From Muslim roots grows the Philly beard
Philadelphia's gained a reputation for rabid sports fans and a growing restaurant scene. Next up? Beards?
Mike Monroe grew up in West Philadelphia and now owns a barbershop at 60th Street and Girard Avenue called ESPM Hair Zone. "We've been here for seven years," he said. "ESPM stands for 'excellent style performed by Monroe.' That's me."
Monroe says his barbershop is a friendly, family-oriented place that's painted peach because he heard the color relaxes people. He says the city's latest trend is coming straight out of Philly's chins; the Philly beard he says, is a regular cut at his shop.
"The Philly beard is a beard that comes out wide, and it's somewhat fluffy, but even and nice and neat. It comes high on the cheek bones. It's the mustache, the high beard," Monroe explains.
It's sometimes cut to a point, but not always. Monroe says the Philly beard's been around a decade. It's grown out of the traditional facial hair Muslim men wear. But he says it's popular even among non-Muslims.
"They call them a Sunnah that the Muslims wear," Monroe says. "That's what actually the beard derives from. But now you've got just regular people wearing the beard now because it's a fashion statement. You know a lot of people approach people and say: 'May peace and blessings be upon you,' thinking that they're Muslim. And they're not."
Monroe says when he sees a man with a Philly beard, he responds with the traditional Muslim greeting because he assumes they are observant members of Islam. "I would say, 'Peace and blessings be upon you,' which they say, 'As-salamu alaykum.'"
Barber Yah Trammell, who cuts hair at Monroe's shop, says the facial hair stylings can even attract attention outside of Philly. "When you're out of town, and they see the Philly beards ... a lot of times like when you're out of town, they assume that you're from Philadelphia." Trammell says trimming the Philly beard — which he says varies from one to four inches long — is nothing special. You just need a comb, clippers and scissors.
This is not a universal trend in facial hair — most men wearing Philly beards are African American.
A few blocks away at Marvin's, barber Atif Oberlton says the Philly beard is distinct.
"I guess it's the fullness and the thickness of the beard," Oberlton says. "Really, a Philly Beard is just made up of the fullness and the thickness and the hair that they had come down and the way that it hangs. It's extra thick where it hangs down at."
In some ways, the beard's just a beard. But Oberlton says there is a method to the beard's upkeep.
"A lot of times they don't even want you touching the Philly beard — that's why it grows so thick. They let you cut the ends off of it, the split ends off the beard, but they don't really want you touching the beard because they want it getting as full as possible."
Oberlton says in the last few years, the style's really taken off, and now about 60 percent of the beards he cuts qualify as Philly beards. He says his own is way too short to count. Oberlton, who was raised in West Philly, says the Philly beard's gaining popularity beyond city borders too.
"Going towards New Jersey, I've seen a couple Philly beards. And New York, I've seen a couple."
The Philly beard trend, he says, is just beginning.