New wave of modernity, and the people falling behind

By Jack Kelly

The world was a drastically different place when Lena Dunham’s HBO show “Girls” premiered in April of 2012. Many Americans still believed the U.S. was in the midst of a deep and cutting recession. The cost of a Brooklyn studio was under $2,000 a month. The Black Keys even headlined at Coachella. Amid all of this confusing, early decade malaise, men were growing beards.

In the few years since Dunham’s character first graced our screens, male facial hair has become the ultimate millennial symbol. It’s now universal in some form or another among male-identifying individuals under 30. Facial hair became fully legitimate in the workplace, and nearly every boutique barbershop caters to its maintenance.

Among the millennial crowd, facial hair is synonymous with a quiet generational nostalgia. Along with wing-tips and Goodwill flannels, the beard represents a kind of naturalistic ruggedness that appears completely ironic within the metropolitan, urban areas with which millennials are known to associate. It seemingly represents a complete rejection of the modern attitudes millennials seek to express. In a world of co-parenting, Uber helicopters and fitness tracking apps, a waxed handlebar mustache feels completely non-sequitur. As for why should it be so popular in a world otherwise obsessed with sleekness and conspicuous consumption,   one might think of 80s consumer culture. For example: does anyone have a beard in Wall Street? It is that culture, particularly its obsession with modernity, that millennials are quick to reject.

In May of this year, Jaden Smith wore a white knee-length skirt while standing next to his prom date and 16-year-old Amandla Stenberg. It’s black and white, clean and simple. Smith is, perhaps unknowingly, personifying a new ideal among the young, hip, hot and urbane community of Instagram. He is casually ambivalent to gender roles; he is embracing a sleek, efficient and genderfluid interruption of modernity instead of coyly avoiding it.

Most importantly, perhaps, his cheeks are clean shaven. He opts for a professional, futuristic look. The young member of dynastic Hollywood is showing people under 30 that the 2010s can be more memorable and daring than a vintage cable-knit sweater and a mortgage crisis.

Smith’s Instagram account fully displays this notion. His social media presence doesn’t reflect the kind of ernest oversharing with which Lena Dunham has been trademarked–think of her “when bae is just too crazy” post with Hillary Clinton a few weeks ago–but rather illustrates a kind of sleek youthfulness. His pictures are both edgy and polished, and often lack captions. If Lena Dunham wants you to know she’s just like you, Jaden Smith could not care less if you exist.

Whether you choose to shave, your beard is on you. However, if you truly want to fling yourself into the promise of redemption in this decade, and a new tomorrow, maybe you should consider it. If the beard is represents a gender binary, the future certainly doesn’t. Based on the celebrities of Instagram, whether Smith or associated accounts like Eileen Kelly (@killerandasweetthang) or even Smith’s current model girlfriend Sarah Synder (@sarahfuckingsnyder), we appear to be entering a new aesthetic era in popular culture: an age where the look is androgynous and visually driven and a time where being a young model is seemingly more important than being a young writer, like Dunham aspires to be on “Girls.”

We are entering an elegant world of city life and new aesthetics. So, if you want to toss your razor into your mesh IKEA trash can, you are undoubtedly choosing to live in a world where Animal Collective and Edward Sharpe are on the cutting edge of music, mason jars are just becoming cool and your friend just lost his job at Lehman Brothers.

If, however, you choose to pick up where rock and roll left off and ooze youthful irreverence the way Jaden Smith does everyday on Instagram, you’ll consider a decidedly cleaner look. The future is here; how do you want to greet it?