The Story Of The Mustache and its Thick, Rich History
A mustache (or moustache) is facial hair usually grown on the upper lip and the only form of follicle adornment endorsed by the American Mustache Institute. The term ‘mustache’ implies not only is the wearer of said lip hair all man, but that the wearer grows only the upper lip hair and chooses to shave the hair on his chin and cheeks, whereas growth of all facial hair would constitute a beard as worn primarily by college professors, aging beatniks and men who wander around downtown with whom you don’t want to make eye-contact.
The word Mustache comes to the English language via the Middle French Moustache which in turn is derived from the Old Italian Mustacchio which originates from the Middle Greek Moustaki, a diminutive of Greek mystak, mystax upper lip, mustache. Its other derivation is from the old Australian for beer catcher. The word is pronounced with the stress either on the first syllable or, more properly, on the second syllable, or, whatever sounds smarter when you’re talking to women.
Some common abbreviations for the mustache are stache, tache, tash, and mo. And of course, there are numerous humorous, derogatory or slang terms for the mustache mostly reflecting its resemblance to a variety of animals, its tendency to retain food and drink, its proven magical powers to make you feel smarter and better looking than you actually are, or its supposed aid in sexual activity. eg. pushbroom, soupstrainer, cookieduster, nose neighbor, flavor saver, mouth brow.
Historically, shaving with stone razors – or the sharp-edged hands of the likes of Pat Morita – was technologically possible from Neolithic times but the oldest portrait showing a shaved man with a mustache is a Scythian horseman from the Gillette Dynasty, circa 300 BC.
In more modern history, mustaches have been worn by military men. The number of nations, regiments and ranks were equalled only by the number of styles and variations. Generally, the younger men and lower ranks wore the smaller and less elaborate mustaches. As a man advanced in rank, his mustache would become thicker and bushier, until he was permitted to wear a full beard, at which point everyone made fun of him behind his back.
General Lew Wallace wore a full mustache and long goatee; this was the style during the American Civil War.
In Western cultures, women generally remove facial hair, though many – like the 1964 women’s East German Olympic Team – are capable of growing it and have done so, usually in the form of thin mustaches. The artist Frida Kahlo famously depicted herself with both a mustache and a unibrow. This tradition is followed by some contemporary women in the arts as a means to scare off suitors or impress potential investors in their phony-baloney artwork.
An English mustache was formerly used in melodramas, movies and comic books as a shorthand indication of villainy. Snidely Whiplash, for example, was characterized by his mustache and his cape. It should be noted that stock character 1920s male attire is generally a top hat, a handlebar mustache, and a monocle.
In some countries, it was obligatory for soldiers to grow mustaches. The British Army, for instance, forbade the shaving of the upper lip by all ranks from the 19th century until the regulation was abolished by an Army Order dated 6 October 1916.
As men mature into adolescence, the mustache forms its own stage in the development of facial hair. There is a definite order in which facial hairs usually appears on the male face during puberty:
- The first facial hair to appear tends to grow at the corners of the upper lip (Morrison, Adam; Charlotte Bobcats).
- It then spreads to form a mustache over the entire upper lip.
- This is followed by the appearance of hair on the upper part of the cheeks, and the area under the lower lip.
- It eventually spreads to the sides and lower border of the chin, and the rest of the lower face to form a full beard – which is far less manly than a mustache (see Chewbacca).
- Beer and professional wrestling then generally become more appealing.
- Eventually, women become more appealing, but not as much as beer and professional wrestling, which somehow seems to turn women away – but we all must have priorities.
As with most human biological processes, this specific order may vary among some individuals. Geraldo Rivera is a notable exception, as his mustache actually first appeared via sonogram in his mother’s womb before his fetus was evident to tending physicians.
