If You’re Going to Grow a Quarantine Mustache, Listen Up
(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- Of all the worthy projects to tackle during quarantine, the one with the least chance of resulting in real self-improvement is the introduction of a new mustache.
Imagine a thick ’stache, and chances are you think of the 1970s and open-necked shirts possibly revealing gold medallions nesting in a swath of chest hair. These outlaw associations are one reason we rarely see a powerful American with one. Can you envision a presidential candidate with a mustache? He’d sooner admit he was an atheist.
But for some men, such low odds of pulling it off only heighten the mustache’s louche mystique. It appeals to the part of a man that wants to buy a motorcycle. A good one conveys a sense of fearlessness while offering a man a vacation from himself.
Time away from friends can provide the push some guys need to embrace a more adventurous side. Growing a large beard, with its dignified tradition of Civil War generals and Russian novelists, is a natural impulse. But the full Tolstoy doesn’t fit inside the masks we’re now advised to wear in public.
At the onset of social distancing, I was on a FaceTime call with a friend and thought I detected a provocative bit of growth emerging through his stubble. “Is that a mustache?” I asked eagerly, as if spotting a rare bird. “It’s not not a mustache,” he replied cryptically. Perhaps he couldn’t acknowledge the scope of what he was attempting.
As it happens, my own beard was getting particularly long because I couldn’t visit my beloved barber, the only person I trust to keep things under control. Could quarantine be the time to chop it? I’ve been attracted to the English tradition of aristocratic mustaches—think of Trevor Howard as Major Calloway in The Third Man, or Robert Donat’s trenchcoat-wearing fugitive in The 39 Steps. They’re thin and go well with a refined British accent.
A mustache requires expertise, so I went looking for it. James Nord, founder of the influencer marketing platform Fohr, had successfully embraced a tidy model long before our current situation. He tells me that the move requires conviction. “I don’t know if there are many style choices as risky as a mustache,” he says. “If you don’t take yourself seriously, how will anyone take your mustache seriously?” But it doesn’t always start that way. “My first mustache was a joke that soon became serious, and I think that happens for a lot of people.”
Jeremy Kirkland, who hosts the menswear-focused Blamo! podcast, has long dabbled in the art of face furniture. “The trick is to act like nothing has changed,” he counsels. “If you make it a big thing, people will respond accordingly.” But this takes time. “I had a mustache for years, and people eventually chilled out.”
A man with a mustache doesn’t go down his path alone. Loved ones will weigh in; some may threaten to shave it off. Photographer Jamie Ferguson has grown a robust specimen during quarantine, and when I asked him how people reacted, he joked, “It’s like Marmite. People either love it or hate it.”
In a perverse fit of inspiration, I fired up my clippers and mercilessly reduced my beard to some downy stubble, leaving only an ad hoc Fu Manchu as the shearing’s sole survivor. What stared back at me from the mirror didn’t look like it belonged on someone with a pipe and a tweed suit, as if right off the pages of Brideshead Revisited. It reminded me of what Michael Williams, founder of style site A Continuous Lean, said after he shaved for the first time in six years and stopped to gauge what a mustache would do for him. “It made me look like a mid-’90s groundskeeper for the Yankees,” he told me.
With my long quarantine mane, I looked more like a relief pitcher—one of those sidearm specialists from the ’80s who would come in and usually give up a bases-clearing double.
So far I’ve kept my mustache to myself, but if I deem it worthy, I’ll bring it out to society, like a debutante. I’ve seen some newly mustachioed men take polls on Instagram, but that undermines the entire undertaking because, to work, the mustache has to be treated with the utmost seriousness.
No matter what it looks like, the key is to present the mustache to the world with confidence, not like it arrived shamefully under cover of darkness. Randy Goldberg, co-founder of the sock startup Bombas, has discovered them sprouting over the lips of friends and colleagues on Zoom calls. “Some are sad and shocking. Some are surprisingly glorious,” he observes. But like all spring flowers, they’re also short-lived. “Most don’t last more than a day.”
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.