YOU either love them or you hate them, but it looks like beards are here to stay ... again.
About 25 men of the hirsute variety attended the second formal gathering of the Ballarat Beard and Moustache Union at the Black Hill Hotel at the weekend.
Red beards, black beards, short beards, long beards, sideburns and moustaches of all shapes and sizes were being proudly displayed by the ever-expanding BBMU.
The Ballarat union, affiliated with the national bearded group and a similar organisation in the Newcastle-Hunter Valley area of New South Wales, was formed five months ago by mates Jake Warren, John Stuart and Jimmy Munro.
"The three of us were sitting around on what we call Silly Sunday during the cricket season and decided it would be fun to form a beard and moustache group in Ballarat," says founding BBMU member Mr Warren.
What started off as a bit of a lark for the hairy trio has now sprouted to about 120 Ballarat members. So serious are these men about their facial hair and the recently-formed union, that a group logo and t-shirts have been printed and a Facebook page established to publicise their hirsute pursuits.
"We take our beards seriously. These formal gatherings are a chance for us men to talk about our beards, beers and other blokey stuff," Mr Warren said.
"There is certainly a lot of beard envy going on."
And age is no barrier to joining the Ballarat Beard and Moustache Union, with the youngest member being 16 and the oldest aged in his 60s.
"Beards are in," said Mr Warren, who only began growing his own beard earlier this year and instantly fell in love with it. However, he is still trying to convince his wife Alex his beard - which already reaches the top of his t-shirt - needs to stay.
"She's warming to it and she knows I love it," he said.
There are some benefits to having a beard, Mr Warren said, including providing warmth in Ballarat's winter and insulation from the heat during the summer months.