What’s growin’ on? the mustache trend makes a comeback

Matt Love is the epitome of cool. The 20-year-old Cal Poly civil engineering junior plays bass guitar, surfs and lets his girlfriend do what she loves to do: touch his mustache.

That’s because Love does something few white guys under 30 are bold ­- or nutty – enough to do: he wears a ‘stache.

Well, that’s not entirely correct. He “rocks a ‘stache.”

There’s a difference.

Wearing a ‘stache is what older guys do, pesky insurance salesman, uncles, clichéd cops, washed-up ’70s stars and gym teachers.

Rockin’ a ‘stache is what younger guys ought to be doing. It’s all about making the lip hip; growing a manly mustache, being proud of it, caring for it and in doing so, ripping the whiskers right off conventional wisdom.

Lately, stylish men all over campus have thrown aside manual razors for electric clippers and taken to styling their face and body hair – known as “manscaping” – with a zeal not seen since Edward Scissorhands. Beards, stubble, sideburns, soul patches and mustaches, the one-time symbol of rural cluelessness, have become an emblem of urban sophistication. We are entering the razor-less revolution.

Who killed facial fuzz? Facial hair arrives, uninvited at puberty, marking a celebrate progression into manhood. But whether it has grown, has until the 20th century been determined by class, religious beliefs, community precedent and occupational status.

The ancient Egyptians viewed hairlessness as an indication of divinity. Only the poor manifested any signs of scruffiness. Contrarily, in European history, beards were taxed and forcibly removed if one were not upper class or spiritual enough to sport one.

Over 5,000 years, chin and lip growths have been purchased, elaborately adorned, dyed and even deracinated as a form of torture. The varieties of facial hair are virtually endless, as worn by modern men of all classes, all ages and all social affiliations. Not since Victorian times has the art of mowing the lawn for men been so prevalent.

Allan Peterkin, author of “One Thousand Beards: A Cultural History of Facial Hair,” explains that the mustache, in particular, has always been identified with what he calls “the three F’s: fops, foreigners and fiends.” In other words, men who are too effeminate, too European or too evil sport the ‘stache.

Throughout history, some very dark men have worn mustaches including “Hitler, Vlad the Impaler. Furthermore, most of the images of the devil have mustaches,” Peterkin said.

Even if they are associated with evil, mustaches can also be seen as powerful.

“The military mustache was a big tradition and linked it to machismo,” Peterkin said. “Particularly in World War I, when men in British regiments had handlebar and toothbrush-style mustaches.”

In the clearest sign that the ‘stache had fallen out of mainstream favor, the creators of Brawny paper towels “shaved” their iconic Brawny Man in 2003. The new image, company executive Michael Burandt said at the time, “signals to shoppers that these towels are completely updated and have moved into the new millennium.” Mustaches, in other words, are so last century. At least until now.

Still, some are cautious to jump on board. Social sciences junior Sarah Kensky said she “only likes a mustache if it’s on Brad Pitt.”

If the ranks of 21st-century male-mustache devotees are growing slowly, there are even fewer women out there who have a taste for its particular spice.

No survey ever conducted about women’s attitudes towards beards, even those not underwritten by the Gillette Company, has indicated that more than 2 or 3 percent of women would describe a full beard as sexy.

Nutrition sophomore Alycee Ansolabehere said she “wouldn’t date a guy with a beard unless he is Santa Claus.”

The ‘stache has been on a bumpy coaster ride down and up again, even the pro-mustache Movember movement is a double-edged razor. Originating in Australia in 2004, Movember challenges men to grow mustaches for the month of November to raise money for men’s health charities; an estimated 200,000 men worldwide participated in 2008. It brings the mustache back every fall, only to kill it off a few weeks later.

However, to liberal studies junior Laura Kloetzer, facial hair reminds her of Johnny Depp. She “likes a man with scruff, he looks rugged and manly, because that’s how you differentiate between a man and a boy.”

But when it comes to its upstairs neighbor, Kloetzer says, “mustaches can be creepy, appropriate for Cinco de Mayo or old men that drive Harleys. It’s more of a personal choice, unless he can rock it.”

Despite all of the negative things it can be associated with, the mustache is making a comeback around Hollywood and campus.

Brad Pitt has thrown his pretty-boy weight behind the revival, donning a mustache on the cover of January’s Rolling Stone and told “Extra” it’s his goal to restore respect for the style.

Or take Jason Giambi, the Yankees first baseman whose summer comeback coincided with his sprouting a particularly fine-looking ‘stache.

Whenever a countercultural trend becomes a mainstream one, there is a natural tendency to look for a deeper meaning. Do beards that call to mind Charles Manson suggest dissatisfaction with “the system?” Are broody beards, dark and somber, physical manifestations of melancholia in the air from the current economy?

Perhaps the most prevalent reason for the facial hair renaissance is a reaction to the scrubbed, shaved, plucked and waxed men of the ’90s. Beard enthusiasts said it’s a backlash against the heightened grooming expectations that were unleashed with the rise of metrosexuality as a cultural trend. The pendulum has swung the other way, and it appears men want to feel tough and masculine.

For college guys today the trend is for aesthetic reasons, comic relief and pure laziness, as opposed to viewpoints. “Scruff” is a suggestion that you have more important things to do than shave ­- and of course, for its appeal to women.

Allan Peterkin author of “On Thousand Beards: A Cultural History of Facial Hair” explained, “Young guys, especially college kids, are growing mustaches with impunity and a sense of retro fun.”

Mechanical engineering junior Dean Perry grows scruff primarily because he is “lazy” but on occasion “to goof off I’ll throw a crazy mustache in.”

Love grew his mustache in response to a summer road trip to Yosemite. “It was the appropriate thing to do.” rather than a reaction to any kind of trend he said. Love was surprised by people’s reactions being “so serious.” “Guys and girls who were all about being sexy weren’t down, but people who knew me thought it was cool.”

With headquarters nestled in the shadow of the world’s largest mustache, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Abraham J. Froman of the American Mustache Institute claims that 2008 was a “banner year for people of Mustached American decent in that our society has rediscovered the lip curtain as a form of expression, wisdom, good looks and greatness.”

In 2009 Froman also pledges to “Castigate clean shaven mortals and remind them their bare-lipped appearance is a sign of weakness and communism. Consider the environment before shaving my mustache. And never forget that every time a mustache is shaved an angel in heaven dies and falls to earth.”

There are only so many ways to arrange fabric, makeup, and facial hair, so recycling is inevitable. It happened with big collars, it happened with bell-bottoms. And it’s happening with the male face, too.

Back at Cal Poly, with fuzzy-face fervor, Love is winning over folks with his rock-the-‘stache attitude. His mustache has been through celebrations and pressed upon the upper lip of his girlfriend many times. The list of ‘stache stories he supplies is long, thick and rich, much like his mustache.

Makes you wonder if Love’s nose is growing, too.

Matt Love is the epitome of cool. The 20-year-old Cal Poly civil engineering junior plays bass guitar, surfs and lets his girlfriend do what she loves to do: touch his mustache.
That’s because Love does something few white guys under 30 are bold ­- or nutty – enough to do: he wears a ‘stache.