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Wikipedia has this to say about it:

Designer stubble is a short growth of a man's facial hair that became popular in the 1980s. This style was worn and reinvented by singer George Michael, actor Don Johnson and, in the 2010s, singers Craig David and Jason Derulo and was adopted by many others including Tom Cruise who restarted this trend among his Hollywood peers & members of the music industry after attending the Grammy Awards in 2005. Several companies manufacture beard trimmers designed to maintain the designer stubble look, being created by short trimming of the beard to (typically) 1 to 3mm designer stubble is distinct from five o'clock shadow which is the much lighter, stiffer growth which is the first sign of the return of the beard after shaving.

Here's the picture they provide:

Here's the picture they provide:

This type of look has existed since time immemorial, which leads me to believe that there must have been a term for it prior to the 1980's.

What was it?

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    Day-old beard??
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 30, 2019 at 18:58
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    It certainly existed when a man hadn't bothered/been able to shave for a few days, but as far as I know the look had never been deliberately cultivated before the 1980s. You would just say he was unshaven. Mar 30, 2019 at 20:16
  • 1
    I assume you are aware that the term 'designer stubble' is ironic: a joke at the expense of people who find style in what had previously considered neglect of personal appearance.
    – JeremyC
    Mar 30, 2019 at 23:03

1 Answer 1

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from the OED thesaurus:

bristle ~1300

the short hairs on the face of men when thickened and stiffened…

whisker ~1600

The hair that grows on an adult man's face; formerly commonly applied to that on the upper lip, now… plural: usually collective

stubble 1596

collective singular. transferred. A rough surface or short growth likened to the ‘stubble’ of grain, esp. the short bristly growth on a man's face

five o'clock shadow 1937

used attributively in five o'clock shadow (see quot.1937), five-o'clock tea (colloquial shortened a five o'clock).Time 11 Oct. ‘5 o'clock Shadow’—that unsightly beard growth which appears prematurely at about 5 P.M., looks bad.

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