s father. It almost makes me want to keep blogging after the premiere of The Hobbit.]


In full beard, but probably impractical for every day: Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield in preproduction vlog #4 for The Hobbit. Source:


If you didn’t read this speculation on what makes women love beards at A is for Armitage from FanstRAvaganza 3 (or even if you did), you might want to look at it. I don’t know if I found any of the explanations she cites convincing, but I can’t really tell you why I love the beard, either. Except that I do and my reaction to it on February 11, 2011, was instant and visceral. (OK, I have a few ideas about why, but that topic belongs in another post.) Of course, love of The Beard will neither keep you out of hell, nor get you into heaven. I had said that I wasn’t going to write a post about the aesthetic features of The Beard, but in trying to re-enter my “Armitage barbatus” series, I thought it would be a useful exercise.

The appearance of facial hair growth in human males is determined both by the number of follicles on the skin and by their response to the androgens that affect hair growth. Facial hair is one of the last sex characteristics to appear. It also has a different growth pattern than other hair on the head, with a shorter growth phase and a longer dormant phase. The density of the facial hair is determined mostly by the placement of the hair follicles on the face, which is an inherited trait. So Armitage must come from families with men of strong beard growth. A greater follicle density in combination with higher levels of androgens mean a thicker, faster growing, more luxuriant beard, something Mr. Armitage has in spades.

Here’s a picture that gives us an idea of the general contours of Mr. Armitage’s very healthy beard growth:

Richard Armitage, interviewed for “Hood Academy” short. Source:

One thing you can see clearly from this picture, even from a distance, is the varying density of the hair follicles. Armitage enjoys very thick growth along the neck, and a clear line across the top of his cheek, but sparser placement toward the middle of his jaw, and a very dark patch along his chin. This thick but slightly uneven growth is something that’s very easy to even out with an electric shaver, as the shaver can be set to cut off all hairs at an equal length. It’s a bit harder to manage for men who shave wet, as the five o’clock shadow of a wet shaver will always look a little uneven because of differing follicle placement. We know from the Robin Hood publicity that Armitage described himself as a wet shaver, but Lucas North’s stubble was so perfectly cultivated that he almost certainly must have used an electric shaver to create it (or be an incredibly talented wet shaver).

Perfectly even stubble (click to enlarge): Richard Armitage as Lucas North in a promotional photo for series 9 of Spooks. Source:

Another look at the thinner follicle population along the midline of the jaw, from the other side, although clearly affected by the makeup artist’s decision about where to end the sideburn in this case:

Guy of Gisborne (Richard Armitage) and Marian (Lucy Griffiths) at their ill-fated wedding, in Robin Hood 1.13. Source:

or here:

Richard Armitage, from Hood Academy short. Source:

Let’s continue to take a closer look at Mr. Armitage’s follicle placement. Here’s a frontal view of The Beard in spe from one of those huge photos:

Some things to note, here (click to enlarge if necessary):

  • Note the clearly dense follicle placement and thick growth along the lower corners of the cheeks where they meet the jaws (what we would call the jowls) and chin (sympathies, Mr. Armitage, I see some redness on the chin there).
  • Contrast that to the presence of thinner hairs in the part of the beard that would make a goatee — the bar that extends from his chin to his lower lip. Here the very dense follicle growth goes right up to the vermilion border of the lip, though the hairs are visibly less coarse.
  • Now, look at his upper lip — the follicles that populate the mustache. Here, the growth is much more differentiated. On the one hand we have very thick follicle placement in some areas, such as the top of the philtrum, but not all — there are a few thinner patches, and the dense follicle placement stops well short of the upper boundary of the vermilion border of the lip.
  • Finally, consider the sides of the mustache, which connect it with the lower part of the beard at the edges of the mouth. From this perspective, we see relatively parallel lines extending downward, with very dense follicle placement, but it’s worth noting as well that on the right side of his face, the side of the mustache connects to the beard on his cheek, while on the left side of his face, the follicle placement does not allow this. This effect can be seen more clearly from this perspective:

As we have long known, the stubble can be shaved to create different looks. For instance, the rather round-faced look of John Mulligan, probably intended to enhance the impression of innocent masculinity the character hoped to create:

John Mulligan (Richard Armitage) baits Ellie in the final scene of Moving On: Drowning not Waving. Source:

while the full stubble look can create a more threatening look simply because it makes his chin look edgier:

Richard Armitage, promotional photo, 2009. Source:

Why spend so much time on follicle placement, when the topic is beard aesthetics? Simply because the placement of follicles strongly affects how the longer beard will look. What looks like extremely dense follicle placement with a few small areas of thin placement ends up having larger consequences for Armitage’s look when the beard grows out. In my opinion, the follicle placement is part of why people have issues with what they have called a “grizzly” full beard on Mr. Armitage.

