Acceptable Mustaches: When To Shave 'Em, When To Save 'Em

This article is more than 8 years old.

You may have noticed a recent uptick in mustache sightings, thanks to a charity known as Movember, which urges men to grow mustaches during the month of November to “raise awareness of prostate cancer and other male cancers and associated charities.”

I will leave it to those wiser than myself to ponder the logical link between hipster facial hair and cancer, though it does strike me that a healthy fear of death is probably a more reliable ally when it comes to combating cancer.

According to me, the long-term prospects of your mustache may not be good — unless of course you're willing to let your facial hair take the lead when it comes to a new career.

What I do know is that the mustache is a tough look to pull off these days. Somewhere in the late seventies, it migrated from Classic Masculine Signifier to Ironic Affectation. There are lots of stupid reasons for this, chief among them the astronomic growth of the “male grooming sector,” which has spawned a litany of overpriced shaving products ranging from the ornate to the fetishistic. (Five blades on a single razor, Schick? Really?)

The bottom line is that the mustache, even when worn for charitable purposes, exudes a certain prima facie douchiness.

There are, however, legitimate professional exceptions to this recent cultural bigotry. Thus, in the spirit of helping those who grew mustaches this past month decide whether or not to keep them, I hereby present a wildly subjective and possibly offensive guide to acceptable mustache growth.

The Pencil

Made famous by: Film director John Waters

Acceptable when worn by: Maitre d’s, maestros, male concierges, flamboyant film directors, Zorro

The Chevron

Made famous by: Tom Selleck, Burt Reynolds, Mark Spitz

Acceptable when worn by: Gym teachers, porn stars, pilots, gigolos, NASCAR drivers, Soviet dictators

The English

Made famous by: Errol Flynn, Martin Luther King

Acceptable when worn by: Hotel managers, real estate attorneys, Confederate officers, butlers, debonair movie stars, Robin Hood

The Handle Bar

Made famous by: Relief pitcher Rollie Fingers

Acceptable when worn by: Barbers, pirates, musketeers, carnival barkers, any member of a barbershop quartets, villains

The Horseshoe

Made famous by: Hulk Hogan, Genghis Khan

Acceptable when worn by: Bikers, bounty hunters, professional wrestlers, Village People, surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd

The Walrus

Made famous by: Wilford Brimley, Friedrich Nietzsche

Acceptable when worn by: Deep sea fishermen, lumberjacks, cowpokes, park rangers, sheriffs

The Toothbrush

Made famous by: Charlie Chaplin, Adolf Hitler

Acceptable when worn by: Very committed white supremacists, Charlie Chaplin imitators

The Fu Manchu

Made famous by: Fu Manchu

Acceptable when worn by: Drug dealers, ninjas, heavy metal roadies

The Van Dyck

Made famous by: Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck, Johnny Depp

Acceptable when worn by: Magicians, white jazz musicians, dog racing aficionados, physicists, police informants

The Old Dutch

Made famous by: The Amish

Acceptable when worn by: Civil War re-enactors, aging hemp activists, tenured faculty, creepy uncles

The Dali

Made famous by: Surrealist painter Salvador Dali

Acceptable when worn by: Surrealist painter Salvador Dali

Okay, so according to me, the long-term prospects of your mustache may not be good — unless of course you're willing to let your facial hair take the lead when it comes to a new career.

On the other hand, fashion is fickle by nature. In another decade, the mustache may came roaring back.

Until then, a quick word of advice to those of you who face the slings and arrows of cultural snobs like us: Keep a stiff upper lip.


This program aired on November 27, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.