Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Mustache Mystique

Yesterday we went to a fun store in our neighborhood because my son wanted to buy a novelty eraser (all the kids had one, so naturally it had become Graham's obsession).

Once there, we were distracted by all the cool stuff, and Mom, never a frugal shopper, decided to buy our traditional "good report card" treats. Graham got a Futurama T-shirt and Ian an Iron Man.

At the check-out counter, though, as I was about to pay, I felt a little hand on my arm. Graham, eyes glowing, was pointing to an odd display by the register.

"Mustaches!" he said.

Graham has long been a lover of disguises, and I figured a mustache couldn't cost more than about fifty cents (I was very wrong about that). But since they had one that matched his hair color, I couldn't resist.

Now, as I watch my ten-year-old sporting a lip warmer all over the house, I am wondering again at the mystique of the mustache. What is the appeal of this fashion?

In the world of Magnum P.I., the mustache was a macho thing--something that somehow increased Tom Selleck's virility. He looks like a whole different guy without the 'stache, and I can't imagine the show, now, without a mustachioed Magnum.

Remember all of the creepy roles played by Vincent Price? His mustache had an entirely different effect, in that it seemed to highlight the sinister nature of the characters he played. (I don't think he had the mustache in Laura, but in many flicks he did).

And what about the 1970's Mark Spitz? His face on my Wheaties box would not have been recognizable without his telltale mustache--something that I came to connect with Olympian prowess. Today Spitz doesn't sport the mustache, and he looks like an entirely different man. The mustache creates a strong persona that the absence of a mustache somehow diminishes.

Then there are the famous waxed mustachios of the great Hercule Poirot. Hercule is fiction, but he's been brought to life by many actors, including David Suchet (seen here) and the great Peter Ustinov. Poirot's mustache was all about vanity. He saw these carefully tended hairs as a reflection of personal pride and attractiveness.

The mustache is a slippery symbol--it had the effect of creating a memorably handsome Clark Gable, a notoriously evil Fu Manchu, and an affably hunky Burt Reynolds.
Perhaps it is its diversity that makes the mustache a great disguise. One can use it to create an image--better yet, to create a red herring. If one sees the mustache, one won't necessarily see what is underneath it. That can come in very handy for a spy, a criminal, a lothario.
My son's mustache allows him endless fantasies, but it is oddly authentic, as though he is the shortest adult in our family. He also looks more like his father than ever, since his dad does, in fact, have a mustache. I imagine he'll ask for more of these hairy treats in his Christmas stocking. They come in all colors, and that will allow Graham to take on more personas. He can add the mustaches to his growing disguise collection: the false nose, the long beard, the fake glasses. And, of course, the endless array of hats.
Maybe in the future, when my son is in the CIA (let's hope it's the CIA and not the Cat Burglar's association), he'll trace his fascination with disguises to the little brown mustache he bought at the age of ten.
Who's your favorite mustached man?


Paul Lamb said...

My favorite is probably the evil Mr. Spock from the alternate universe in Star Trek. He had a whole goatee though.

Julia Buckley said...

And the goatee is a whole new discussion. :)

Caro said...

Very nice story Julia and yes he was my idol because of his mustache "Tom Selleck". Your son looks very good with a mustache too!!
I wanted to react on you blog too but the last two posts have no comment button.

Jess Lourey said...

I have a love/hate relationship with the mustache. I'm oddly attracted to them, but yet they're a little gross. What is this mysterious power of the 'stache? It might just be a really good marketing campaign as they are one of the few really clear things men do much better than women (Madonna aside).

The best part of mustaches is all the fun names for them. Soup strainer, cookie duster...what else?

Mark Combes said...

Why Groucho Marx of course!

But you are right, there is something about how a mustache can make a character more of a character. Magnum without the mustache wouldn't have been Magnum. Groucho with out the dead mouse, wouldn't have been Groucho...

I'm putting mustaches on all my characters! Well, maybe not the ladies....

Julia Buckley said...

Caro, how interesting that Tom Selleck's sexiness extends to Belgium and beyond! :)

Jess, you crack me up. I've never noticed Madonna's mustache, but now of course I'll be looking for it.

And Mark, my husband couldn't believe I didn't have Groucho's picture here. He's perhaps the best example. But I could never figure his mustache out--was it tape, marker, or other? I know it wasn't hair.

Jess, Flanders on the Simpsons calls his mustache all sorts of things--one of which is a "lip warmer." (I think I used it already). I can't think of any more mustache descriptions, but I remember that David Letterman referred to C. Everett Koop's beard as a "chin slinky" and a "gopher butt."

jbstanley said...

My Grandpa. I used to love to comb his mustache for him. He always gave me a butterscotch candy as payment.