Why were moustaches so popular in the mid to late 19th century?

Anytime I see paintings of prominent Americans from the late 18th to early 19th century (i.e. Presidents), they are clean shaven. If you think of the Founding Fathers, there’s nary a whisker among them.

But, by the middle of the 19th century, it seemed that any male who could grew some sort of facial hair. Why the change?

In our modern times, it seems that popular culture gives each decade a unique “look”. I attribute that to the influence of various media influences (i.e. Farrah Fawcett’s feathered hair in the 70s, or Madonna’s Desperately Seeking Susan look in the 80s). I assume, then, that there was some sort of “pop culture” influence that accounts for the ubiquotous mustache of the mid to late 19th century (clearly, before the invention of mass media like the TV or radio, trends changed more slowly then they do now). But I’m at a loss as to who, or what, created the change in normal male appearances.

Any ideas?

Um, because men got a lot more manly during the Victorian era? You know, out with wigs and linsey-woolsey breeches and hankeys up the sleeve, in with leather boots and emotional self-repression and the Industrial Revolution?

It’s just fashion. Admittedly, the following of the latest trends was more likely, and in terms of clothing more extreme, amongst the upper classes, but fashions changed back then too, and those upper classes were the very people most likely to have their image recorded.

As for moustaches in particular, I don’t know if there was a particular prominent figure who bucked the clean-shaven trend, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

Perhaps facial hair was more the norm anyway, looking back before the 18th C. to the 16th & 17th. I think the 18th century was a historical island of genteel enjoyment of the abundance of the previous centuries’ explorations and enlightenment. Beards were for scruffy conquistadors who established the New World, but a man’s smooth face showed he was leisurely living off its interest dividends.

The French Revolution discredited that attitude and the fashions that went with it, and during the 25 years of the Napoleonic Wars male culture became more militarized and men wanted to appear more dynamic than genteel. Look at the early 19th century hairstyles for men, greased and combed to look like they’d been riding a horse or sailing a ship into the wind.

Facial hair came along with this as the Europeans had increased contact with the Moslem world, where men always wore full beards. The French in Egypt and Algeria, the British in India and the Russains in Central Asia started wearing facial hair as symbolic trophies of their conquests.

Dashing young soldiers also acquired cigarettes from the Turks during the Crimean War. If Islam really does nurse ancient grudges against us, they might as well take satisfaction from our cancer rates.

Perhaps it was the popularity of bearded president Abe Lincoln, who grew his beard at the suggestion of a young girl who wrote him a letter.

I know this is an overlong quote, but it doesn’t violate copyright. From an Ohio newspaper in Feb, 1863.

Oh no, that’s not it.

A lot of men on both sides grew out their whiskers during the Civil War (shaving not always being an easy option in the field, I guess), and kept them after the shooting was over. I don’t know if that was the beginning of the trend, but I suspect it might have been.

(And I’m pretty sure the guys in butternut weren’t imitating Lincoln.)

Ditto what ** spoke-** said: the changeover in style dates very sharply to the 1860s, and as the years went on tapered off (back to moustaches only) and then back to cleanshaven by about the beginning of the 20th century. About the same time that Civil War vets were old men and newer generations had come to the fore. (Remember all those comic-strip cliches about old men having long dangling white beards?)

Look at the past few decades:
[li]the 40s: WWII - Men were clean shaven (think the military mandated it)[/li][li]the 50s: Post-WWII Ike conservatism - Still clean shaven & hair slicked back[/li][li]the 60s: Counterculture rebellion - Let their hair (both head & face) be ‘free’ and grow long[/li][li]the 70s: Pull-back from the radical 60s but still pretending to be hip - Head hair length was cut but was still bushy, along with bushy sideburns & mustaches (and still clinging hippies kept the beard)[/li][li]the 80s: Reagan conservatism - Clean shaven & slicked back or very neatly groomed[/li][li]the 90s: ??? Um, Clinton, MTV, post-modern, retro-hippie, kinda anything goes (dreadlocks, crewcuts, those ridiculous ‘back-only’ crewcuts, punk dye jobs, soul patches, neat & trim, even bald…)[/li][li]the 00s: Not really sure - Maybe pulling back from the anything goes 90s, i.e. more traditional, boring, regular hair, and either clean shaven or both beard & mustache (no 'staches alone) [/li][/ul]

For the same reason that boys of a certain age won’t pull their pants up over their ass.

For some really neat notes on hair length, mustaches, and beard fashions of men and the root causes over the centuries, see “MEMOIRS OF EXTRAORDINARY POPULAR DELUSIONS BY CHARLES MACKAY.”



I should certainly hope it is out of copyright being from 1863, long or not

Mustaches are coming back among hipsters. I know at least 4 or 5 guys who have them with no beard, and they’re all under 25. I wore a mustache for a few weeks last month, though I eventually let the full beard grow back, and a lot of people dug it, and I’m 21. I just saw a Coke commercial before a movie last week introduced by two hip young independent filmmakers, both looked to be in their early 20s, and one was proudly sporting a flowing Pancho Villa style mustache. It’s unlikely that this will spread to the mainstream youth culture, but at least among hipsters and indie rockers I’ve noticed the stache is having a resurgence.

Let me know where to mail my check to this small but brave organization dedicated to ending the “fat guy with a goatee” look.

(with apologies to the many dopers who are fat guys with goatees, and those who think it makes them oh so kissable)

Funny some people thought that didn’t apply 100 years later during the reign of the hippies.

[QUOTE=Hail Ants]
Look at the past few decades:
[li]the 40s: WWII - Men were clean shaven (think the military mandated it)[/li][li]the 50s: Post-WWII Ike conservatism - Still clean shaven & hair slicked back[/li][/quote]
The 50s man was often more conservative than his 40s elder. The military didn’t actually require crewcuts during WWII - before that, few had them except the occasional Ivy League sport. In the 50s they became de rigueur for many civilians as well as the armed forces. Moustaches could be worn, especially by Army officers, in WWII, but in the 50s no young man would wear one.

[li]the 00s: Not really sure - Maybe pulling back from the anything goes 90s, i.e. more traditional, boring, regular hair, and either clean shaven or both beard & mustache (no 'staches alone)[/li][/QUOTE]
The lone stache seems to have retreated to a symbolic role. It usually means either “I am gay, but want to accentuate my masculinity” or “I am in the uniformed civil service and can’t wear a beard, but want to accentuate my masculinity.”

I actually see a lot of middle aged and older men with mustaches, especially academic types. I don’t think the mustache has fully died out among the 40 and older demographic - it’s still hanging on there. But under 40, and among young men especially, it’s definitely rare. But like I said, there are signs that it may be coming back. I’d guess that a few young hipsters are, for instance, seeing photos of the Beatles and other rock groups from the late 60s, with mustaches, and thinking, “hey, that looked pretty cool” and trying to bring the style back. In fact, I’m definitely going to shave my beard at some point in the next few weeks and leave the mustache again.

Perhaps because free mustache rides were all the rage back then. :smiley:

In the old old days, when we shaved with those single blade razors, I once cut of the tip of my nose. I can imagine that those straight razors that they used in horror films would have hurt a hell of a lot more. :eek: