Is that Poirot or just another hipster with hair above their lip? Yep, that time of year is upon us- it's officially Movember. A month when millions of men around the world grow moustaches in the name of prostate cancer and mental health. For many, a tash is but a distant cry to an era of hairy chests and unbuttoned shirts. Unless you're a porn star, actor or artist, chances are, you're going to attract the wrong sort of attention.
But, how important are moustaches in the world of facial hair? Back in the Neolithic age, there was no such thing as Gillette Fusion, so pretty much all blokes looked like animals. English medieval knights didn’t fare much better, with their long cat-like whiskers.
By the 16th century, the first recorded use of the word “moustache” – as taken from the Italian “moustachio” – makes its way into the English Dictionary. It was at this stage that King James I came to power and donned his famous tash for portraits.
Things got pretty poncy by the 1800s. For whatever reason, the new in-thing was carefully coiffured moustaches (you know, the Shoreditch wanker look). Lord Byron, the Romantic poet, flaunted one, and many followed by his example. Until the Crimean war that is. Now was the beard's time to shine. Back in fashion was the dreaded facial fungus of years gone by. British troops returning from battle had the appearance of cavemen, and it wasn’t long before the trend was ditched - thankfully!
Come the late 19th century, clean shaven was the way forward. Even hospital patients started receiving a shave. Sadly, the tash was still kicking about, pruned and pretentious as ever.
The immediate years following World War I were a bit of a mixed bag for our furry friend. In Hollywood, Clark Gable and Errol Flynn wore those god awful pencil thin moustaches, but, on the streets, men were yet again forced to trim theirs. The Great Depression made it practically impossible to get a job if you had any sort of facial hair. In his 1932 book, How To Get a Job During A Depression, W.C. Graham notes:
A moustache … [may] help in getting a job as a ‘gigolo’ or sheik, but there are practically no openings for them during a depression.
In other words, if you hadn’t gone through puberty, your chances of being hired were much higher. Also common at this time, at least on-screen, was the pervy toothbrush moustache, or the Charlie Chaplin look. The fact that Hitler had one should tell you everything you need to know about the toothbrush moustache - it’s a no no.
The 60s and 70s were all about big, sweaty Bee Gees style beards. Everyone from Marvin Gaye to Al Pacino went unshaven at this time. Then boom, the 80s hit. And, with it, came an actor whose manly moustache stole the hearts of women - Tom Selleck. Better known as the private investigator in the hit series, Magnum P.I., he set a new a precedent that few men could top.
The 1990s was a more liberal time for male facial hair. Oh, moustaches were in alright, but the variations on them were positively ridiculous. First up was the floating goatee. Pop stars and actors were quick to jump on the bandwagon with this one. George Michael had a goatee, as did Ethan Hawke. The look was also popularised in wrestling and hip hop. Backstreet Boys’ AJ Maclean typified the sort of face feng shui that you could only get away with if you were rich and famous. For professional men of the 90s, it was clean shaven or nothing. What with the rise of the seal-smooth metrosexual, the attractive thing was to be baby-faced.
Nowadays, you can't move for beardy men. Whether scruffy or groomed, people everywhere are ditching razors in favour of clippers, or, in some cases, going it wild. So, what's become of the beloved moustache? Oh, it's still here - just lost under a mountain of hair. For those of a certain age and social standing, however, it will never go out of fashion.
When the Movember Foundation launched their annual event in 2004, they opened the door for a new generation of men to rock facial hair like it's never been rocked before- for charity- and, in doing so, changed the course of history.
The way I see it- it's swings and roundabouts, and, as dodgy as the tash is, it will probably be back in fashion before long. Mark my words!