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You look like an Agatha Christie villain! The mustache is back but should it disappear again? | men’s hair




OWhen I came of age, mustaches were up to the cool step. They were evil, old fashioned and scary. The male ideal was clean shaven, unless you were Des Lynam. A weird thing happened 20 years later, when ridiculous mustaches and mustache iconography came into vogue, and people even tattooed them on their fingers. It disappeared, and we didn’t talk about it any more. But I started seeing them again, like ghosts from the Civil War. From the Heist Food Market in St Leonards-on-Sea to the All Points East festival in London’s Victoria Park, young men with mustaches everywhere. What’s going on?

If you’re old like me, someone who believes the 1990s and 2010s were 10 years ago, you won’t like the answer. Fashion’s classic 20-year trend cycle is no longer fit for purpose. On TikTok, anything over five years old is treated as vintage and eligible for revival. So mustaches join indie sleaze, wired headphones and Polaroids, Tumblr girls and twee in a cursed repackaging of 2014s hipster style. Its nostalgia for nostalgia, hipster squared. May God help us.

From left to right: Eugene Hutz, Mark Owen, James Franco
From left to right: Eugene Hutz, Mark Owen, James Franco. Composer: Lauren Withrow/The Guardian; Getty

Mustaches draw the eye towards the center of the face, says Chris Foster, creative director of the Refinery hair salon in Mayfair, where I came to have my stubble shaped into Rhett Butler. For men with chubby faces, they are more flattering than a beard. Beards were the big winners of the 2010s, going from lackluster to near-ubiquitous. But it’s impossible to bring back hipster beards, because everyone still has them. This leaves the field open to mustaches, their more rococo cousin. (The Rise of the Mule is another way it plays out, and tragically the two aren’t mutually exclusive.)

Wearing mine on the street is like walking around with a pissed off new friend: one I’m not sure my other friends will like, one likely to crack a dirty joke in polite conversation. Early reactions to my new look range from I can’t take you seriously to You look like an Agatha Christie villain. They might reflect my own clumsiness. I don’t remember what you looked like before, honestly, my friend Suzie yawns. As compliments, light beer; but at a book launch Grayson Perry tells me the mustache is nice and he won a Turner Prize.

Clark Gable as Rhett Butler with Vivien Leigh as Scarlett OHara in Gone with the Wind.
Clark Gable as Rhett Butler with Vivien Leigh as Scarlett OHara in Gone with the Wind. Photograph: Masheter Film Archive/Alamy

The hipsters simply plundered the history books. Mustaches have always been popular, conveying dignity and virility. Classically, the military had them (army rules still prohibit soldiers from having beards, as they prevent an effective seal in oxygen masks). There have also been hippies attached to Zappa and bohemian twizzlers like Salvador Dal. Nietzsche, Einstein and American Civil War General Ambrose Burnside remain instantly recognizable from theirs. Hitler ruined the toothbrush mustache, although Robert Mugabe and Michael Jordan tried to bring it back in the last quarter of the 20th century.

On the other hand, they look ridiculous to build a disguise, Groucho-Marxist. I once stayed in a room decorated entirely in comic mustaches, from the wallpaper to the pillow case. Anything that can drastically change his appearance is funny. They have also served as symbols of untrustworthy self-esteem or fastidiousness. Unlike the roughness of a beard, mustaches require shaving and grooming, even waxing and spiraling. (Church of England rules prohibit clergy from having mustaches, for vanity reasons.)

A mustache is kinda intriguing, it’s cool, says Luke Jefferson Day, associate style editor at GQ, as he weighs those pairings. For him, they are reminiscent of the main enigmatic, handsome and flirtatious men of his teenage years in Australia. Actors such as Tom Selleck and Burt Reynolds were modern matinee idols, Clark Gables of their time. Sexuality is always the top note of mustaches, he says, which explains their ambiguous cachet. This is the sordid appeal of Lothario. He names Lando Calrissian, the treacherous Star Wars character, highlighting their underworld glamour. You often look like a 70s porn star or a coke dealer.

Left to right: Jimmy Q, street style at London fashion week, Henry Cavill
Left to right: Jimmy Q, street style at London fashion week, Henry Cavill. Composition: Getty

Is that why there are currently no heartthrobs in Hollywood who wear a mustache? Jonathan Rhys Meyers flirts with a pencil, James Franco has an intermittent banter with a Wild West sheriff. Henry Cavill is the closest, but his mustache fell off in comedy when painted awkwardly in the CGI reshoots of Justice League. The men who fly the flag are Nick Offerman and Sam Elliott, whose walrus brush in films such as The Big Lebowski looks fashionably older than time. Their lips bristle with the secret of a bygone masculinity, more sure of itself.

Nobody’s trying to buy me coke but that’s not zen and the art of mustache maintenance. I keep accidentally shaving off bits of mine and then have to do the same on the other side. It’s like putting away a cake that I’ve already taken a bite of. The feeling of hair at the edge of my mouth makes me think there are crumbs. I compulsively dab the corners, another painful tic. How can we tolerate these lip ticklers?

I find them sexy, a little Tom from Finland, laments Sammy, a hip guy I approach as he takes out his trash. He grew his own during the hot summer, as a lighter way to wear a beard. I feel childish without it, he adds, referring to his baby face. Later, I meet Duncan Smith, who wears a camo jacket and works in the recording industry. He grew his own after seeing a guy who looked just like him but more so, a 70s mustache completing the look. He doesn’t see them as dated, or that doesn’t make them undesirable. I saw a picture of my dad where he looked exactly like me. My mom’s dad had one and he looked suave. Would his girlfriend care if he shaved? She shrugs. It would be fine, but it would be sad.

Fathers loom large in the mustache cat. Speaking about his own stain recently, singer Mark Owen admitted how much he envied his father a loud, heavy number, the best mustache I’ve ever known.

Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian in Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian in Solo: A Star Wars Story. Photography: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy

Over the next few weeks, I stop warning my hairy gang with bleats about doing it for work. It doesn’t sound ridiculous, someone admits. Looks good on you, said another. Sounds cute, an American college professor tells me. It’s as if I could be on a journey, it’s a task with a narrative trajectory.

Of course, most trending discussions can be subtitled: what are white people doing? Refinerys customers are largely Middle Eastern men who wear headgear, for whom the mustache has long been a means of self-expression. Saudis will have a completely different beard and mustache design than a Kuwaiti, Foster notes. Black customers, he says, prefer clean, stylish mustaches and goatee. The longer circus strongman styles I’ve noticed are the preserve of Caucasian men, who use them to showcase their quirky individuality.

Mustaches have long been central to gay culture, which has also been the breeding ground for the New Beards. It was a move away from the hairless, shiny gay stuff, Day notes, a trend that spread through New York hipsters, and then East Londoners, into the mainstream. Gay people are often early adopters, he notes, emboldened and free. There is more room in our community. In the straight world, you stay in your lane. Other stylists echo this: straight men are afraid of radically changing their look, of arriving at work with anything that could make them look ridiculous. However, it loosens up a bit.

With more people working from home or in staggered shifts, there’s less chance of becoming water cooler gossip. Most men have experimented with locking hair, growing it out or shaving it off. The dilution of banter and the ever-spinning fashion wheel make conditions conducive to a bit of hetero-flamboyance. I have to admit that after a rocky start, the response to my mustache has been positive, despite wearing it with no confidence whatsoever. If I had the rocks to back me up, I’d probably have a record deal or a magazine cover.




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