Whether a man’s mustache defines him remains to be seen. What is certain is that, hipsters excepted, it does give him a certain je ne sais quoi.
November is popularly known as “Movember” among a dedicated group of men who grow mustaches in support of several male-related charities, supporting things like prostate cancer and depression. The effort began in Australia in 1999, and, ever since, men all over the world have given up their razors for one month every year to give back in a way only men can—through the committed creation of their facial hair. Way to go, guys.
Mustaches are a little campy, a little rugged, and totally manly (unless you are an unfortunate female with an excessive body hair issue and no aesthetician in sight). In this article, we will go over famous ‘staches and a cultural understanding of the importance of the ‘stache. If you are looking to start your own Movember mission, now is the time.
One of the more famous mustaches belongs to an all-time favorite of mine, Tom Selleck of Magnum P.I. fame. Bushy and bold, this ‘stache was something of a ladies magnet. And, while others tried to emulate it (Burt Reynolds), they did so in vain, and I challenge anyone to wear it better.
Another iconic mustache belonged to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His ‘stache was dignified, refined, and emblematic of the times. He gave many powerful and poetic calls to the nation, all framed elegantly by the dapper strip above his lip. He wore it well, we listened, and he created change.
Of course, we cannot leave out that crazy surrealist Salvador Dali. His ‘stache was original, irreverent, and totally shocking for his era. His ‘stache reflected his art—it was a walking, furry canvas that changed regularly to suit his mood. You have to appreciate a man so bold and creative in all aspects of his life.
There is also Adolf Hitler’s iconic ‘stache, which might not be much fun to think about but is definitely worth mentioning. It has long been used for shock value in Halloween costumes and for cheap sit-com jokes.
Perhaps more enjoyable to think of is the delightful Charlie Chaplin mini-‘stache. Chaplin had a way of making his ‘stache part of his shtick. It was almost as though it took on a life of its own, with its excellent comic timing and unique personality. That’s fairly impressive, considering it was only a few whiskers that resided above his lip.
Finally, there is Brad Pitt and his refusal to shave the mangy mop on his face. As a rejection of Hollywood’s doctrine of beauty, he has regularly refused to shave or tailor his facial tresses. He can easily look like a sleepy, disheveled hobbit living under a tree, but we love him nevertheless, maybe because we know the true brawn and bravado that resides underneath.
Of course, honorable mentions go to Prince, Freddie Mercury, Sonny Bono, Borat, Albert Einstein, Hulk Hogan, Gandhi, Ned Flanders, the Super Mario Brothers, and the Monopoly guy.
Why is the ‘stache so important?
One year, in university, all my male friends got together to grow the bushiest beards they could in a month-long challenge. I appreciated the humor of the exercise and their persistently itchy faces. I also remember thinking then, as I do now, what’s the big deal about facial hair? Years later, in Movember, it got me to thinking.
One of the rights of passage when boys turn into men is shaving. Many men remember receiving their first razors from their fathers and rank the event up there with their first sexual experiences, or at least when they got their drivers licenses. So is it the mustache that makes the man?
Facial hair and sexuality are intimately intertwined. We often equate shagginess with machismo, so it is not a far reach to say that if a man can grow an ample ‘stache, he is considered manlier. This was never truer than in the case of the pervasive porn-stache of the 1970s, which wormed its way into both popular culture and the gay community. Some think the popularization of the mustache in the ‘70s was a response to the growth of feminism. Because women can’t grow mustaches, it was a clear indication of men’s virility. It was a way for men to assert themselves in a time when culture was radically changing and men’s roles and usefulness were being called into question.
The popularity of facial hair and, specifically, mustaches has waxed and waned throughout times. In ancient Egypt, hairlessness was viewed as an indication of divinity, and only the poor would sport facial hair. Conversely, throughout European history, beards intermittently were taxed and removed if the bearer was not upper class or spiritually ordained. Most recently, we have witnessed the rise of the iconic hipster mustache. Hipsters, I ask, why must you be so damn cool? In the ’70s it was fashionable, but on you, a hairy lip just looks like you are trying too hard, and that is the very opposite of what you are going for.
Among those who are not trying so hard, the growth of facial hair in today’s culture is a way to declare anti-establishment, non-conformist sensibilities. Society, the military, and moms attempt to assert their power over men by making them shave, as there is uniformity and control in hairlessness. So, dirty hippies living off wheatgrass and singing “Kumbaya” demonstrate their dissatisfaction with “The Man” by not picking up razors. Many job placement specialists encourage their male applicants to shave off excess facial hair before a big interview because many employers feel it is dirty or hiding something or that it’s just dated. A lot of men who grow a Movember ‘stache probably feel a little subversive wearing it to work, but lucky for you, it’s all in the name of charity.
The creativity one can have with a few tiny whiskers on his face is truly astonishing. I have to hand it to you gentlemen, good work. I sincerely appreciate the time, energy, creativity, and scratchiness it takes to sculpt your own hairy lip. In celebration of Movember, consider how you can access your inner Ron Jeremy or Colonel Sanders to legitimately wear your ‘stache with pride.
—Photo Alan Light/Flickr