Since the dawn of human consciousness, only one thing has separated us from the animals: artfully groomed and carefully sculpted facial hair. Of all the creatures that creep, fly, or swim on God’s green earth (or, if you prefer, Cthulhu’s ripe harvest ball) we are the only ones that turn our facial hair into elaborate works of art.
Most mustache experts agree that the pinnacle of facial art is the handlebar mustache. When a man wears a handlebar mustache, he is making a statement to the world. His lip-warmer is a rebel yell of carefree bravado, a bold assertion that he will not bow to the forces of time, fashion, or even gravity. Few men can grow a handlebar mustache, and no man can truly tame it.
Perhaps that is why we today are so fascinated with this sub-nasal anachronism. But where did the handlebar come from? Who were the first brave pioneers to discover it? And, most importantly, where is it heading now, in the 21st century?
For the answers to all of these questions and more, read on…
Ancient History (BC-1500)
This drawing of a Scythian horseman from 300 B.C. is the first known depiction of a mustache in human history. It is no coincidence that mankind’s first mustache was a handlebar.
Imagine you are a young boy in 300 B.C., farming for mud or opium or whatever it was people farmed for in those days. You’re working the land, minding your own business, when suddenly a squadron of armored horsemen emerge from out of the wilderness, bellowing war cries and cutting down your friends and family without mercy. At the head of this band is the most terrifying man you’ve ever seen; one look at the bright, black horns jutting out from under his nose is enough to prove that.
You dart for cover and hide until the attack is over. When the dust settles, you emerge and, heedless of the agonized, dying screams of your loved ones, set to work on a sketch of the brutal man-god and his glorious nose-horns.
Because television, music, and pornography haven’t been invented yet, your doodle soon becomes famous the whole world over (there were only like, a thousand people back then. Tops.) Every man on earth tries to grow a mustache like the now-fabled Scythian horseman. Most of them fail, giving birth to the myriad of other, lesser mustache styles that we know and love today. But a few succeed, and they carry the handlebar into the future…
The handlebar is only for the manliest of men, which is why, throughout the ages, it’s been worn mainly by barbarians. From 100 B.C. on to the death of the Roman Empire, the Gallic, Celtic, and the Romans, a clean-shaven people, hated the barbarians in all of their trouser-wearing, mustachioed glory.
A Gallic chieftain, pictured shortly before probably killing someone for fun.
They persecuted them mercilessly, conquered their lands, and imposed their hairless customs on the world. It was a dark time for the handlebar mustache. But, just like the conquered tribes of Europe, the handlebar was destined to rise again.
Real men don’t shave, OR wear pants. Body paint is okay, though.
The Rise of the Mustache in Europe (1500-1800)
It took many years for facial hair to come back into vogue in Europe. The shameful image of brave barbarian warriors being pummeled senseless by skirt-wearing, clean-shaven Romans took centuries to live down. By the time the Age of Exploration started around the 1500s, though, Europe had rediscovered the handlebar and with it, their testicles. Pumped full of testosterone and brimming with facial hair-based confidence, the Conquistadors set out to conquer a new world.
By his lack of a proper mustache, we can tell this man was some sort of peasant or invalid.
When the Spaniards first arrived in the new world, they brought with them guns, disease, and the handlebar mustache. While most of the Conquistadors favored the simple (yet manly) beard pictured above, their intellectual, moral, and military superiors sported the increasingly popular handlebar mustache.
The picture above is a painting by Fernando Amorsolo of one of Ferdinand Magellan’s conquistadors. We don’t know this man’s name, but I think we can safely assume that his hauntingly beautiful mustache is the origin of those stories of native tribesmen mistaking European explorers for gods.
Thanks to their superior facial hair (and also smallpox) the Europeans quickly came to dominate the new world. Victory, as it always does, brought stagnation, and the once mighty mustaches of the European gentry quickly fell into shabby disrepute. The handlebar again disappeared from the world stage.
As I’ve said before, the handlebar mustache has been kept alive through the ages by ruffians, brigands, and barbarians. In the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, the secrets of perfect facial hair were maintained by pirates.
Not at all what I was talking about.
