RULE 1: WORK WITH WHAT YOU'VE GOT
"I struggle with too much men's grooming," says Schneidman. "Whatever God serves up on your face, you want to play off that. If you start breaking the laws and trying to pencil too much, you look like a dude who spent too much time in front of the mirror."
Let's break that down. If you have a beard that's naturally patchy or scruffy, trying to give yourself Clark Gable's mustache or DJ Khaled's beard margins is going to be a losing battle.
Maybe your beard and mustache don't connect. Maybe your sideburns are a different color. Know thyself, and match your style to your raw materials. You'll have an easier road ahead.
"I fight with people all the time who are like, 'Dude, my beard is patchy,'" says Schneidman. "I love patchy. It doesn't have to be too perfect.
RULE 2: LISTEN TO WHAT PEOPLE SAY—AND WHAT THEY MEAN
Watch out for the double-edged sword of compliments. Flattering remarks can be genuine. Or they can indicate that someone noticed your chinstrap beard, felt compelled to say something, and scrambled for something nice.
"A lot of people will say, 'Oh, dude, I like the mustache!'" says Schneidman. "And you're like, 'Wow, I'm getting so much response.' But people are saying stuff because it's not good."
In fact, when it comes to facial hair, a lack of reactions may be the safest way to tell that what you're doing is natural, and suited to your look.
Of course, there's one surefire way to know what people really think. Try a moustache for a few months, then get rid of it. People will either tell you your face looks naked, or that they never liked your 'stache in the first place.
RULE 3: GET A SECOND (AND THIRD, AND FOURTH...) OPINION
Don't want to go the route of trial and error? Then do some advance focus-grouping. And do it with people you can trust.
Schneidman put this in action when he was thinking about buzzing his head. "I ran around the salon asking, 'Should I cut my hair off?'" he says. "I went to ten people, and eight people said no."
RULE 4: TRUST YOURSELF, AND COMMIT
Yes, a poll can give you a sense of what the general reaction will be. But these are second opinions—and the first opinion should always be your own.
"I'm not closed off to expression," says Schneidman. "Us guys don't have that many ways to express ourselves. I always refer to peacock feathers. We have to show our peacock feathers somehow, and I think it's cool when people try stuff."
If your preferred way to peacock is to rock a thin mustache, or a handlebar, or bring back the goatee, don't do it by halves.
"If you're really going for an intense, individual look, keep it shaved when it grows out, stay on it," says Schneidman. “Find that happy place where you feel comfortable."
RULE 5: GET THE RIGHT TOOLS
You want to look like Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds, or Johnny Depp in real life. This isn't something you can do with your everyday razor.
"There are so many products for pencil-lining facial hair," says Schneidman. "Start and etch with a really nice penciling buzzing clipper. You can follow up with a small edging razor—they sell ones you can clean up your eyebrows with. Then finish with a clean shave once you've set that line."
For precision grooming, we like the rechargeable detail trimmer from Wahl, which has two heads, a flat one for edges and a more rounded one for tackling the insides of your nostrils. With eyebrow edging razors, look for the ones that look almost like a tiny cleaver, with a long handle for greater control.
Take your time, keep it symmetrical, and don't worry—if you need it, a blank canvas is only a proper shave away.
This article originally appeared on menshealth.com.