Grooming

Five Men Reflect On Their Self-Isolation Mustaches

Chances are you've been seeing a lot of surprising facial hair on Zoom recently. Here's why.
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The best forms of self-improvement require zero effort. That’s why, at the beginning of lockdown, I set myself one simple challenge: to grow a big, beautiful mustache.

This is not my first rodeo. Oooh no. I managed to grow one in my first year of secondary school that was as impressive as it was off-putting. (It made me look like a Michael Cera Funko Pop and lasted a day). Other parallels between Year Seven and self-isolation include an all-consuming Football Manager addiction, a rotating wardrobe of Arsenal shirts, and the feeling that there’s a government-mandated ban on hanging out with me. Maybe there's a connection.

The key difference, though? This one's for keeps. I like it. A mustache coupled with some 5 o’clock shadow – known to me as ‘Stubble & Trouble’; known to your professional barbering types as the 'beardstache' – is a flatteringly louche grooming combo. Of all the affectations I’ve trialed over the years – tie-bars; t-shirts with scarves attached (I dressed like an X-Factor quarter-finalist for most of my early-twenties) – this is by far the least egregious. And every time I see another ‘chevron’, ‘handlebar’ or ‘pencil’ pop up on my Zoom calls, the more faith I have that the tide is turning.

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Even before the red carpets were cordoned off, Timothee Chalamet, Taika Waititi, and The Weeknd were riding the bumfluff wave too. Lil Nas X, as far as I'm aware, is still sporting his. It’s part and parcel of a larger shift towards sexy, slightly sleazy Seventies style in the Starsky and Hutch mold. Dusty corduroy, flared trousers, men’s jewelry, and all that good stuff.

It's yet to be seen whether the mustache trend will actually regain its popularity, or just flitter into the whirling sink of history. That’s why I decided to ask a few men – including members of the Esquire team – about what fate has in store for their face fuzz.

Charlie Teasdale, Esquire Style Director

Photo by Tamsin Topolski.
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When did you start growing it?

I made the life decision to grow a mustache in early April. It gave me something to do and offered a constant in my life when everything else was unsettling and creepy. It also gave me something to stroke when I was deep in thought.

How does it make you feel?

Like my face has more character, which is ridiculous. One’s character is not measured in one’s ability to grow hair above one’s lip. And yet, with a mustache, I feel more interesting, and assume that when people look at me, they think: 'Oh, he must have been to Japan at least three times, and he probably watches BBC4 for fun.'

Who has the best mustache in the world?

Watching The Last Dance reminded me of Michael Jordan’s impeccably sleek, subtle mustache, so that has to be up there. And at the other end of the scale, I quite like Justin Bieber’s for its brazen scuzziness. Sorry, everyone.

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What message do you have for the haters right now?

My girlfriend was not especially enthusiastic, which I gleaned from the volume of her overenthusiasm. “I love it!” she would bellow, and then ask politely if it wasn’t bothering me at all. To her, and the rest of the haters, I say, let my eagle soar, please.

Any grooming tips?

Got to keep it moisturized or it itches like mad and I get moustandruff, which is a bleak substance. I use Murdock's beard moisturizer religiously, and Lush's Dream Cream when that runs out. The latter isn’t explicitly for facial hair, but is excellent nonetheless.

How long do you plan to keep it?

God knows. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t getting in the way when I eat or drink, but it kind of completes me as a human, so it’s swings and roundabouts.

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Hadley Grecia, student, South Africa

Photo by Hadley Grecia.

When did you start growing it?

I started to grow my mustache out again around the middle of April. I’ve grown my mustache out a few times in the past but always ended up shaving it because I felt too old.

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What was your inspiration?

My dad had a really wild mustache when I was a kid. Then my older brother grew one out whilst he was in university. It just seemed fun to grow it out and so when I got to university I did.

What's the reaction been from friends and/or partners?

There are always mixed reactions. My friends always find it amusing. My girlfriend always likes it at first but then complains when it gets too long and my mum always complains about it by saying that she 'isn't able to see her child anymore'. That usually leads to me shaving after hearing it too often.

Why do you think mustaches fell out of favor?

I’m not sure. Probably an over-saturation of the hipster mustache in the early part of 2010s and a far too ironic approach to facial hair. More than that though I think people wanted to avoid looking like Seventies porn stars. But I don’t think either of those things are bad and so I’m not really sure why it became less mainstream.

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Do you use any oils, moisturizers, or grooming techniques on it?

I brush it out daily and keep my face moisturized. I used to trim my mustache last year but at the moment I just want to see how big it will get if I leave it alone.

How long do you plan to keep it?

As long as it’s comfortable to eat with, seeing as I’m not trimming it. I want to aim for six months to a year but in the past, I’ve always caved and trimmed it at around three months.

