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Moustaches through the ages – style

The moustache. There have been some famous ones down the years: game-changers that have spawned generations of imitators. But the style of the humble tache has evolved not only in reaction to copying Hollywood stars or royalty, but according to changes in scientific reasoning, politics, and technology.

Exactly when the cultivation of the moustache developed has left many facial hair historians stroking their goatees, so-to-speak.

Man has been capable of sculpting the hair on his upper lip since prehistoric times, when flint razors were first fashioned around 30 000 BC, yet the first depiction of a moustached man doesn’t come until 300 BC; in the form of a portrait of an ancient Iranian horseman.

The story of the tache really starts in the eighteenth century, when cultivation of facial hair became the norm. It was hastened by the invention of cast steel in 1740, and the development of what most closely represents today’s razor.

The 1700s saw a preference for a lack of facial hair, seen as a marker of “civilisation” amongst western folk, with beardlessness coming alongside many other of the establishment’s customs, such as wearing wigs.

But revolution was brewing, not only in political terms (think France, America), but in personal style too. Informed by enlightenment ideas, those who wanted to be seen as culturally or politically radical in the late eighteenth century often sported facial hair.

Side whiskers and restrained moustaches began to develop in emulation of leaders such as Britain’s young Prince Albert, who sported some upper-lip growth.

Beards, sideburns and moustaches – the hairier the better – began to come  into vogue.

This 1850s became the heyday of facial hair and prompted the first widely followed moustache style to come into existence – the “Walrus” – a largely unkempt beast amongst European gentlemen.

Pioneer of this style was German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who sported a bushy number typical to the Victorian era.

Apart from inferring masculinity, it was widely believed that such taches served to trap pollution and germs before entering the nostrils.

Further advances in razor technology in the 1880s meant that men had increasing control over the facial hair – with smaller, trimmer, moustaches emerging for the first time.

One such style was the handlebar. Requiring a little sculpting with moustache wax, it was adopted most famously by two protagonists of the First World War, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Kaiser Wilhelm II.

The chaos created by these two mo’d men had an inadvertent effect on the moustache; men who survived the muddy trenches relished the chance to shave in clean water after the war ­– and facial hair got the chop, again.

Fast-forward to the next world war and the disciplines of military life continued to keep many clean-shaven, although some, most notably the British Air Force, were an exception to the rule.

To this day, the handlebar moustache remains a tradition amongst pilots, and during the Second World War, a rule decreed that “the whole of the upper lip shall remain unshaven.”

With world annihilation momentarily avoided, a rise in political tension in the 1960s saw the moustache back in the spotlight again, spawning a number of rebellious styles.

1969, the year that saw Woodstock and a man on the moon, also saw Dennis Hopper sport a slightly more rugged “tombstone” as Billy in the iconic film Easy Rider.

But by the 1970s tache cultivation was no longer seen as an act of rebellion but an everyday occurrence – with many sporting a moustache in emulation of their favourite sports stars and celebs.

A number of styles developed – the droopy, sinister “Fu Manchu” was one – modelled on the arch-villain who sported a full, straight moustache that grew downwards past the lips and on either side of the chin.

The pencil-thin Italian “tash” also grew to prominence during the 70s thanks to gangster movies glamorising the neatly clipped style, formed by a thin line of hair.

The bushier tombstone and handlebar moustaches remained popular in the 70s and 80s – pioneered by sporting icons such as members of the all-conquering Liverpool F.C. team.

The tache fell on hard times, however, in the late 80s, with only a handful of brave souls hanging on – particularly those in the police, fire services and armed forces.

Only Tom Selleck in his role as Magnum P.I. stands out as a final, enduring tribute to earlier full-bodied ‘staches designed to assert now lost Victorian values of manliness.

With pioneers of the more rugged look dwindling towards the turn of the century, men increasingly went for carefully sculpted facial hair – the popularity of the goatee beard being a sign of the times.

Enter the noughties, and as Movember rolls on and you start to cultivate your mo into a recognisable style, remember you have at least 1700 years of moustache evolution written on your face.