Yeah; my bad. I spoke poorly when I said the stubble look wouldn't qualify as an intentional beard. Of course it does. And it has multiple advantages: you can do away with razor blades (mostly; some may still like to shave their necks or shape the line on the cheeks); you never have to worry about detail work with scissors; a good electric trimmer is all you ever need; no need to ever even consider beard oils or balms; no need to wash your face differently than you ever have; and no need to ever consider going to a specialist barber to get a beard shaped properly.
But I personally ruled out the stubble look from the get go for one simple reason. As you age and if your beard turns white rather than a salt and pepper gray, to pull it off you'd have to have both olive or darker skin and be exceptionally handsome...neither of which describes me. TAM and I have the same color beard, and two to four days worth of growth with a white beard never looks intentional; it just looks homeless.
I wore a short beard for about a year and a half in the very early eighties, and then kept a very short one for about a year a decade later. Now I'm more retired than not and don't much care how I look to other people (being a curmudgeonly old man has at least one or two advantages). I had to get some slice-and-dice work a while back on my neck and the bottom of a jaw (a whole 'nuther story about how that has affected my beard ability) and shaving around the scar tissue and skin graft was just shy of impossible without taking a lot of time, and still there was an almost 95% nick rate.
Last October I decided to heck with it and just stopped shaving. Had no real plans to move to beardom, but the aforementioned homeless-old-guy look was simply no good. Old I can manage; looking like I need to find a freeway overpass every day at bedtime...not so much.
So I kinda just fell into 21st century bearding accidentally. And was distinctly surprised that there was now seemingly a whole sub-market in the cosmetics industry that had developed around beards. Google "beard oil" and you get a staggering 2.25 million hits. There are oils, balms, waxes, conditioners, specialty shampoos and brushes and combs and scissors and trimmers. I mean, hundreds and hundreds of beard products under a host of different brands. I immediately thought a beard was a bad idea because it was going to cost me three times as much as did razor blades and shaving cream.
Condensing that part of the story, I ended up with a shelf full of products and, like TAM, ultimately used almost none of them. Can you say "old holster drawer"? I do still use a simple conditioner every day in the shower, and a basic beard oil every two or three days. A small bottle of that lasts a long time, but I'll run out probably in May. TAM, where do you buy that Moroccan oil? Is it just straight Moroccan oil, or one of the specific beard products?
IMO, depending on the type of beard you want to grow, it really takes only two things: genetics and patience. If your facial hair comes in extremely patchy--I'm thinking Keanu Reeves here--the controlled stubble look may be best. That or opting to see how it grows in and then choose to groom it in a style that suits the growth. For example, Reeves could probably pull off a trimmed goatee with mustache, but he's lacking some real estate for a full beard.
And...patience. You may know or have seen guys who can seem to grow an impressive beard in the span of two weeks, but it doesn't really happen for most of us. See, facial grows out at approximately the same rate among most men. It slows as you age because testosterone levels decline, but otherwise Keanu Reeves' facial hair grows at about the same pace as a winner of the World Beard and Moustache Championships
(the U.S. preliminaries are in Austin this year, September 1-3; someone from the Forum should enter).
The four genetic factors that differentiate most of us from that guy who can look fully bearded in just two weeks are: 1) He has black or very dark brown facial hair. 2) He has a dense follicle pattern; in other words, a lot of individual hairs per square inch. 3) The individual hair shafts are thick; age hurts us there, too, because hair thins as we age. 4) The coverage of hair on his face is pretty complete; no bare patches.
Unless you're that guy, I think possibly the hardest thing to do if you decide on a beard is to keep all edged implements away from it for at least four to six weeks. And unless you're that guy, you'll no doubt be sorely tempted to just shave the whole thing off about 25 times during that period.
But while average facial hair growth proceeds at about the same pace, there are going to be areas on your face that grow in more slowly. For some guys that's at the cheek line, or at the mustache-beard juncture, or the "soul patch" area.
You really can't be certain how a new beard is going to come in--and how you'll ultimately decide to style it--unless you leave it alone for at least a month or more and resist the temptation to "just clean it up a little" in an attempt to avoid that homeless and totally unkempt look. I succumbed after a couple of weeks this time and decided that if I just shaped the cheek lines it would make the beard look more intentional and less a case of lapsed personal hygiene. It was a mistake. I eventually had to leave the cheek line alone again for a number of weeks to let that area catch back up with the rest. Now I keep a relatively natural cheek line, just shaving off the real outliers that grow up closer--Cro-Magnon like--to my eyes.
If you're embarking on a beard, I'd say to circle a date on the calendar five or six weeks in the future, and commit to leaving your face alone until then. Avoiding mirrors as much as possible during that time will help. And if someone cracks a comment about your forgetting to shave, just tell 'em you're growing it out for a part in a movie...or that you're going into the witness protection program and have to alter your appearance.
Most of the time now I use an electric trimmer to clean up that cheekbone area and neck. I only pull out a razor blade if I'm spiffing up before going someplace dressy. The trimmer is generally good enough for business casual and down, so the Gillete blade I have in my razor has been in there since just after the beginning of the year. I am saving money, after all.
Speaking of the neck, another piece of advice is either leave it completely alone during that formative four to six weeks or, if you simply can't stand to do so, only shave it significantly lower than you think you'll ultimately shape it. That goes for intended goatees, also. If you want a beard longer than something maintained with a trimmer and a #3 guide, you can't really tell where that neck line should be until the beard gets longer. I think most guys who want to clean up the neck early make the mistake of shaping it too high. Depending on the beard you want to grow, that neck line is probably going to be a bit below the actual neck/face crease.
Remember that you can trim back anything you choose after you make a final decision about how you want your beard to look, but if you prune stuff back too soon, your only choice will be either to wait until the mistake grows back in, or to shave the whole thing off.