The moustache is back. On the red carpet, A-listers like Christian Bale, Sam Elliott and Mahershala Ali have been sporting prominent taches all awards season, while the biggest films of the past 12 months – Mary Poppins Returns, Mission Impossible: Fallout and, most spectacularly, Bohemian Rhapsody – featured facial hair in starring roles. And later this year, George Clooney will lead the TV adaptation of Catch-22 with a set of very commanding whiskers.
Alan Adderley, a barber with Dublin’s Sugar Daddy salon, has observed a notable surge in the tache’s popularity.
“I find that there’s a lot more people coming in with moustaches, and it’s throughout all ages. It’s often with stubble rather than a clean-shaven look, but I definitely see an increase in people with moustaches rather than a beard,” he says.
“I think people have this perception that a moustache can look a bit creepy – when I shaved my beard down, I kept getting told I looked like I should be on a ‘wanted’ poster. But I think you just have to go with it. And now that more and more people are doing it, we’ll see it becoming more acceptable.”
This comeback has been a long time coming. In 2003, a group of friends in Melbourne had the idea to “bring back the moustache” with a sponsored, month-long event, and the first Movember was born.
“They had two missions: to bring back the mo and to change the face of men’s health,” explains Country Manager of the Movember Foundation, Jack O’Connor. “The moustache is a hairy ribbon: people wear ribbons or badges to support their chosen cause, and for us, we grow a moustache.”
But why the moustache? According to Jack, the founders were inspired by the icons of their youth: Freddie Mercury, Tom Selleck, Frank Zappa and Australia’s top cricketers.
“In the 70s and 80s, the moustache was a staple among male celebrities, but in the 90s, it died a death, and by the early 2000s, it was gone. I believe the [Movember] conversation started with how things always come back to style, and what hasn’t come back yet, and they came up with the moustache.”
For much of the 20th century, we took the moustache seriously, on the faces of cowboys, film stars and state leaders. But towards the end of the century, the tache was falling out of fashion, and fast.
What killed it off? In the 70s, it became increasingly associated with the burgeoning porn industry, while gay men adopted the look as a signature, worn with Levis 501 jeans as part of the ‘Castro clone’ uniform that reigned in San Francisco. The Village People took the stereotype to its cheesiest extreme, and the moustache struggled to survive.
By the Noughties, it had become a punchline, part of the gag for Will Ferrell’s Ron Burgundy and Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat. It started popping up on all manner of novelty items, from mugs to notebooks to sunglasses, in Urban Outfitters, while Netflix’s hit Orange Is The New Black got plenty of comic mileage from the lecherous prison guard ‘Pornstache’.
Jack acknowledges that hipsters have dabbled with the moustache over the years – most notably, The Killers’ frontman Brandon Flowers’ much-derided effort in the late 2000s – but that purposeful irony has gone some way to bringing the look back into the mainstream.
“The beard’s kind of had its day, I’ve certainly seen a lot of my friends shave theirs off,” says Jack. But the moustache is more of a high-maintenance option than a beard.
“I had a beard before I had a moustache, and I found that you can just let it grow and see how it goes. Once you have a moustache, you need to trim it, and you don’t have a beard for it to blend into, so it’s very obvious if you’ve over-trimmed one side. And if you’re drinking creamy coffees or soup, it’s important to keep your moustache neat and hygienic,” he says.
Jack has had a full moustache for three years, which he describes as a “typical boxcar” in the style of Freddie Mercury and Tom Selleck.
“I like it. I drink the odd pint of Guinness, and that’s when it becomes a little bit annoying, because after every swig you’ve got to wipe your moustache down. My girlfriend doesn’t have a problem with it, she’s a big fan of the moustache – in fact, I think if I came home shaved, she’d be shocked!”
Tim Chadwick (27), from Castleknock, Co Dublin, has had a moustache for two years. He says his biggest muse was his dad, who sported a particularly impressive one when Tim was growing up. But Tim’s first attempt to grow one was a bit of a bust.
“When I was in college, I went on Erasmus in Vienna and I felt very European, so I tried to grow a moustache and it was awful. I could count the hairs,” he laughs.
Tim spent a few years working in cafes, where facial hair was forbidden for hygiene reasons. Two years ago, he decided to pursue a career in music full-time, and opted to let the moustache grow back.
“Because my music pays homage to that 80s style of music, and because music and fashion are more intertwined than they’ve ever been, it fit nicely. Even though I haven’t got the most impressive moustache in the world, I like how it complements my look and my music.”
Tim, who is set to release his second EP this year, says he is keen to subvert the idea of the moustache as a symbol of masculinity.
“In my campaign for my new music, while I have a moustache in the shot, I also have flowers in my hair, which are seen as very feminine. That’s something I like to play with,” says Tim, who plays the Sea Sessions and Indiependence festivals this summer.
He has also embraced its queer legacy, pointing to Freddie Mercury’s trademark tache as an emblem of masculine glamour.
“For some people, somehow, being gay makes you less of a man. The moustache, while very masculine, has become a thing for gay men as well. Freddie Mercury set a trend that still influences years down the line.
“I feel like a lot of the conversation around beard grooming and facial hair is on ‘men’s men’ and ‘real men’ – there is an industry out there that purely targets straight, white men and tells them that having a beard means you’re more masculine and that you have more power. I’m lucky in the fact that, because I do music and it’s all about freedom of expression, I can do whatever I want.”
A moustache demands more grooming than a beard, but Tim doesn’t mind the upkeep.
“I have to trim it every couple of days or else I’m eating it with my dinner. It does get in the way sometimes, but not enough to shave it off,” he says. “When I first started going out with my boyfriend, he was like, ‘This is awful! My face!’ but I think he’s built up a tolerance now and doesn’t even think about it anymore.”
For those considering growing their own, Alan advises picking up a decent trimmer.
“A trimmer is the best option when it comes to a moustache, rather than going at it with a razor blade,” he explains. If you want to give your tache a twist, like a handlebar style, he recommends using a wax to give it shape.
“If it’s a straightforward Freddie Mercury style, you can just put a bit of oil in it to keep it smooth,” Alan adds.
And be patient: it can take up to six weeks before a full moustache starts to take form. But don’t give up, Jack urges.
“Stick with it. A moustache looks a lot better after five or six weeks; the first three will be the toughest, because that’s when it starts to sprout but it won’t really have that much form or shape. Hang in there and let it get nice and long, that’s when you can start to style it.
“Pulling anything off is all about your mindset. If you’re rocking the mo, you’ve got to rock it. If you take that first step and you’re confident in your moustache, everyone else will follow.”
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