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Publication: British Elle March 2004

Hirsutes you sir

Style-savvy men are bearing their chest hair this season. But will it send women running to the woods. Kevin  Braddock puts his pelt to the test.

This year, I’m backing Bush. Not the politician, but the look. Because hairy is hot. Take Yves Saint Laurent’s M7 and Rive Gauche ad campaigns where former Tae Kwan Do champ Samuel de Cubber lolls naked, displaying a luxuriant forest of chest hair, an image so masculine you can practically smell testosterone rising from the page. Or the man behind the campaign and regular hairy chest-bearer, Tom Ford, who recently pronounced‘ I like body hair… I’m into natural bush. I think it’s masculine. I personally like having hair on my chest,’ (he added, ‘I can’t stand shaved balls’ - but that’s another matter entirely).

Meanwhile at the recent menswear collections, hairy chests were as common as square jawlines and washboard stomachs, revealing that designers including Dries Van Noten, Helmut Lang and Jean Paul Gaultier have all caught the fuzz bug too. Indeed challenging the recent fashion orthodoxy that for decades banished the bush to style Siberia, it seems a pec pelt framed by an open neck shirt or low-cut vest, is currently the look to cook.

Theoretically, it’s never been a better time to display your Real Man credentials. England’s Rugby XV victory showed up premiership football players as the manicured nancies they so obviously are; The Kings Of Leon have legitimised hairy rock; and a former girlfriend and I practically split up over her lust for Lord Of the Rings hairball hero Viggo Mortensen.

Personally I gave into being hairy ages ago. I grew accustomed to renegade whiskers sprouting from my T-shirt and wasn’t ashamed to lounge on a beach full of Lungberg clones in all my defiant, full-frontal hairiness. But it’s been tough.  In a world where many womens’ ideal of masculinity is a man with the body of Schwarzenegger and the skin texture of Harry Potter, surely the crucial question is not ‘are hairy chests cool?’ but ‘do they help you pull?’

In search of an answer, I book myself in for a chest pelt trim at Selfridges Men’s Grooming Salon in London. Clipped to a close - but rugged - Number 4, I set off sporting an outré vest cut so low I can almost see my navel. Yet I find my newly-outed hirsuteness stirs in me both profound embarrassment and an animalistic thrill. It’s like walking round with your flies purposefully undone.

Reactions from women, meanwhile, span terror and excitement by way of hilarity, mystification and indifference. Lorraine, a Pret A Manger lunchtime customer, eyes the bush with a discernible glimmer. ‘Personally, I love hairy chests,’ she beams. ‘The problem is you never get to see them.’ The same can’t be said of shop assistant Rose, who suggests it’s about as sexy as a comb-over. ‘It looks dated. I mean, men don’t have to be completely smooth, but come on: this is just caveman.’ While barfly Carine’s knitted brow and eye-rolling suggest we won’t be exchanging phone numbers either. ‘I like a man to be smooth,’ she mulls. ‘I think it’s softer. Chest hair is just too rough.’

It would seem the bush protocol is all a question of degree. As with lingerie, it’s all about how little you show: the intimation of sexuality being far more seductive than an overt display. It also would appear to be a question of timing: the bush comes into its own during the sexually-charged hours of nighttime. At a party later on, compliments flow. ‘So many men look like girls these days, this is far more manly,’ trills my friend Lindsey, adding ‘Can I touch it?’

Okay, so I was singing Tom Jones’s ‘It’s Not Unusual’ on a karaoke machine at the time, but the Bush effect is clear. You won’t win everyone, but you’ll quickly find out who’s more disposed to sleeping with you. Either way, it’s an experience to put hairs on anyone’s chest.

© Kevin Braddock 2004

All content ©2004 Kevin Braddock

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