The full beard appeared for public viewing the first time at the first press conference for The Hobbit on February 11, 2001, in Wellington, where someone referred to the generally unshaven look of the cast, which was finishing up “Dwarf Camp,” as “creative” facial hair. (I thought at the time — if you’re one of those men who resents the constant social pressure to shave, what a dream to be cast in this movie.)

Richard Armitage, Wellington, New Zealand, February 11, 2001. Source:

Click to enlarge if necessary to see the growth of the beard hairs. This looks like a beard that had been allowed to grow, untrimmed, for at least two weeks — the beard hairs on the neck look like they are at least a half an inch long, and the stray hairs from the beard on the chin jut out, willy nilly and unconfined. The viewer can see here the full consequences of varying follicle placement on the completely untrimmed beard.

However, it seemed that this beard disappeared almost immediately, as Armitage appeared at a charity event for the Christchurch rebuilding efforts on March 15, 2011:

Richard Armitage with UK High Commissioner Vicki Treadell, March 15, 2011. Source:

If I recall correctly, we saw The Beard for the next time in July, 2011. First, in the vlogs of that month, which seemed to be taken shortly before the filming break, and in which Armitage appeared with a very practical beard:

Richard Armitage, preproduction vlog #3 for The Hobbit. Source:

With his face half in shadow, it was difficult to say much about the beard, but it looks very much like the “beard for every day,” close cropped but basically unstyled.

Then we saw him in two photo shoots that appeared in summer, 2011. In both of these, The Beard was fully grown out, but also fully domesticated. In both cases, even apart from the retouching that must have occurred, we can see here the attempts of the photographer or photostylists to manage Armitage’s beard. The Project Magazine shot was made in New Zealand (I think? Correct me if I am wrong) and possibly preceded the vlog.

Richard Armitage, Project Magazine shoot, appeared July 2011. Source:

Two things are particularly notable above: the style combats the unevenness of follicle placement over the philtrum by using the longest hairs from the places of most dense follical placement in Mr. Armitage’s mustache — that is, from the top of the mustache. Thus the mustache hairs have to be relatively long, and even in some places curve over his lip. That is unfortunate for the expressive capacities of the lips, but this is a very nineteenth-century mustache look and for me, has the effect of enhancing his appearance of thoughtfulness. (It’s also harder to eat aesthetically when mustache hairs are that long.) The other noticeable feature of the style is that the goatee bar is grown out to its apparent maximum, with the beard itself trimmed back so the goatee and beard are similar in texture and density. Stray hairs on the chin that don’t fit into either beard or goatee are eliminated. What’s potentially not to like about this look is its capacity to disguise the depressor angulari oris — it makes the wearer of the beard look very guarded. Hence the perception among some people that beard-wearers have something to hide.

Another perspective on the domestication of the beard was seen in the Recognise Magazine photoshoot for the issue that never appeared (labeled June 2011, but we know this piece was done in London, so postdated the vlog).

Richard Armitage, Recognize Magazine photoshoot, labeled June 2011. Source:

These photos were so heavily retouched that they almost qualify as works of art in their own right, but what I’m interested in here is the relative untamed quality of the mustache, which the other stylist had paid a lot of attention to, in favor of an attempt to smooth down and even out the line of the beard over the sides of the jaw. This seems like an attempt to deal with the thinner follicle placement along the jaw by ending the upper margin of the beard at this point.

It was on the red carpet for the premiere of Captain America: The First Avenger, and this was the point at which some fans began to object more vociferously to the “grizzly” beard. My guess is that we’re looking here at a beard that was trimmed heavily in June or July but which was starting to regrow. Here’s the frontal view:

Richard Armitage at the Captain America: The First Avenger premiere, July 2011. Source:

Note the filling in of the spaces on the chin, the complete coverage with mustache hair of the upper lip, over the vermilion border, and the growth of the hairs up the margin of the side of the beard.

Now, I love this beard and I saw it and I just wanted to smush my face into his. Never mind the talk — oh, beardy Armitage, give me some scrape — please!

However, the real aesthetic objections to it come from the side view. The press pics were all frontal. I’m not going to post or annotate the pics that alert us to this issue here, because they all belong to HeathRA, so please follow the links. What can be seen quite clearly from the side is the line on the side of the beard between the part that had been trimmed regularly and the part that was not. In some of those photos it almost looks like the longer hair is long enough to start curling under.

More of an issue, however, for those who love the regal Armitage profile, however, will probably be the way that the beard expands the sides of his jaw and obscures the curve of his chin. The bushiness of the beard gives his face additional volume just where some people would say he doesn’t need it — at the cushion under his jaw — and draws a flat line straight down the chin from his lip to the end of the beard. This look is — we must say it: more Iowa farmer in the winter than suave movie star on the red carpet.

