My foray into facial hair started innocently enough six years ago. I had long since tired of the nuisance of daily shaving. I would push the limits by sporting several days of stubble before inevitably succumbing to the uncomfortable itchiness (and unsightly patchiness) that accompanied the beginnings of a beard. On a whim, I decided to ride it out and, with that, my mustache and beard were born. About a year ago, I was growing restless with my look. So, I twisted up the corners of my ‘stache, and, Hello, handlebar!
Theories abound regarding the recent resurgence of the creative flavor-saver (or cookie duster, crumb catcher, lip sweater, lower brow, mobile tea strainer, and a host of other nicknames for the beloved facial appendage) adorning the upper lips of 20- and 30-somethings. In his 2012 book One Thousand Mustaches: A Cultural History of the Mo, author Allan Peterkin suggests possibilities ranging from inevitability (the mustache has flip-flopped from revered to reviled several times in various historical contexts) to the simple fun of twiddling one to the mustache as a post-feminist, postmodern expression of multifaceted masculinity.
I decided it was time to explore the meaning behind my own mustache. So, I sought the counsel of the Gentleman’s Beard and Mustache Coalition (GBMC), the Orange County chapter of Beard Team USA, the governing body behind the National Beard and Moustache Championships held annually in Las Vegas.
On a recent Tuesday night, I rendezvoused with GBMC “Founding Father” Anthony Cress at a Costa Mesa bar where a couple dozen heavily bearded and mustached brethren were gathered for the club’s monthly Whiskers & Whiskey meeting. His face barely visible behind a flowing veil of thick beard and ‘stache, Cress, 31, a professional stylist at Studio 4 Salon in Newport Beach, talked about his entry into the hirsute lifestyle. A similar dislike of shaving led to a series of stylistic experiments. Eventually, he adopted a look inspired in part by Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday in the 1993 Western Tombstone.
While searching online for grooming tips, Cress stumbled upon the World Beard and Moustache Championships – essentially, the Olympics of the competitive “bearding” world. Finding no OC chapter of Beard Team USA (which sends America’s best and hairiest to the world championships), Cress got the go-ahead to start one. He enlisted friends like fellow salon stylist and facial hair enthusiast Happy Harrigan and, six months later, the GBMC held its first meeting. The club celebrated its three-year anniversary with a party at Detroit Bar in Costa Mesa on May 4.
As the meeting wore on, three new GBMC members were initiated after meeting club criteria: attending three out of four consecutive monthly meetings and paying $5 monthly dues. The ceremony consisted of a shot of the club’s signature drink, the Rusty Whisker; the bestowing of black canvas patches bearing the club’s crest; and the secret handshake: a mutual forearm grab and a tapping of foreheads. This signature greeting – a gentlemanly headbutt, if you will – gave the gathering a uniquely masculine mystique.
In fact, Peterkin notes in One Thousand Mustaches that today’s men of the ‘stache make up a new fraternity of sorts. Shared expression through facial hair is just another opportunity to invite that often-elusive male bonding. Cress echoes this sentiment.
“Beards and mustaches are just the gateway to deeper camaraderie,” he says, before gently headbutting a bearded brother. “It’s not like if you shave, we banish you.”