This age-old debate doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. It’s safe to say opinion is divided. So, clean-shaven or stubble – which is better?
Clean-shaven is a better option than stubble for those who want a more youthful appearance or want the benefit of knowing they look tidy at all times. Stubble would be better than clean-shaven for those who want to add definition to their face or simply dislike the discomfort of regularly shaving.
As you can imagine, there’s more to it.
Let’s dig a little deeper into this topic – discuss the pros and cons of each, as well as talk about situations when one of these may be better than the other.
Is Clean-Shaven Or Stubble More Attractive?
In 2013, an Australian study concluded that stubble was more attractive than clean-shaven. More specifically, it concluded that heavy stubble was the most attractive facial hair length based on data gathered from several hundred male and female participants.
While the study (source) shouldn’t be the only focus of your decision when choosing between clean-shaven and stubble, it’s worth considering.
Yes, your personal preferences should definitely be taken into account and we’ll go on to discuss the pros and cons of each in the next section.
But the interesting thing here is that men’s style is very difficult to draw conclusions from. It isn’t math.
It’s basically a lot like art and music – personal opinion is everything and that’s the great thing about it.
It’s quite rare that you get a study that applies some science to men’s style and comes up with an evidence-based answer.
In this case, yes – it did deem that stubble was more attractive than clean-shaven. Here’s a more in-depth article I wrote on why stubble is so attractive if you’re interested.
Now, a potentially more important question is whether clean-shaven or stubble is more attractive on you.
For example, while heavy stubble may look great on one person, clean-shaven may look better on another.
While personal preference is important, there are other factors like facial definition and facial shape that you’ll want to take into account when choosing between clean-shaven and stubble.
Let’s go through some pros and cons of each of them that should help you make your decision.
Clean Shaven Vs Stubble: Pros And Cons
No single style is perfect – each of them has its upsides and downsides. But in a way, that’s a good thing because it helps you choose between them.
- It’s versatile
- It can make you look younger
- It looks better on men with longer faces/angular features
Let’s break those down in a little more detail.
Being clean-shaven is versatile. What I mean by this is that you can’t really go wrong with it. You won’t turn up to an event or occasion with the fear of looking untidy.
A clean-shaven face will always be considered neat and tidy – that’s the beauty of it. It takes all of the guesswork out. You look sharp at all times.
Being clean-shaven can also make you look younger. There’s just something about having no facial hair that has an instantly youthful feel to it.
For some men, this may be ideal and worth keeping.
For others, however, it can work against them. Bear in mind that the “babyface” phenomenon with a clean-shaven face is also real. If you’d prefer to actually have a more “mature” look, stubble would be the way forward.
But back to the pros.
Clean-shaven often also works better for men with longer faces or more angular features. The reason for this is that facial hair, even in the form of stubble, can give the illusion of length and definition to a face.
Having hair at the chin, for instance, can make it appear longer and more defined. Well-defined stubble forming a border at the cheekbones can also make them look more defined.
Men who already have pretty angular features, strong chins, and “long” face shapes may find that stubble exaggerates all of this a little too much. Going clean-shaven may be a way of softening those features and making them look more balanced overall.
- Some people hate shaving
- It can make faces look less defined
- It’s high maintenance
It’s no secret that some people just hate shaving. The feel of it and the aftermath of irritation. Some people just struggle more with it than others.
If you do dislike the discomfort of shaving, it probably isn’t worth it.
Trimming down to light stubble or a 5 o’clock shadow wouldn’t be that much more noticeable than a clean-shaven face. But because you aren’t cutting the hair as close to the skin as shaving, you’ll usually end up with less irritation.
Another downside of being clean-shaven is that it can often make faces look less defined. I touched upon this earlier.
But after you remove all of your facial hair, you may find that your features just look less chiseled and defined. You no longer have the shadowing effect of facial hair that can add structure to the face.
While men who already have chiseled features probably won’t worry about this much, those with rounder or less defined faces may miss the benefits that stubble could have for them.
Finally – clean-shaving is high maintenance. This one may seem obvious, but it’s often underestimated. To maintain a consistently clean-shaven face, you really do need to shave at least every other day.
For those looking for a less demanding style, stubble may be a better option as you could quite comfortably leave it for several days before going for it again. This is especially true with heavy stubble.
- It can chisel facial features
- It’s (relatively) low maintenance
- It’s comfortable
Let’s dig a little deeper.
Although I’ve discussed this in a little bit of detail earlier, stubble is great for men looking to add definition to their faces.
Who benefits most from this?
Usually men with rounder face shapes. The benefits of a well-defined stubble neckline on the jawline and well-defined cheek stubble on the cheekbones shouldn’t be underestimated.