And so finally, just a few thoughts about the last beard picture we saw, from Wellington a few weeks ago. This is a photo-corrected version of a fan pic created by JasRangoon:

What’s noticeable here is the (again) even slightly longer length of the beard at the chin, also very nineteenth-century and hard on that beautiful chin profile. What I love, though, is what we can see really clear here regarding the corners of the mustache — the asymmetry. It almost looks like the shape of the left side of his mustache (the way the follicles express themselves) has been affected by the left-side smirk that’s so inimitably Armitage. It gives that side of the mustache a neat, quirky little twist.

There’s no real punchline, here, except perhaps to say that the follicle placement on his face is important for determining how the beard grows out and what choices stylists have to make depending on the effect they hope to achieve with a full beard. A second summary might note that Armitage has naturally exuberant beard growth but not naturally elegant follicle placement — the would-be movie star will need to keep the beard hairs trimmed, perhaps even more than he anticipates, if he wishes to stick with the beard after his role as Thorin has ended. And I guess, the conclusion is, why did I write all this? Because I love the beard in all its forms, and it was just unbelievably fun to look at it from this distance. So I can only imagine what it might be like to look at from a nearer proximity.

Mmmmm. Beard.

~ by Servetus on July 11, 2012.

26 Responses to “Armitage beard aesthetics”

  1. Servetus loves the Beard. 😀 It was fun to look back at all these variations on the Beardy Goodness. I still remember how bowled over I was over that Hobbit press conference. *sigh*


  2. Oooohhh my favourite Hood academy pic..yum…I love the RA beard in all its forms, trimmed,wild, stubbly, with one exception: I don’t like the way the beard looked at Sir Ian’s fundraiser..It looked really shabby almost vagrant-like. I have 2 OT observations,first, is it just me or does the leather jacket look look..mossy on the vlog screencap (left shoulder/sleeve)? The other observation is that the tie clashes with the shirt on the Captain America premiere pic. Servetus, correct me if I’m wrong about this, I’m not a fashion expert! 🙂


    • the green is probably a lighting issue — maybe that is the green screen in the background.

      I didn’t like the shirt / tie combination, either, but I was happy the shirt fit.


      • Hooray for the properly fitting shirt! I think he’s at his best in casual wear-the good T-shirt-jeans- leather jacket combo. Do you think they’ll hire a stylist for him for The Hobbit premieres?


  3. The beard belonged to Thorin and now he has a new role in which to immerse himself the beard will go toute suite. That’s my theory. Unhappily…


    • I’m sure it will be gone before filming starts for the next film. I’m hoping to see it at Comic Con though


  4. The beard will be history. WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! 😉


  5. Oh, beard! I love his beard. He looks great with almost-every look, but I particularly love how he can look even more manly with it.
    Did I already say that I love beard? 😉


  6. Perhaps he’ll bring back the stubble for the new role? Storm-chasing in search of missing child doesn’t leave much time for shaving…


  7. In spite of the problems with the follicle placement the beard or stubble always looks relatively elegant and neat because of the clear line that separates beard and cheek. Not every man has that, just look at Aidan Turner whose cheeks are covered with irregular hairs up to his cheekbones.


    • his problems are relatively minor. I mostly wanted to point out that’s why his mustache has to take on that rather antiquated look (or look like Monet’s). Most who want to cultivate a beard would be grateful for his follicles.


  8. @Jane, so right – Aidan is a definite Grizzly! Too much, even for a beard-lover. 😀


  9. I don’t know why I was surprised to hear that RA would begin filming a new movie so soon after filming the Hobbit because it fits right in with his work ethic. But I wonder if that gives him enough time to shake off Thorin’s character and if this means he won’t be doing as much PR for The Hobbit. And I was thrilled to to hear he’ll be here in the US working after being in NZ for 2 years.
    Did I read that you aren’t going to blog after the premiere of The Hobbit? Say it isn’t so!


    • it probably won’t be a tremendously *long* shoot.

      the planned end date of this blog more or less since I knew that Armitage had been cast was the date of the Hobbit premiere. Now, of course, everything is up in the air. Don’t worry, I’ll give you plenty of notice 🙂


  10. […] important. Thorin looks good. It’s not just the beard question, though I am partial, but also that burning energy in the eyes, and I’ve put that into the header because it does […]


  11. […] — he’s definitely trimming pieces of the chin and mustache rails to give it definition, great Armitage beard aesthetics! Mmmm, chest hair, chest hair! To the clothes, jeans correctly close-fitting across thighs and rear […]


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