How realistic do fake beards look?
March 7, 2009 9:43 PM   Subscribe

Is it worth buying a fake beard?

I'm biologically Female, and largely identify as such. However for as long as I can remember I've felt like there's a masculine, or male identity which I also identify with. I'm not transgendered, definitely not interested in getting a sex change, but I have casually cross-dressed on and off since I was a teenager and recently have started looking into drag kinging.

I've drawn on facial hair in the past, but I'm quite feminine faced, and (as I'm sure you can imagine) the results are less than convincing, and while I'm aware of other kings who trim hair and apply their own, I'm pretty clumsy with my hands and epically lazy. So I was looking into human hair artificial beards which are held on by spirit gum or tape, and while some of them look quite good and they aren't all too expensive, it's hard to find photographs of the ones I'm interested in being modeled, or testimonials of whether they're worth the money or just look silly when worn.

Does anyone have any experience with this area? Not neccesarily the drag kinging, but the fake beards.
posted by emperor.seamus to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I have a friend who's been doing drag king performances for years. I believe she bought her beard...

As to whether it would look cheesy or silly when worn: that's all in the context and how you apply it. Apply it well, carry your male persona with confidence and it'll work.

If you're in the NYC/Philly area and interested in meeting up with some drag kings, contact me.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 10:03 PM on March 7, 2009

The moustache Kim Basinger wore in 9-1/2 Weeks was somewhat convincing, along with the outfit- and hot as hell, as well. Women in tailored business suits, rrowr! Um, where was I? Oh, yeah: so, even less than a full beard can pull it off, 'specially in these more GBL-friendly days where androgyny isn't as feared.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:20 PM on March 7, 2009

I had a little experience with this back in college with an esoteric group of people. To me (a mans man type of guy) mannerisms and "ways of moving" are much more important. I can spot a fake beard/moustache the second you speak, but someone who moves in a manly way and behaves as such is much more beguiling.

I've heard of transgendered people taking classes with mannerism coaches to learn the ways in which men move. More in how they interact with their environment and subtle social cues every man knows, but women never get. Things like walking down the street. There are subtle, but very important, cues every man makes while doing this, but women would never realize.

I think that would get you much farther than a fake beard. Of course if you look like a petite woman no matter what, YMMV. I don't know your situation and what you're planning to do with it.
posted by sanka at 10:38 PM on March 7, 2009

Though these are by no means realistic, I kind of feel like this Etsy shop exists in the universe just for you.
posted by ocherdraco at 12:21 AM on March 8, 2009

I guess what you want to avoid is looking like The L Word's season four version of Max, no?

Will your drag kinging be mostly on a stage? If so, the standards for 'convincing' will be lower. The main problem with fake beards is that in general, you can see the roots of beard-hair. A stick-on beard can't easily mimic the effect of hair sprouting out from under the skin(you don't get the same problem with wigs, where the hair can be brushed forward at the front so that the roots aren't visible). However, if you're on stage, this problem won't arise, as people will be too far away to see the roots. Standard theatrical beards should be fine. This one looks quite good, cheesy photograph aside - it's fairly low-key, but covers the chin area well. Remember that it will look better if the style of beard is one that is frequently worn anyway. I'd also look out for beards that have some variation in the hair colour, as it's usual for there to be some kind of pattern to a beard, with bands of lighter and darker hair. It might be a lot harder to get hold of those kinds, though.

However, if you're drag kinging in a formal way, it's also important to remember that people will be willing you to be convincing - and at the same time, never being fully convinced. You don't want your beard to look absolutely shit, but at the same time nobody is likely to be exclaiming either 'Hey! That was a fake beard! That wasn't real! I'm so smart for figuring that out!' or 'Hey! Cheater! That was no drag king, that was a biological man who sneaked in somehow!'

If you're describing what you do as drag kinging, but it's actually more like trying to pass as male in close social encounters for a few hours, then I'd say avoid the fake beard. The roots will give you away in minutes if you're within a few feet of anyone. Remember that some bio-men have feminine faces, and many don't cover them up with beards.

