Illustration: Simon LetchOn the list of trend-setting publications frequented by the fashion conscious, the Royal Society’s Biology Letters would rarely make the cut.

But research by a team of Australian scientists published in the journal this week might just change that.

The study by evolutionary scientists at the University of New South Wales has lead to a startling conclusion: beards could be about to go out of fashion.

The scientists set out to explain what causes styles of facial hair to fall in and out of fashion using “negative frequency dependence”, an evolutionary phenomenon where animals gain advantage from having rare traits.

Male guppy fish, for example, have better luck mating and evading predators if they have less common colours and patterns, one of the scientists, Professor Rob Brooks, wrote on The Conversation.

With mating success, those colours and patterns become more common, eventually attracting the attention of predators and falling out of favour with female guppies.

To test the theory, the scientists compiled images of 36 men who had each been photographed clean-shaven, with light stubble, heavy stubble and a full beard.

Subjects were shown an image of each man, in a combination of levels of beardedness.

Bearded blokes were judged more attractive when presented in a series of mostly well-groomed men. Likewise, clean-shaven men were found less attractive when they were common and more attractive when they were rare.

So while bushranger-bearded hipsters may have been on a winning ticket two years ago, they might face diminishing returns now that everyone from AFL players to Hollywood movie stars have tossed away their razors.

Are beards about to go out of fashion?