The History of Moustache

The history of moustache is, of course, a history of a men's hair trends, fads, fashions and, perhaps more peculiarly, tax laws. 

Over the last week, I have set out to compile a list of the most important moments in the history of the moustache. After all, if we don't learn from the history of the moustache, we're doomed to repeat the history of the moustache. 

The First Moustaches Dynasty 

If we're going to discuss the history of the moustache, let's start at the beginning - As good of a place to start as any (Unless we're talking about time-travel, Star Wars or Pulp Fiction). 

 Prince Rahotep of the 4th Egyptian Dynasty

The discovery of the statue of Prince Rahotep of the 4th Egyptian Dynasty by esteemed French Scholar and Egyptologist, Auguste Mariette in 1871, places the very first archaeologically sound example of a moustache being c.2575-2551 B.C. 

Although perhaps not seen as the most impressive or ground-breaking part of this discovery, this well-trimmed black moustache is the earliest example of moustache worn without a beard. 

The Earliest Documented Moustaches In Europe

To find the earliest documented moustache without a beard in Europe, we need to look no further than those insufferable hipsters, Iron Age Celts. Roaming the mainland of Europe between 600 BCE and A.D. 43, these men knew two things for sure: smelting, and pogonotrophy (the art of cultivating facial hair) according to the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus

"The nobility are shaved but wear moustaches [...] which hang down so as to cover their mouths so that when they eat and drink, these brush their victuals or dip into their liquids.". Bibliotheca Historica, Didorus Siculus. 

The Moustache: The Beard of Britain

He came, he saw… a moustache. 

Upon his travels to the island of Great Britain in the conquest of Gaul between 58BCE and 50 BCE, Julius Caesar made an observation. The men had adopted the most peculiar of fashion trends; the beard exclusive to the upper lip. Perhaps a strange look for Caesar, coming from mainland Europe where the prevailing trend was a full beard. 

I'm going to use this opportunity to say to my fellow Brits; this means it is your cultural and civic duty to grow a moustache… if you want. 

The First Handle Bar Moustache

The title of "The O.G. fashion 'stache" is, of course, contested. However, stepping forward astride a horse, rocking the handlebar moustache is the Eurasian Steppe warrior from c.300 BCE. 

Eurasian Steppe warrior from c.300 BCE

Discovered on the Ile River in (the area is now known as) Northwestern China and Southeastern Kazakhstan, this carpet now displayed in the Hermitage Museum, Russia, shows a Scythian horseman not only has the moustache but the handlebar style to match.

Ride on, Scythian warrior. You know not what the future owes you. 

The First Moustache Law?!

During my research, I found an article claiming that aristocratic Englishmen grew moustaches until compelled by law to cut them off under William the Conqueror (1066-87) to fit the Norman fashion. This claim appears to be unsubstantiated. However, I thought I would include it as I think it would be amazing if one of you happened to know about this and could help me find out more. 

The Moustache Ban 

In 1447, two-time King of England and maybe-sort-of-perhaps King of France, Henry VI banned the moustache. While not the primary reason for his final visit to the Tower of London, one suspects it had something to do with it (It didn't. Please don't come for me, History Majors).

"No manner of man that will be taken for an Englishman shall have no beard above his mouth, [...] that is to say, that he have no hairs on his upper lip so that the said lip be once at least shaven every fortnight or of equal growth with the nether lip; and if any man be found amongst the English contrary hereunto, that then it shall be lawful to every man to take them and their goods as Irish enemies." - Considerations on the State of Ireland By William Knox

The Great British Beard Tax

In 1535, severer of churches and wives, King Henry VIII introduced a tax on beards. 

While this may seem counter-intuitive as a bearded man himself, Mr Greensleeves' tax has been told to have been graded by social position.

Although admittedly a compelling story, The National Archives has no record of the beard tax having been instituted and thus, despite contemporary documentation this may be a case of historical hearsay.

The Era of the Moustache Wax

Evidence goes back as far as ancient Mesopotamian of men putting starch in their beards. However, beard starching took off in Europe in the 1560s for its the ability to hold beards in place. 

The next logic step, moustache wax and pomade went mainstream in the early 1600s with the Flemish painter, Sir Anthony Vandyke inventing the Vandyke Beard and later Louis XIII (of France) inventing The Royale. Both types of beard held firmly in place by product. 

The Iron Razor

In 1698, Russian Tsar and leader of the movement to 'Make Russia Great Again', Peter the Great introduced the beard tax in Russia. 

Peter the Great knew such a beard tax would meet a high level of resistance in Russia as beards were of religious and cultural importance and expected a level of civil disobedience. Still, Peter was none-the-less insistent that Russians should adopt these Western characteristics. 

Similarly to the historically contested tax in on beards in the U.K., the tax was graded on social position. Those who had paid their beard tax were to carry a "Beard Tax Token" when entering a city. 

Bread Tax Token

The cultural response to such a tax resulted in a Russian renaissance of 'tache that lasted into the 1800s. 

A Natural Respirator

In 1854 Erasmus Wilson wrote in The Westminster Review "There can be no doubt that the moustachio is a natural respirator". Wilson then goes on to state that the virtues of a moustache include defence against the common cold, mumps and even toothache. 

This inspired a generation of medical professionals to grow a moustache without a beard. According to UKYS "by the year 1900, not a single member of the Harvard Graduating Class wore a beard". Given their high-status in society, many people outside the medical profession followed this trend. 

British Military Moustaches 

In the U.K., we often portray old-timey military men as having a moustache. This comes from Command No. 1,695 of the King's Regulations. This regulation, in force from 1860 until 1916 stipulated that "The hair of the head will be kept short. The chin and the under lip will be shaved, but not the upper lip".

The Beatles

In 1967, The Beatles released their seminal album "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band". Conceptually, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band were a moustachioed alter-ego of The Beatles (hence why they are depicted as both of the groups on the album cover). 

Many aspects of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band are reminiscent of an Edwardian era (between 1901-1914) military band. In accordance with Command No. 1,695 of the King's Regulations, these military alter-egos have moustaches. Well done, The Beatles, for historical accuracy. 

The image of The Beatles with moustaches helped inspire a new generation of moustache-clad men that lasted long into the late 80s. Peaking, of course, with Magnum, P.I.

Modern Day Novelty and The First of Movember

Over the last 30 years, moustaches have come and gone many times, attaching themselves to many pop-culture icons including; Freddie Mercury, Justin Beiber, Henry Cavil, Will Smith, John Cleese, Salvador Dali and, of course, Fred Flanders. 

Today, the solo-moustache is not as common of a sight as it once was.

The handlebar moustache lives on in a minority of men and a large number of novelty goods. 

To have a moustache is to stand out from the crowd. 

There is, of course, charitable status to the moustache. Representing masculine paternalism and care for your fellow man charities such as Moustaches for Kids and Movember have kept the humble moustache alive and well in popular culture. 

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