‘Have you met my German porn-star boyfriend?,’ she says, casually, introducing me to the room. As I survey the collection of friends and strangers, I notice that I’m getting eye-to-moustache contact with every person I encounter. The men smirk their gleefully pitying disapproval. (‘Mate. One of your eyebrows has slipped.’)
The women glance with amusement and suspicion, stifling giggles. Children seem, frankly, a bit scared.
Why am I exposing myself to this ridicule? Because moustaches are having a moment. ‘Jude Law‘s moustache is doing things to people,’ announced GQ when the actor unveiled his. Ewan McGregor is be-tached, as are Pedro Pascal and Danny Dyer.
The main event of recent weeks, however, has been the offering from hunky actor Aidan Turner with a fulsome Lasso-esque/Saddam-ish tache grown especially for his role in a TV adaptation of Jilly Cooper’s book Rivals, about polo players.
Cue women swooning and expressing a desire to ride bareback with Turner and his moustache. ‘There is,’ says actress Isla Fisher, ‘nothing sexier than a handlebar moustache.’
During the late 17th century, Peter the Great issued a ‘beard tax’ on the Russian population, causing a spike in moustache fashion. Pictured: Simon Mills growing out a ‘tache
Once the preserve of retired army majors, old men working the allotments and Australian cricketers, 61 per cent of men between 18 and 39 in the UK now admit they have some form of facial hair, compared to 43 per cent back in 2011. Full-face beards, fashionable among the hipsters for over a decade, are being shaved off to leave the more subtle top-lip ‘tache. Rich and successful moustache mavericks such as Henry Cavill and Miles Teller in the Top Gun reboot are frequent celebrity references.
I, however, have not quite achieved the level of Robert Redford/Sundance Kid handsome horticulture that I was aiming for during the past fortnight of cold-turkey Bic-avoidance and careful moustache nurturing.
Instead, my little copse of stubble – a multi-directional grey/blond toothbrush of an affectation – is getting me mistaken for an older and Teutonic adult movie actor.
There are further bushy and manifold reasons for this man not to grow a moustache. Firstly, I am sure that a handlebar, pencil or full-on walrus top-lip tonsure will be cruelly ageing. No problem for a youngster, but a man entering his September must watch for any controllables that pile on the years – cufflinks and corduroys, crow’s feet and sausage fingers.
Also, manicured facial hair. This can easily add a decade when wrapped around the wrong mouth and sprouting in all directions in several incorrect shades of silver.
There’s a quality issue, too. Even in the throes of crusty middle age, my beard follicles remain slow-growing and coarse, with the unlovely texture of tennis-racket catgut.
They are also inconsistently dark/grey, and grimly ill-defining in all the wrong ways. Clean shaven, I can pass for almost respectable and happy-ish. Grow a stubbly beard and I look old, jowly, droopy faced and ornery, like a grumpy Santa.
Then there’s the nose. Already substantial and attention-grabbing enough, thank you very much, it certainly doesn’t need any underlining. I also worry that food – pasta sauce, noodles, crumbs, gravy, etc – will get caught in it, or that I may be mistaken for Lars, the Swedish drummer in a forgotten heavy metal band from the 1980s. Or someone who drives a bus for a living… during the 1970s.
Actor Jude Law, sporting a tidy moustache, pictured at the 76th Cannes Film Festival earlier this year
The main event of recent weeks, however, has been the offering from hunky actor Aidan Turner with a fulsome Lasso-esque/Saddam-ish tache grown especially for his role in a TV adaptation of Jilly Cooper’s book Rivals, about polo players
Certainly, there are men who can rock a ‘tache with style, gusto and élan: Clark Gable in The Misfits, Brad Pitt for Inglourious Basterds, Daniel Day Lewis in Gangs of New York and Tom Selleck as your mum’s favourite Hawaiian detective Magnum PI. Even the timeless style maven Bryan Ferry had a black wisp of capillary decoration during his Jerry Hall-dating ‘Let’s Stick Together’ period. But for every dishy Brad and Bryan, there’s a Borat and a Hulk Hogan. Saddam Hussein, Stalin and Hitler.