Also, if you want to journey south one weekend and trawl around London's theatrical supply shops looking for stick-ons, MeMail me, because I think it would be tremendous fun.
posted by Acheman at 4:29 AM on March 8, 2009

I have worn false beards for theatrical performances, and they can look excellent, even up close, but not perfect. You should look up a tutorial or find a book on applying real human hair false facial hair pieces, the kind that come woven onto an invisible net that you spirit gum on. This is likely to get your best result. If you trim them right and use a little makeup in the right ways the effect can be quite convincing. If you're going for a longer beard or if the pre-made pieces don't work for you, you can build a very convincing false beard out of crepe hair. Just remember that crepe hair is all one color and you need to buy a main cod, a highlight, and a lowlight, and comb and fold them together until you have something that looks natural.
posted by raygan at 7:31 AM on March 8, 2009

Actually, on second thought, for close up viewing you might get better results with crepe hair. It's a LOT more effort (you have to build the beard from scratch every time you apply it, and it can take over an hour) but it can end up looking much more realistic once you get good at it. I would go out and find a book or a video from a professional makeup artist, there are techniques that make a world of difference that are a little bit counter-intuitive.
posted by raygan at 8:04 AM on March 8, 2009

If you go the "fake beard/'stache/sideburns + spirit gum" route I'd say less is more. Go subtle and small and the results will be more convincing. I say this based on my very, very limited (but memorable!) experience sticking fake facial hair on opera singer's faces.

Have fun experimenting!
posted by Neofelis at 8:20 AM on March 8, 2009

Er, singers' faces. Not singer's faces.
posted by Neofelis at 8:24 AM on March 8, 2009

Thank you! Great advice all around! I think I'll have a few stabs at it with the crepe hair in my own home, and If I really can't get anything but a hairy mess, then I'll have a look at the invisible net/spirit gum style beards. Anyway, thanks everyone for your input, you were all a lot of help!
posted by emperor.seamus at 9:31 AM on March 8, 2009

Norah Vincent wrote a book about going undercover as a man for the better part of a year and details her own transformation that allowed her to pass in a wide variety of circumstances and form long term friendships with people who had no idea she was a female. It's an excellent read and she mentions her own technique about how to make a convincing fake beard:

The first and most important step was to find out how to make a more believable beard than the slapdash version my drag king friend had taught me years before. Ryan, a make-up artist of my acquaintance, suggested using wool crepe hair instead of real hair. I could buy whatever shade best matched my hair and always have a ready supply to hand without having to butcher my haircut. Ryan showed me how to unwind the braids, comb the strands of hair together, then cut the ends. Later, as I refined this process, I bought a men’s electric beard trimmer and ran it across the tips of the hair, producing actual stubble-length pieces that, when applied with a lanolin and beeswax-based adhesive, looked like a five o’clock shadow
posted by hindmost at 12:17 PM on March 8, 2009

A very easy way to make a fake stubble beard, similar to hindmost's quote above, is to paint the beard shape on with either vaseline or spirit gum, then rip open a teabag and pat the chopped tea-leaves onto the beard shape. You kind of can't go wrong. Be aware that vaseline will smear so it's not good for long periods of time, but it's fun to can practice & play with it to figure out what beard-shape you like.

When I've done boy-drag, I've found that makeup mimicking a 5-o-clock shadow is more realistic-looking than drawn-on-hair, and it's easy to achieve. You'd use a stippling sponge and dark cream makeup (together these will run you about $6 at any costume shop). Lightly dip the sponge in the makeup and pat it (don't drag it, ha ha) all over your chin area to create the shadowed look. Here's an example of stubble stippling done poorly, but you get the idea. Water-based cream makeup will dry and not smudge; oil-based will be smudgy and gross all evening.

I have a girly face too, and the best thing for me was to stipple on a 5-o-clock shadow, slightly lengthen and darken my sideburns, and wear shades to hide my girly eyes & brows. Doing that, I was once given the eye from across a dance floor by a girl I'd known for four years, who asked who "the cute short guy" was, awesome.

Or, if the occasion is fun/goofy and you don't mind looking cartoony, you could always go super-fake with the beard, and get something fun like a felt beard from imadeyouabeard.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:04 PM on March 8, 2009

I didn't think the fake beard on the L Word was overtly fake-looking, so I think it will fool others as well. Keep in mind that people see what they expect to see. If you move and talk in a masculine manner, the beard will just add to the image. If you are feminine in any way - voice, facial expressions, etc. however, the beard will attract a second look because it can signal that you are trying to "pass." I agree with those who say to practice your mannerisms, voice inflection, etc.
posted by Piscean at 1:06 AM on March 9, 2009

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