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Can the Stache Be Used for Good?

19 November 2011

I have a tenuous agreement going with my wife in which she allows me to shave a mustache for exactly one day a year.  I say “tenuous” because she really hasn’t ever agreed to it.  This day almost always falls on the pheasant hunting opening day in South Dakota.  A buddy and I shave creepy little lip blankets, put on orange clothes and grab a couple of shotguns.  Beef jerky and obnoxious music are involved.  Personal hygiene that day is discouraged.  My wife hates mustache day.

Would you believe that the moustache expressed a similar deviation from the norm a hundred years ago?  According to Christopher Oldstone-Moore in the Journal of Social History, men in early twentieth century America expressed their allegiance to national and social agendas through clean-shaven faces.  Showing skin expressed conformity to one’s peer group and good teamsmanship.  Conversely, donning a mustache meant you were independent.  That independence didn’t have to be expressed as roguishness, explains Oldstone-Moore.  It could suggest one’s patriarchal status in the home or business as he worked to create society.  But the mustache made a man a stand-out for those with the luxury of standing out.

Fast-forward a hundred years.  We are seeing the growing popularity of Movember, in which men grow moustaches in November to bring attention to various causes (usually men’s health issues).  The official Movember web page notes that participants have exceeded the million-stache mark.  Mustaches for good?  Mustaches for charitable sociality?  I can’t decide whether the staches-for-social-good phenomenon is in keeping with older patterns or if this suggests a more radical domestication of the face caterpillar.

So long as that hairy streak crosses my face, my wife insists it will never be aligned with the forces of light.

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