Tom Nicholson, Esquire Digital Writer

Photo by Tom Nicholson.
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Why did you grow a mustache?

Boredom, mostly. I think most people who have the means of growing a mustache wonder whether there’s an alternate timeline in which they went for it, and where giving yourself permission to have a mustache gives you the energy and confidence to take control of all other areas of your life.

What’s the meanest thing someone has said about your mustache?

I don’t think I’ve actually had any negative comments at all, to my face. People seem to stare in the park.

What do you mentally associate mustaches with?

Dick Strawbridge from Scrapheap Challenge and, latterly, Escape to the Chateau. Genuine lunatic.

Has your mustache impacted your wardrobe (or how you want to dress) at all?

I do feel emboldened. A mustache tends to invite a more exuberant shirt, but when you’re wearing glasses at the same time it can tip you into a suspiciously Clapham-y post-hipster look. It’s a tricky balance.

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Who has the best mustache in the world?

I could never pull it off myself but I’ve always admired the refined, impeccably trimmed pencil ‘tache Little Richard had in the mid-Fifties, and John Waters’ is great. Sam Elliott and Morris Day from The Time in Purple Rain, too. Merv ‘The Swerve’ Hughes, the Aussie cricketing legend, had one which looked horrifying but deserves props for sheer vastness.

How have you maintained it? Any tips?

Just a trim here and there, and occasional dabs of beard oil to fend off dandruff, etc. My only tip is double-checking that you’re trimming with the right guard on your trimmer. When you accidentally chop off half a mustache you’ve been working on for six weeks, it’ll hit you harder than you think.

Are you liable to get heavily involved in mustache-related subcultures?

Yes, and avoiding radicalization requires constant vigilance. One day you’re coaxing through your first mustachey shoots, and before you know it you’re playing trombone and synth in an electro-swing band.

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Jonas Obermaier, sales consultant, Germany

Photo by Jonas, Reddit.

What's the reaction been like to your mustache?

My friends didn’t realize much of a change. My sister didn’t like it in the first place, she jokingly said I look like a porn actor or a cop. But I received some compliments from strangers. That was super cool.

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Why do mustaches have a bad reputation?

I think mustaches fell out of favor because they are associated with creeps, Seventies porn stars, and the bad guys in movies. But beards were also out a couple of years ago and now they are super trendy, even politicians wear a beard nowadays. I hope the mustache will also manage to make a comeback.

Any grooming tips?

I don’t use a lot of grooming products. Sometimes I use some wax but it’s mostly completely natural. The only thing that touches it is on most days are water, soap, and a comb.

How long do you plan to keep it?

I plan to keep it at least until the end of the year. Maybe even longer, who knows? Could be a life-long relationship.

Alexander, museum worker and long-time mustache owner, America

Photo by Sounding Smart.
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What's your grooming routine?

First, I take my mustache to Scotland where sheepherders tame its unruliness, then I have Buddhist monks comb it like a zen garden, finally I lather it with whale oil and bald eagle sweat because, you know, America! All jokes aside, treat it as you would treat the hair on your head. That means conditioning, combing, and brushing. I strongly advise on a good beard oil for healthy hair follicles. Finally, a good mustache wax. If you’re starting to get a decent amount of facial hair, a light mustache wax gives it good protection. This will also help “train” the hair to grow in the direction you want it to grow when you brush it. Genes also matter when it comes to facial hair, so put those genes into good use and grow as nature intended you to be. Then put the same care and pruning in as you would for a bonsai tree.

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Who has the best mustache in the world?

In terms of the best mustache in history, personally, that would go to Emiliano Zapata, Mexican Revolutionary.

What do your friends think of it?

I already have a few friends with mustaches and beards prior to the self-isolation and quarantine period. Everyone else has been consistent in being clean-shaven, which says a lot about the consistency in good hygiene during this time. However, on Reddit, you do see a lot of first-timers joining many facial hair subreddits, and now is a good time to grow a mustache without the need of feeling self-conscious during the beginning “stubble stage”.

Do you think men will keep the mustaches they’ve grown in self-isolation?

I've actually seen it in a couple of my co-workers. But in the end, it depends on the person’s work policies with facial hair. We live in an era where a man’s facial hair no longer implies rebellious or revolutionary ideas, it's more about the expression of one’s individualism and an homage to a time or person. So I do hope men keep their mustache because this will mark a new period of how facial hair defines the modern male worker, from blue-collar to white-collar.

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How often do people comment on your mustache?

I currently live in a community that finds it very different and you often get the smiles and pointing of curiosity. I get questions, from my daily facial hair routine to my personal recommendations of products. I usually get the Wyatt Earp references and the “You look like Bass Reeves!” I get some family members that even call me Zapata. I’m an introvert but I ended up somehow liking the attention and compliments. I get them almost every day.

This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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