In Moustaches - An inquiry into the trends and perceptions (Part-1: Origins) we found that Moustaches have been decorated since ancient times and how the first seeds of driving profits by grooming the civilization started to emerge in Europe. In this post, we continue with the historical tale of moustaches since the 19th century and into the millennium and see how it has always followed a certain pattern.
Meanwhile, caste system was prevalent in India (without much opposition) and only high caste men were allowed to keep moustaches. Lower caste men were either clean shaven or sported a beard. The concept of grooming moustaches into distinct, standout facial features began around the time of the Rajputs. It could also be the reason why most of Hindu Gods are shown as hairless, except for the occasional moustache. Some demigods like Shani and Indra have often been depicted with moustache while maintaining a hairless physique otherwise [More]. Allan Peterkin suggests “Being clean-shaven is a class indicator over history as well; only rich men could afford the implements: the soaps, the water, the barber, the slave to do the shaving. So I imagine it was quite natural for any creation of the images of a God to have that link towards clean-shavenness. Being clean-shaven is being next to godliness.”
Then, facial hair came to be “viewed with distaste” and were considered as the ‘mark of an artist or revolutionary’ during the Victorian era (1840s). The facial hair became the ‘in’ thing again by the 1860; the invention of the safety razor by 1880’s nudged men towards the clean-cut look. There was also a rediscovery of the beard as both a symbol of natural virility and masculinity, and even in health terms. ‘Rather than being a form of excreta, some writers now extolled the virtues of the beard in stopping disease before it could get to the face and mouth! The beard as a visual symbol of innate manliness also made a comeback in this period, and many popular writers of the day – from Trevelyan to Dickens – not only supported the beard, but sported fine examples.’ New styles with the moustaches like walrus, handlebar, imperial etc. and the tools to maintain them, like moustache wax and combs became popular [More].
It is interesting to note that neither the Elizabethan era nor the Victorian era were too fond of moustaches. Looking at the paintings from those times, however, the general sentiment seems towards groomed moustaches during Elizabethan era and no moustaches during a few decades of Victorian era. Even today, the Queen of England seems to be averse to scruffy males and is reported to have rebuked Prince Harry for bearing the uncivilized look in her presence, after he returned from the Antarctic wilderness with a coat of fur on his face [More]. The Georgian era and the Edwardian era however, saw widespread acceptance of facial hair and many authors like Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling were celebrated luminaries of the moustache. Oscar Wilde, a kind of anachronism to this time in terms of facial grooming is alleged to have said “The moustache is the evolutionary next level to enlightenment” [More] on moustache logistics even though he stayed clean shaven against the established norm of grooming moustaches.
This was also the age of explorers heading out into untamed lands and living amongst wild nature and hence could not/did not shave. These men were celebrated as heroes and out of imitation the trend spread. Bombay-born Rudyard Kipling was a staunch proponent of ‘the walrus,’ and went so far as to write that “being kissed by a man who didn’t wax his moustache was like eating an egg without salt.” Almost until the end of the Edwardian era (1910) soldiers in the British armies were not allowed to shave off their upper lip. It is noted that ‘being without a beard gradually became seen as a sign of a civilised, modern man. Whiskers were fine in the bush where men could not be expected to shave every day.’ As countries became more urban, and society demanded that men be more respectable, the beard, like the rugged frontier, was left behind and the moustache soon followed suit.
Innovation in the razor industry (the invention of safety razor blades) and wars, World War I and II hastened this fast waning popularity of facial hair as men in the trenches found it easy to have hairless faces which attracted less grime thus promoting trench hygiene. At the same time, pilots and sailors were allowed to grow a set and most of them proudly kept one. It is said that ‘The groomed Hollywood star look, was clean-shaven with short back and sides. This took some effort. Women may have gone to the hairdressers every week or so to get their hair done, but men were just as fussy; they shaved daily and had a weekly hair trim from the barber, Mum, their wife or a mate.’
It was about the same time that hygiene and hairlessness became a fashion for women too. Décolletages drooped, the cloth that was removed from women’s skirts lengths was never added back. With more body in the open owing to this evolving fashion sense, shaving under arms and legs became mainstream.
