How mustaches are experiencing a modern day renaissance

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By John Lavanga / A&E Editor

Of the roughly 100,000 hairs on the typical human head, few are quite so polarizing — and so frequently derided — as that small cluster growing on the upper lip that we call a mustache.

Now, after well more than a decade of admonishment and mockery, the mustache appears poised for another Renaissance. With the establishment of organizations such as Movember and the proliferation of beard and mustache clubs across the country — including Pittsburgh’s own Steel City Beard and Mustache Club — mustaches are growing on faces and in popularity once again.

In the middle of the 20th century, mustaches garnered a reputation as the much-maligned facial adornment of villains, despots and Groucho Marx. Indeed, some of the most easily recognizable mustaches resided on the faces of some of the world’s most evil men.

From Joseph Stalin’s robust brush of lip fur to Adolf Hitler’s now-infamous homage to Charlie Chaplin, the mustache witnessed its once-proud reputation as the centerpiece of the faces of countless respected public figures, such as Clark Gable and Theodore Roosevelt, sullied by the actions of heartless dictators. No longer was the mustache a thing to be respected.

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But this trend was reversed in the coming decades, as the influx of fresh ideas and new ways of thinking allowed an open-minded generation of youth to shake the dirt from the mustache’s tarnished reputation and once again wear it with pride. In the ensuing decades, icons such as Tom Selleck, Sean Connery, Frank Zappa and Lanny McDonald helped put mustaches back where they belonged.

Today, the millennial generation finds itself in a similar position as the iconoclasts of the ’60s and ’70s. 

In other words, it’s time to respect the ’stache again.

In the ’90s, mustaches once again fell by the pop-culture wayside. Perhaps the most notable mustaches on television belonged to Ned Flanders, Alex Trebek and Saddam Hussein. Yet that tide is turning, and the mustache is reasserting itself as a force to be reckoned with in the TV realm. The incredible popularity of Nick Offerman’s “Parks and Recreation” character, Ron Swanson, marked a crucial turning point in that struggle. Though Swanson himself is hilarious, his trademark lip rug is worn without the slightest hint of comedic irony.

Yet despite victories in the pop-culture realm, rank-and-file mustache wearers of our generation are still the butt of many jokes. If the mustache is going to achieve a full-on revival, then attitudes toward the everyday mustache-wearer must change, as well.

Leading the charge against the marginalization of the mustache are intrepid pioneers of the mustached lifestyle across the country. No one encapsulates this aesthetic revolution better than Pittsburgh’s own Adam Causgrove, a Pitt graduate and employee who in July of this year was selected to head the American Mustache Institute, a national organization that Causgrove describes as “the ACLU of the mustached American lifestyle.” The organization uses a blend of congeniality and wry humor to fight for the respect of the mustachioed among us.

When discussing the past, present and future of the American mustache, Causgrove was quick to point out that the recent decades have been unkind to mustaches, saying that during the late ’90s and early 2000s, the mustache was replaced by the clean-cut trends of the time.

Worse still, those who chose to rock the mouth brow wore it as an ironic accessory and “never really embraced what the mustache could stand for, which is just a giant centerpiece in the middle of your face that says ‘I am a man and I embrace the sexually dynamic mustache lifestyle,’” Causgrove said.

One of the ways the American Mustache Institute supports the cause is with its annual ’Stache Bash. Held in a different city each year, the event celebrates mustache culture, raises money for a local charity and crowns the winner of the Robert Goulet Memorial Mustached American of the Year Award, given to “the person who best embodies the mustached American lifestyle.” Past winners have run the gamut, ranging from firemen and police officers to Major League Baseball pitchers John Axford (a controversial choice due to his Canadian citizenship) and Clay Zavada to Causgrove himself, who beat out Offerman for the honor last year.

This year’s ’Stache Bash will be held in Pittsburgh on Oct. 26. This year’s 10 candidates for Mustached American of the Year, shaved down from a total of 900 nominees, includes news star Geraldo Rivera, “Anchorman” protagonist Ron Burgundy, (recently traded) San Jose Sharks forward Mike Brown, as well as several everyday mustache wearers, including D. Bruce Hanes, the Montgomery County, Pa., clerk who made headlines this summer for issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, despite the state’s ban.

The ’Stache Bash is just one of the many ways that organizations such as the American Mustache Institute and brave mustachioed souls like Causgrove are pushing to, as Causgrove put it “show that a mustached American is a very proud American putting forth just as much contribution to society.”