Unfortunately, most pirates lived a difficult, dirty life at sea. In such conditions, it can be difficult (nigh impossible) to maintain a proper handlebar. Inevitably, most pirates ended up growing gigantic, elaborate beards. Edward Teach, more commonly known as Blackbeard, had the most infamous facial hair of them all.
Rape and pillage become a helluva lot easier with a beard.
How the Mustache Came to be in America (1800-1910)
The expansion of the American Frontier heralded the first golden age for the handlebar mustache. Americans were the perfect combination of vicious barbarians and cultured gentlemen. The handlebar was most popular among Cavalry officers and lawmen. Bold, courageous warriors who needed to project the image of authority and strength with but a glance. The handlebar mustache was truly ‘how the West was won.’
You don’t say ‘no’ to a face like that, right?
The most famous handlebar of the frontier period belonged to a brash young policeman named Wyatt Earp. Famed for his ability to lay down the law, Earp also had a reputation as one of the fastest guns in the West. With a pair of six-shooters and the greatest mustache of his age, Earp cut a path through the outlaws of his day. Mustache historians (Mustachtorians) recognize his life as a high point in the field of handlebar development.
To hell with Samuel L. Jackson. Wyatt Earp was the original B.M.F.
It took the strenuous efforts of Wyatt Earp and thousands of other gallant men to establish the shining reputation of the handlebar mustache. Unfortunately, it took only the foolish and cowardly actions of one man to nearly destroy it.
His name was George Armstrong Custer. He gained infamy by leading the men of the 7th Cavalry into a slaughter at the hands of a tribal confederation lead by Crazy Horse. If Custer had sported a less robust, commanding form of facial hair, his men might not have followed him so blindly. In his death, Custer proved that the mighty power of the handlebar could be turned to the purpose of evil by a sufficiently twisted and stupid man.
The wake of Little Bighorn was a dark time for the handlebar. Many men turned to sideburns, and some even began to shave again. The shame that Custer brought to his mustache was incalculable. For years, facial hair aficionados worried that nothing could possibly redeem the handlebar. Then, in 1901, Teddy Roosevelt was elected President of the United States.
God couldn’t have grown a better mustache.
During his incredible life, Roosevelt was a respected historian, a Medal of Honor-winning soldier, the nation’s first president which focused on conservation, a champion of minority rights, and one of histories great peace-keepers (he also won a Nobel Prize). Roosevelt did all of this while sporting the finest handlebar mustache to ever grace the face of any man.
From 1901 to 1909, the United States had no standing army. With Roosevelt at the helm, it would have been overkill.
Teddy Roosevelt was, perhaps, the greatest badass of his time. While the future of the handlebar mustache remains in question today, we must trust that his legacy will be enough to keep the faith alive until the next generation of mustache artists can pick up the torch. If you’ve ever considered growing a handlebar, just ask yourself, “What would T.R. do?”
Grow a bloody mustache and shoot some elephants, you limp-dicked pansies!
Famous Mustaches in a Post-Teddy World (1910-Present)
Many times throughout the 20th century the handlebar made a cameo in all the important events.
That’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand. His assassination sparked World War I.
One of the most famous leaders of the Mexican Revolution, Emiliano Zapata, sported a black beauty. However just like Franz above him, he was assassinated (see a trend here?).
During World War II the handlebar lived on through prominent Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
The Handlebar Today
Since the days of Teddy Roosevelt the mustache has fallen out of favor in our soulless, contemporary world. The art of perfect facial hair has not been lost entirely. A few brave, hirsute individuals still continue the fight…
This is Michael Atree. He heads up the Handlebar Club in London, a social organization dedicated to advancing the status and alleviating discrimination of the fancifully mustached. Sure, you could argue that there are a virtually endless number of causes more worth fighting for than the handlebar mustache. But seriously, what’s more important; some kids in Darfur, or the aeons-old legacy of the handlebar mustache?
Modern technology has allowed the competitive mustache grower to achieve heights of success well beyond what our ancestors could hope to achieve. Top hair scientists are working around the clock to find new styles to dominate the world mustache market. With hard work, creativity, and the grace of God Almighty, they will succeed.
The march of progress goes on…