All good things must come to an end. And since beards are indisputably good things, they are no exception.
Put your razor down, I’m not suggesting we end beards altogether. (That’d be ridiculous—and career suicide.) I’m just saying we have to draw the line somewhere. Left to its own devices the beard will slovenly and carelessly spread up the cheeks and down the neck like wildfire—or disease, rumors, hysteria—any number of bad things that spread uncontrollably.
The difference with the beard is that you can control it. Here’s how.
The upper edge of the beard—that is, the line from sideburn to mustache—is the line where you have the most freedom. Use this line to complement the shape of your face. “Handsome” is little more than the result of illusions created by facial structure, so capitalize on this opportunity to create your own tricks.
Say your cheeks are more round than you would like. Trim your beard’s upper edge to a straight line with a deep slope. The angular severity of the line can offset the roundness of the cheek creating the illusion of a more neutral shape.
Notice how both these men have round faces.
The guy on top has chosen to accentuate the roundness of his face by contouring the upper edge of his beard.
The guy on bottom has a more straight line at his beard's upper edge. The result is a round face that appears less round.
You get the idea. Conversely, if your face is long and narrow, add a curve to the beard’s upper line to soften the cheek thereby contouring the face.
Say you're happy with the shape of your face and the idea of creating illusions with your beard seems a little out there. Fair enough. Still, might I recommend never adding 90-degree angles to the bottom of your sideburns. Some guys like to grow a long sideburn all the way down the face and create a corner at the mandibular hinge. Some, like the one pictured below, keep their 90-degree angle a little higher. Either way, there are two reasons I recommend avoiding this type of shaping to your beard:
1) 90-degree angles are not really in keeping with the natural human form. Curves and lines appear more natural than squares and corners. Severe corners could read "douchebag" or "high-maintenance" or recall Joan Crawford's shoulder pads.
2) When the large swath of hair you've removed in order to fashion your angles starts to grow in, it looks bad, and you have to do an awful lot of shaving just to keep it up. I say one of the perks of being bewhiskered is not having to shave very much.
As for my beard's upper edge, I only lose the stragglers. Where the hair grows in fully and consistently is where my beard starts and stops.
Now when it comes to the bottom line of your beard, there's less room for playing around. Allen Peterkin, author of 1000 Beards: A Cultural History of Facial Hair, seems to have a specific take on where the beard's lower edge should be placed. According to this article from Men's Health, Peterkin says the line should be drawn midway between the chin and Adam's apple. The article also says that in order to keep the beard neat, one should fade its edges--though whether that suggestion is also Peterkin's is kind-of ambiguous.
I happen to disagree with both sentiments on beard-edging. In my opinion(and that's the beauty of men's grooming: its subjectivity), the lower edge of the beard should be placed perfectly along the natural bend of the throat, which is usually right at or just above the Adam's Apple. The way I see it, this is where the face stops and the neck begins. As in the image below, the one beard not quite reaching the bend of the throat appears mask-like, phony.
I have a theory about why bearded men are perceived as more trustworthy, attractive and better fathers: it's because you know where they stand. One of the beard's jobs is to say, "Hey! Look! This is my face! See it? Yeah! My face! ... Down there? Yeah, that's my neck. But right here: this is my face."
You gaze upon the bearded man with no ambiguity. Just doubtless, hairy, furry certainty.
Your beard can speak volumes about you before you've even said a word. So make sure it's saying what you want it to.