Incidentally, it was also the time when the Communist Feminist and now celebrated Frida Kahlo was contemporary and painted her self-portraits with a prominent and often darkened unibrow and moustaches [More]. While it was a strong sign against societal customs and strong awareness of self-image on Frida’s part, it took almost half a century for the movements like women empowerment to find her as one of their poster girls to further the cause of feminism (advocating free expression and equality but embracing the prevalent fashion sense nevertheless). Her works are still celebrated today, but sadly, the visitors who are asked to put on a unibrow do so as a matter of fun or derision and never see the symbolism behind such a bold statement, which was the hallmark of Frida Kahlo [More]. It was this among many of her self-awareness traits that made her more desirable and lovable to men of her age, and ours alike, despite of her hirsute facial features. Around the same time in India, Mahatma Gandhi's Swadeshi Movement against British rulers advised Indians to have beards so that imported shavers and blades could be stopped [More].
“By the 40s and 50s, the clean-shaven look was partially favoured before stunning ‘badger beards’ made a comeback in the 60s and 70s. Being without a moustache and beard may have set off a strong masculine jawline – in theory if not in reality – but by the later 1960s a generation of men had had enough. The clean-shaven look stood for conservatism and old-fashioned values; a younger generation wanted the freedom that the world seemed to offer. Moustaches returned as men wore their rebellion as a fashion and lifestyle statement.
The 1970s and early 1980s were another heyday for the moustache. No longer was a hairy moustache an outward sign of disaffected youth. Every second man seemed to have a moustache. From the sports field to the state service, the trend was towards big and bushy as moustaches seemed to symbolise a rugged manliness.”
Artists like Robert Redford and Burt Reynolds and Freddy Mercury adopted the moustachioed lifestyle [Ref]. It is alleged to be the era of “Triple Threat” – the moustache, the perm and the turtleneck. The spring of 1972, saw the resurgence of moustaches when Reggie Jackson inspired the “Moustache Gang” to rise from the roster of the Oakland A’s. It was also the time when artists like Frank Zappa made their indelible mark on music and mankind alike and their moustache styles were largely imitated. Incidentally, this period of creative freedom and breaking the rules was the same time as the women's rights movement got under way. Hollywood movies, musicians who toured the lands and an ambivalent environment on the brink of social transformation could have contributed to what the first world is today. It is hard to say if any of the two transformations was piggybacking the other, but it is equally hard to say that the two worked independent of each other. I liken this to the kind of behaviour we saw during the renaissance.
Thereafter, moustache craze did not last much except in certain services like armed forces and police. Occasional bursts of popularity like the gay community, inspired by singers like Freddy Mercury and ‘Bears’, started wearing their facial hair with pride, but nothing seemed to last. Barbers put the changes down to lifestyle. “Coffee and lattes don’t mix — all that froth gets stuck in the moustache so something had to go”, a barber claimed in late 2006.
The style-savvy metrosexual male of the early 21st century stuck to clean shaven looks despite of many attempts, “though they have made a come-back since 2010, perhaps influenced by the growing popularity of ‘Movember’.” Besides, it takes some confidence on a man’s part to carry his moustache with panache [More].
We notice that like any fashion trend, moustaches have been in and out of fashion throughout history. Just like their growth cycle, they’ve first sprouted as a hormonal disturbance, then clambered up to the top of social acceptability and have then been mowed down into a passé. They’ve stood as a man’s flag of masculinity, stature, dominance and power in the past and in a certain cultures they’re still held in high regard. But that was also the time when most people lived in the hinterlands and were more interested in agriculture or battles on the fields rather than e-farming on the go with their smartphones at Farmville. Today, they stand out as one of the expressions of living the life on own terms, against the norm, the ordinary. India, as of now lies somewhere in between, between the rustic charm and bucolic innocence of pastoral farms and the glittering lights and don’t-care attitude of industrialized megapolis; majority of the Indians are embroiled up in this push-pull of contrasting cultures, trying to juggle values and priorities, heterodoxy and orthodoxy, all the while moving ahead and hopefully, forward.
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