Most men with a normal or strong beard growth must tend to it daily – adding nuts, berries, and a liquid sausage coating – and of course by shaving the hair of the chin and cheeks, to prevent it from soon reverting to a full beard or goatee – which are each far weaker than the mustache. This necessity has engendered the invention of quite a wide variety of accoutrements designed for the care of a gentleman’s mustache, including mustache wax, mustache nets (snoods), mustache brushes, mustache combs, mustache condoms, mustache curb-feelers, and mustache scissors. The mustache cup is a drinking cup with a partial cover to protect the upper lip from froth, umbrella and maraschino cherry in the drink.
There are many thick, rich and delicious mustache styles including:
Dali – narrow, long points bent or curved steeply upward; areas past the corner of the mouth must be shaved. Artificial styling aids needed. Named after Salvador Dalí who was known to sport such a style later in his life and featured in the short-lived Broadway play “Hello, Dali!” starring Gene Shalit in the lead.
English – narrow, beginning at the middle of the upper lip the whiskers are very long and pulled to the side, slightly curled; the ends are pointed slightly upward; areas past the corner of the mouth usually shaved. Artificial styling may be needed, especially if you are, actually, English.
Fu Manchu – long, downward pointing ends, generally beyond the chin:
Pancho Villa – similar to the Fu Manchu but thicker; also known as a “droopy mustache”, generally much more so than that normally worn by the critically revered Cheech Marin.
Handlebar – bushy, with small upward pointing ends. See baseball pitcher Rollie Fingers. Also known as a “spaghetti mustache”, because of its stereotypical association with Italian men.
Horseshoe – Often confused with the Fu Manchu style, the horseshoe was possibly popularized by modern cowboys and consists of a full mustache with vertical extensions from the corners of the lips down to the jawline and resembling an upside-down horseshoe.
Imperial – whiskers growing from both the upper lip and cheeks, curled upward (distinct from the royale, or impériale).
Moustachio – bushy mustache, with hair sometimes growing down the sides of the mouth. Also known as the Nosebeard, or the Moustachio Fantastico, with mustachio being a US variant on the spelling.
Taylor mustache – a thin row of fine dark hairs along the upper lip. Sometimes know as the Lilibrow.
Pencil mustache – narrow, straight and thin like a pencil, closely clipped, outlining the upper lip, with a wide shaven gap between the nose and mustache. Also known as a Mouthbrow. See John Waters.
Office model – favored by middle managers who live in fear of doing anything unusual.
Toothbrush or Dictator – thick, but shaved except for about an inch (2.5 cm) in the center; associated with Adolf Hitler and Charlie Chaplin. Considered the “third rail” of mustaches so out of favor today that its appearance is considered a symptom of insanity.
The Zappa – a controversial mustache with soul patch, the rights to which are currently owned by the secretive Zappa family, and of course a style which is disputed by the American Mustache Institute as it contains chin coverage which eliminates the trueness of the mustache.
Walrus – bushy, hanging down over the lips, often entirely covering the mouth.
The GG – bushy hair grown only over the corners of the mouth, shaved in the middle. Named after musician and performing artist GG Allin, the most well-known wearer of the style.
Around the world, many groups of men (co-workers, friends, and students) sometimes partake in mustache growing competitions. They are usually fun in nature and offer a bonding experience for groups of young men. The ultimate goal is to grow the most full and well-groomed mustache in the least amount of time, or over a fixed period. If you encounter one, back away carefully. While not generally dangerous, these contests often involve alcohol.
In more serious competitions, the mustaches are seen as a symbol of male virility and the winner is usually seen as the most manly of the competitors, or so he may seem after 17 mixed drinks. Many competitions exist such as the North Bay Mustache League.
Some competitions are run as charity fund-raising events, with participants being sponsored for their mustache-growing and the money raised being donated to a selected cause. The rules for such competitions vary, but often include “forfeits” (e.g., donation-matching) for competitors who shave off their mustaches before the end of the competition.
- “Tache-Off” is a global event starting on August 1st for one month, featuring contestants from the UK, North America, Spain, Australia and beyond, spawned from a drunken idea in 2006.Each year it promises to be bigger and better, but it always seems the same. 2007 added charity fund raising and an official celebrity patron, in the form of Ron Jeremy (star of numerous adult movies).