Stubble is also pretty low maintenance compared with clean-shaven. The reason for this is that you don’t necessarily have to trim down that stubble every day or every other day (unless you’re maintaining a 5 o’clock shadow).
Don’t get me wrong – you do need to look after stubble to keep it looking tidy. Trimming, shaping, cleaning up neck stubble – it’s all important.
Heavy stubble can even benefit from beard oil.
But with stubble, you can usually leave it alone for a few days at a time and get away with it. It isn’t as hard to maintain a consistently stubbled look as it is to maintain a clean-shaven face.
Finally, stubble is usually quite comfortable to wear. You won’t get as much irritation as you would with shaving. You also don’t get as much itch as you would with longer, more awkward facial hair lengths (e.g short beards).
- It’s versatile but not always appropriate
- It can sometimes come across as unintentional
Stubble is pretty versatile in that there aren’t many situations where it wouldn’t be considered appropriate. This is, of course, assuming that the stubble is well maintained.
But there are certain, specific situations where a clean-shaven face would be more appropriate.
For example, certain workplaces and professions require clean-shaven faces for safety reasons. The military, for example, often requires clean-shaven or 1/4-inch stubble at a maximum so as not to interfere with masks.
In addition, strict corporate workplaces with strict dress codes may prefer clean-shaven over stubble. It can vary hugely from one workplace to another.
Another potential downside of stubble is that it can sometimes come across as unintentional. It can make you appear as though you simply forgot to shave.
That’s not what you’re going for.
The solution to this is really just to maintain it as best as possible with regular trimming and shaping.
Having even stubble all trimmed down to the same length, with the neckline well-defined and the cheek borders lined up will go a long way here.
Clean Shaven Vs Stubble: Specific Situations
Now that you’ve seen some specific pros and cons of each, let’s drill down even further and discuss whether clean-shaven or stubble is more appropriate in specific situations.
Light or medium stubble is usually a better option than clean-shaven for a date. This stubble length will often make someone come across as more mature, while also being short enough to not put off a potential partner that dislikes facial hair.
It’s no secret that not everyone is into facial hair. If your identity isn’t too tied to having a beard, you should use this knowledge to your advantage and choose a middle path.
Clean-shaven may make you come across more “baby-faced” than you might like. You could also lose your advantage if you happen to go on a date with someone that actually likes facial hair.
You (kind of) can’t lose.
Well-maintained stubble is often a better option than clean-shaven for a wedding. This is because weddings are usually relaxed enough to make stubble always appropriate. In addition, going clean-shaven in a suit can often make people look more baby-faced than they might like.
The most important factor here is how well-maintained the stubble is.
Going to a wedding with untidy neck stubble, for instance, isn’t OK.
Weddings are usually formal events and you’ll want to make sure the stubble is on point with a relatively even appearance and well-defined borders.
That goes for light, medium, and heavy stubble. Any of them could potentially be absolutely fine for the wedding, as long as they’re well maintained.
While clean-shaven could be seen as the “safer” option for a wedding, it isn’t entirely necessary. Having no facial hair can make some people appear younger than they want to, especially when wearing a suit.
This may be exactly what you want – in which case, go for it.
But others would benefit more from the maturity that a neat layer of stubble can bring to their face.
Going clean-shaven to an interview will always be a safer option than stubble, even for less traditional and strict workplaces. The reason for this is that it’s not worth the risk of coming across as untidy or unprofessional. There’s too much at stake when applying for a job.
Even if the workplace itself doesn’t have that strict of a dress code, you’re being interviewed by a single person or a single group of people.
If even just one of them happens to look at that stubble unfavorably (even if it’s just subconsciously), it may work against you. Sure, it probably won’t be said out loud, but it doesn’t matter.
Why take the risk?
You’re applying for a job.
Why not go clean-shaven for the interview and regrow that stubble once you actually get the job to test the waters?
Ultimately, going to an interview with stubble probably won’t work against you. But if there’s even a 10% chance it would, it’s still worth going for clean-shaven instead.
Another reason for this is that stubble is so quick to regrow if you’re attached to it. Even heavy stubble just takes around 10 days to grow back once you’ve shaved.
It’s not like you’re going to be trimming down months’ worth of growth.
It just makes more sense to shave it for the interview and grow it back in no time once the interview(s) are done.
Clean-Shaven Vs Specific Stubble Lengths
Now that we’ve gone through some specific situations, let’s compare clean-shaven with some specific stubble lengths.
5 O’Clock Shadow Vs Clean Shaven
A 5 o’clock shadow, while difficult to consistently maintain, is often a better option than going completely clean-shaven. This is because it adds a light layer of shadowing the face, defining the features in a subtle, yet noticeable way.
