My favorite moment from this year’s Halloween came from one charming little boy who appeared on my front porch. Amidst a continual stream of zombies, Disney princesses, Jedi knights and Ninja Turtles, this little chap showed up in bright blue overalls, a red shirt and a red cap. As Super Mario of video-game fame, he looked the part exactly. But as soon as I opened the door, he didn’t shout “trick or treat” or “Boo!” Instead, he looked up at me, paused and said, “Does my mustache look OK?”
I appreciated the fact that he looked to me for guidance, and even though his painted-on handlebar had in fact gotten a tad smudged, I nonetheless praised him on his style and sent him away with a thumbs up and a Snickers Fun Size candy bar.
When six-year-old boys are stressing over it, you know that the mustache is back. For a few dull decades in the ‘80s, ‘90s and early 2000s, the clean-shaven look dominated. While the ‘stache-and-beard combo maintained a certain rugged appeal regardless of popular fashion, few dared sport solo lip hair. The closest many men got was the standard middle-aged look of the last 15 years: a grey mustache and goatee (for best results, add hair mousse and reading glasses).
But today, mustache culture is everywhere, and it may be the only trend where I have been ahead of the curve since 1990. You should see those high school photos — I look like I’m holding a used toothbrush under my nose. A colleague recently gave me a poster showing the spectrum of mustaches. Each has a name and is ranked according to volume — from the barely visible “Pencil” to the massive “Franz Josef,” from the “Frenchman” to the “Walrus.” Today, I’ve got something close to a “Painter’s Brush” in the middle of the spectrum. But my high school ‘stache would not even have registered on the thickness chart. I might have called it the “Lint Filter.”
As a sign of the Mustache Apocalypse, the sheer number of nose-hair novelties you can buy these days is staggering. At a website called mustachestuff.com, a person can invest in everything from mustache coat hangers and ice trays to socks and wristbands. There are mustache salt and pepper shakers, light-switch covers and Lionel Richie T-shirts.
Baby won’t stop crying? Get him a mustache pacifier, and he’ll look like a tiny Burt Reynolds. Bottle caps on too tight? Try the wall-mounted ‘stache-shaped bottle opener. It never ends: mustache iPhone cozies, key hooks, Salvador Dali posters. And for only $4 you can pick up mustache fingernail decals. That is one trend, by the way, I am content to lag behind.
Granted, this marketing frenzy is nothing new. Back in the 19th century, when few respectable gentlemen would be caught clean-shaven in public, all types of supplies were available. Mustache cups had a special ceramic guard built into the rim so a bloke wouldn’t get his facial hair soggy while sipping hot tea. The average shaving stand boasted a variety of specialized grooming utensils, along with many brands of wax.
Some years ago, when my parents were buying and selling antiques, they came across a vintage sterling silver mustache curling iron kit, complete with its own heater. For the gentleman who prefers a silver-plated stiff upper lip, of course.
So whether you call it a mo, whisker, bristle baton, bro-merang, cookie duster, crumb catcher, face lace, grass grin, yard broom, mouth brow, lip toupé, tea strainer, caterpillar, face furniture, flavor savor, handlebar or a muzzy, the mustache is ubiquitous. I have had one continuously for 25 years (except for one week when I had a little accident while shaving and ended up with a reverse Charlie Chaplin).
For some, mustache culture is an amusing novelty — a disguise on a stick to hold up in party photos. But for others, it is a lifestyle. We don’t follow the trends. We remain bristly in season and out of season. We persevere through sun or rain or soup or crumbs. Our motto: Equip the lip.