- “TacheBack” is a UK-based charity fundraiser for the Everyman Male Cancer Campaign in which men are sponsored to grow mustaches for the month of September. At the end of September there is a finale party in which men show off their ‘taches in a “Tashion Parade”. It is better than described.
- “Mustache March” started in 2003 as a way for men to legally enjoy the stache for one month. It starts with “Just grow it January” and “Facial Hair February.” It is becoming an international event. Many events are planned and photos and such are placed on the website.
- “Movember” is a charity event held each year in November. It aims to promote and raise awareness of Men’s Health issues, notably prostate cancer.
- “Mustaches for Kids” is run in a number of North American cities in which participants grow mustaches for children’s charities. Despite the name, children are not forced to grow mustaches.
- “Spring Finals Mustache Competition at Georgetown University Law Center” is undertaken by the future lawyers of America during the run-up to their spring finals as they prepare to meet their criminal clients who often have grown mustaches, too. The inaugural competition was won under suspect circumstances by Georgetown’s Section Two in 2006, while Section Three had an exceptionally strong showing.
- ‘Stache Bash, of course, is the finest of all, as the American Mustache Institute’s annual mustache event at which a best mustache is named. The event is a fundraiser for Challenger Baseball, a baseball program for disabled children and young adults.
Sports has an interesting relationship to the mustache as well. In the early 1970s, Major League Baseball players seldom, if ever, wore facial hair. The practice had been widespread in the 19th Century, but by the early 20th Century it was rare for a player to sport a mustache or beard. As detailed in the book Mustache Gang, Oakland Athletics’ eccentric owner Charlie Finley decided to hold a mustache-growing contest within his team. Many of the players grew them, and Rollie Fingers‘ distinctive style is probably the best-remembered. When the A’s faced the Cincinnati Reds, whose team rules forbade facial hair, in the 1972 World Series, facial hair was still sufficiently unusual in baseball that the Series was dubbed by media as “The hairs vs. the squares”. Thanks in part to the on-field success of the A’s in the early 1970s, along with changing fashions, facial hair has again become very common among baseball players in the intervening years.
In some cases, the mustaches are so prominently identified with a single individual that it could be identified with them without any further identifying traits, such as in the case of Adolf Hitler or Friedrich Nietzsche. In some cases, such as with Groucho Marx and Charlie Chaplin, the mustache in question was a separately billed character with its own air-conditioned trailer and entourage.
The American composer and musician Frank Zappa is also very closely associated with his trademark imperial mustache. Zappa became so identifiable by his mustache that after his death its image was actually copyrighted by the Zappa Family Trust. The family also unsuccessfully tried to trademark shirtlessness.
U.S. Air Force ace Robin Olds became celebrated for a flowing handlebar mustache he grew while commanding the 8th Tactical fighter Wing Wolfpack during the Vietnam War, and when forced to shave it by his superior, the source of an Air Force tradition known as “Mustache March.”
Another famous mustache is the one of former Gonzaga basketball player and current Charlotte Bobcat Adam Morrison. He is actually nicknamed The Stache for it and his regular-season field goals are worth four points because of it.
In 2007, the American Mustache Institute sponsored a vote for the “Top Sports Mustache of All Time,” and of course, Keith Hernandez, the former Cardinals and Mets first baseman was voted the winner with 31 percent of the vote. His win is expected to result in an asterisk because of his controversial involvement with mustache performance enhancing products.
Other famous mustaches in popular culture and history include the painting of Mona Lisa’s brother Ramone.
Mustaches have long been used by artists to make characters distinctive as with Snidely Whiplash and Dick Dastardly, the video game character Mario, sonic video game villein Eggman Robotnik, and Agatha Christie’s fictional detective Hercule Poirot. They have also been used to make a social or political point as with Marcel Duchamp’s parody of the Mona Lisa which adds a goatee and mustache or the moustachioed self portraits of Frida Kahlo. At least one fictional mustache has been so notable that a whole style has been named after it, the Fu Manchu mustache.