The meaning of the mustache

 

Periwigs: de rigeur fashion of the 18th Century

Louis XIV with his magnificent wig

 

Another 18th Century style wig

  18th Century "queue" style wig 

 

18th Century Macaroni with his elaborate wig

The mustache was intensely popular during the Victorian times. Many men cultivated exaggerated, even dramatic mustache/beard combinations [Emperor Franz Joseph was possibly the most impressive in  this regard] and the cult men of waxing  elaborate mustaches became a very popular art form. What was it about the mustache that became such a fashion for dandies in the Victorian times? Beau Brummel himself never sported facial hair, in fact he shaved thoroughly and completely everyday, however the Victorian world would not follow that trend. Men of the Victorian world took a certain pride in cultivating long well groomed, frequently waxed mustaches. 

The antique world looked unfavorably upon body hair, in fact the Germanic tribes who slowly immigrated into the civilizations of Greece and Rome were referred to as βάρβαρος, or Barbarus on account of their custom of not shaving their bodies [the Greeks and Romans shaved their entire bodies], and although certain Greeks and Romans cultivated a trimmed beard, it was still considered publicly clean to shave the rest of one's body, and to cut the hair. So what was it that gave the Victorians such pleasure in cultivating extensive facial hair? A return to their "barbarous roots? Hardly, as they were the arbiters of civilization at the same time they were growing such pogonologistic plumage.

The main reason that the Victorian cultivated the art of facial hair to such an extent needs to be found in the cultural trends influencing Europe at that point in history. The French had been the dominate cultural influence for 200 years. This cultural trend, called Baroque, and later Rococo, expressed itself in men's fashion by the wearing of wigs. These began as huge, voluptuous "full bottom" wigs, and slowly as the decades wound along became the small "periwig" with its queue down the back. This trend would continue in fact until Beau Brummel discarded the wig with his creation of the sober elegance which defined dandyism.

With the trend of wearing wigs broken, along with the cultural dominance of France, a new trend began to impose itself on the European cultural landscape. A new cultural force began to dominate, and with it a new expression of panache. For whereas the gentlemen under French inspiration covered their head in huge wigs, and rouged their cheek almost in competition with women, men of the 19th Century, under the growing Anglo/Germanic inspiration [a British empire and unified German Reich] cast aside the periwig an instead grew a face full of whiskers; their own Anglo-Germanic version of masculine stylish panache.

Thus it was that over the course of the 19th Century that the practice of pogonology[the art of facial hair] was refined as an art form, and gentlemen expressed masculine fashion by growing a fine set of whiskers. This trend would end with Belle Epoque when men would value being clean-shaven, but for about a century the mustache had a sort of heyday as the symbol of masculine panache.


 The mustache: the masculine panache fashion statement of the 19th Century

Emperor Franz-Joseph with his impressive mustache

A Victorian handlebar mustache

Another Victorian mustache

Lavish Victorian "mutton chops" side whiskers