The beauty of the 5 o’clock shadow is that it’s so incredibly subtle. It refers to the length of stubble that would usually be present toward the end of the working day.
As the name suggests, it looks like a shadow across the lower portion of the face. It usually amounts to around 0.5mm of length.
Trimming down to a 5 o’clock shadow intentionally can usually be done by setting your stubble trimmer to this length. It’ll look neater than the shadow that naturally forms toward the end of the day.
One benefit of the 5 o’clock shadow is that you can sometimes get away with not trimming the neck stubble or defining the neckline, simply because it’s so short.
It’s a great option for men who like the clean-shaven look but don’t like the act of shaving. Trimming down to 0.5mm is still short but will probably be more comfortable than shaving all the way down.
Plus, it’s also a good option for those who don’t necessarily like facial hair but also want to add some definition to an otherwise “baby face”.
One downside is that you’ll need to trim down to the 0.5mm length daily, but you’d need to do this if you were maintaining a clean-shaven face in any case as well.
Light Stubble Vs Clean Shaven
Light stubble (1-2mm length) is often more appealing than a clean-shaven face as it adds definition to the face in a subtle way. However, clean-shaven would be more appropriate than stubble for interviews, or where you’re looking to achieve a more youthful appearance.
Light stubble amounts to around 1-2mm in length. You could grow this out from a clean-shaven face in around 1 to 2 days.
But to really get that well-maintained look, you’ll need to trim down to this length regularly and define the borders.
The neckline and cheek borders will need defining and the stubble regularly trimmed.
Light stubble is very versatile, just like the 5 o’clock shadow. The only potential downside is where you want a completely clean-cut and clean-shaven look. An example would be for a job interview where going clean-shaven would simply be a safer option.
Overall, however, the benefits of light stubble outweigh those clean-shaven in most instances, simply because of how easy it is to make light stubble look tidy.
Medium Stubble Vs Clean Shaven
Medium stubble (3mm) is a better option than clean-shaven for men looking for facial hair that’s easy to maintain and adds a layer of shadowing and definition to the face. Clean-shaven would be better for those with more angular features that don’t need as much additional definition.
When you get to medium stubble length, you need to start taking stubble maintenance a little more seriously but it’s still pretty easy to maintain.
It’s where neck stubble gets more visible and is more important to shave off (under the stubble neckline).
It’s also where uneven stubble becomes more noticeable, so you’ll want to trim it down regularly.
But overall, it really isn’t that big a deal. In addition, it’s lower maintenance than clean-shaving every day would be.
Plus, you’ve got the benefit of versatility, just like you would with light stubble. There aren’t many examples of situations where medium stubble would be considered “untidy”.
But there’s the additional benefit of it looking more intentional than light stubble because it’s longer and more noticeable. There’s less risk of looking like you simply forgot to shave.
Clean-shaven would, once again, be a safer option if you want to play it safe (eg. job interviews).
But overall, medium stubble is a more appealing option than clean-shaven would be for anyone looking to chisel their features using the shadowing effect of stubble.
Heavy Stubble Vs Clean Shaven
Heavy stubble (4-5mm) is a better option than clean-shaven for men who want to look older, want to define their facial features, and also want to come across as “bearded”. Clean-shaven would be better for those who don’t want to trim and maintain heavy stubble but don’t mind regularly shaving.
Heavy stubble is essentially a notch shorter than a “short beard”. It usually amounts to around 4 to 5mm and you can reach this after around 10 days of growth.
It’s tougher to maintain than shorter stubble lengths and so this needs to be taken into account when choosing between heavy stubble and clean-shaven. That’s because it’s harder to keep tidy.
In some ways, it’s still lower maintenance than clean-shaven as you won’t need to trim down that regularly. You could go several days before having to trim down to 4-5mm again and it wouldn’t be that noticeable.
You would need to shave much more regularly than this if you’re maintaining a clean-shaven face.
When deciding between clean-shaven and heavy stubble, the main thing to consider is what grooming activities you prefer.
If you prefer shaving your face to trimming and shaping long stubble clean-shaven would probably be a better option than heavy stubble.
If, on the other hand, you prefer trimming and shaping stubble to shaving, heavy stubble may be a better option.
After reading this, you should have a much better idea of whether clean-shaven or stubble is the right look for you.
There’s plenty to take into account, but ultimately, the decision isn’t as hard as you might think.
Consider the pros, the cons, and the situations, and you should get your answer pretty quickly.
Ready Sleek founder. Obsessed with casual style and the minimalist approach to building a highly functional wardrobe. Also a fan of classic, vintage hairstyles.