‘Taches, I’d always thought, despite their popularity among despots and dictators, were not serious accessories, carrying with their waxed ends and hairy curtains a whiff of comedy and the potential for ridicule. Yes, I know Einstein and Confucius both sported them, but so did Ted Lasso, Groucho Marx, the 118 telly-ad joggers and those bubble-permed scousers (‘calm down, calm down’) that Harry Enfield used to lampoon on his TV show.
Grow a beard and you become bookish and mysterious, rugged and outdoorsy; an explorer, a thinker, an artisan… a hipster, even. Cultivate a furry outcrop exclusively above one’s Cupid’s bow and you are, instantly, a bit of a self-important twerp, right?
That said, in the Middle East, during the almost seven centuries of the Ottoman period, the moustache was considered a sign of glamour and high social status – the logic being that men who had the luxury of enough spare time to attend to their facial hair must be well off and prospering. There was intellectual association also – the bigger the ‘tache, the more learned and knowledgeable the man. Ergo Mark Twain, Salvador Dalí and Friedrich Nietzsche.
During the late 17th century, Peter the Great issued a ‘beard tax’ on the Russian population, causing a spike in moustache fashion. By the early 1800s the vogue was for flamboyantly curled styles like Lord Byron’s mad, bad and dangerous to stroke curly pencil ‘tache.
Between the years 1860 and 1916 the British Army’s uniform regulation stipulated that every man must grow a moustache; Command No 1,695 of the King’s Regulations stating that ‘hair of the head will be kept short. The chin and the under lip will be shaved, but not the upper lip.’ If a soldier were to shave his ‘tache he faced disciplinary action which could include imprisonment. The rule proved difficult to enforce during the First World War when soldiers discovered that life-saving gas masks wouldn’t work properly on a whiskered face.
Around the Second World War, Errol Flynn swashbuckled the moustache to peak popularity, with Burt Reynolds, Tom Selleck and co trying to emulate the matinée-idol look into the 1980s. Being an 80s kid myself, I decided on my ‘tache type: actor Nick Nolte in his blond and beefy 1980s prime. But as it gestates and develops over an embarrassingly long and unmasculine two-and-a-half-week period, I see that noughties primetime TV Nick Knowles is where I’m heading.
My girlfriend likes it. (But still laughs every time she sees it.) I hate it. It’s silly and itchy and gets frosted with Colgate every time I clean my teeth. The temptation to Gillette the thing out of its misery is strong. The failed ‘Nolte’/hairy horseshoe eventually gets its first outing at the office I share with a team of ten colleagues. I arrive a bit late to find all desks occupied and I notice that, as I search for a chair and spare computer terminal, a hand is covering the bottom half of my face, as if I am trying to prevent a nonexistent lip-reader from doing his work. Yes, I am in ‘tache shame.
Then, the first sighting. A woman opposite, in her mid-20s, suddenly looks up and clocks my lip foliage.
A facial hair-savvy Pedro Pascal pictured in Los Angeles – at a premiere of Disney’s ‘Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker’ – in 2019
Henry Cavill, rocking a very trendy ‘tache, pictured at a premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures’ ‘Justice League’ in 2017
‘What on earth is that thing on your face?’ she says, her own in rictus normally reserved for sour-tasting food.
I don’t think I can count this as a compliment or any kind of endorsement, but it is, as many moustache wearers before me have found, a definite ice-breaker.
MY GIRLFRIEND LIKES IT. I HATE IT. IT’S SILLY AND ITCHY AND GETS FROSTED WITH COLGATE
Now all office eyes are on me. There is tittering. I hear the words ‘porn star’ more than once. I rally and find that the same hand that was hiding my upper lip a few minutes ago is now stroking my moustache in the way that the great Leslie Phillips used to do in his Carry On heyday.
The temptation to greet women at the coffee machine with a Phillipsian ‘hell-O’ or ‘ding-dong’ is overwhelming.
As the days play out, I find that evenings are tricky. My clothes have to be moustache friendly – more formal than casual, a suit or a blazer, if I don’t want to look like a Harry Enfield scouser sort in fire-risk sportswear. I also notice that kissed greetings are thin on the ground, with any women coming close enough for a peck having to risk an act of hirsutism as rough moustache hair pillages fair skin.
Then, a woman I hardly know tells me that I look ‘like a Viking’. I am flattered. ‘I’m shaving it off in the morning,’ I say, stroking it thoughtfully. ‘Maybe.’