It’s petite, it’s well groomed, and like its wearer, it’s decidedly queer: the skinny mustache.
This mustache of the moment is no ’80s Tom Selleck pornstache with enough bush to capture falling crumbs; nor is it the Salvador Dalí mustache, pointy and curled at the ends. Rather, it is short (never voluminous), thin (but perhaps not always “Prince thin”), and occasionally shaved down the middle. Think Clark Gable but more modern. According to Alex, a barber in Brooklyn, its two most crucial descriptors are subtle and understated.
The skinny ’stache can be seen at gay bars across the city — from more normative bars playing Drag Race on Thursday nights to infamous queer clubs in Bushwick and sticky sex bars in the Village. And despite its popularity among thin, baby-faced white twinks, it seems to span a full range of identities. “I can give you my whole contact list. We all have the mustache right now,” said Justin about his new facial hair outside an East Village gay bar. “I stole it from some thot I hooked up with once. I think her name was Timmy,” he was later overheard telling a friend.
There’s a whiff of deviancy about wearing such a precise strip of lip fuzz. According to Christopher Oldstone-Moore, author of Of Beards and Men and an expert on gender, masculinity, and hair, this is a legacy from the ’60s, when mustaches were seen as “a form of rebellion against authority, particularly military masculinity.” Ironically, mustaches have their roots in the military as a way to look “fierce and intimidating,” but as armies around the world began to nix the ’stache, wearing one became a sign of nonconformity.
From a queer perspective, the mustache’s association with sexual deviancy also points to the “Castro clones” of the ’80s: masculine gay men who dressed alike, slept together, and were eventually undone and vilified by society during the AIDS crisis.
For many queer men, this association with sexual deviancy is kind of the point. “I feel it’s been sexualized in a cool way — just another way we can be visibly queer and outwardly sexual, especially in a time when that’s not totally cool with everyone,” said Tyler. “It’s a little way to be a bad boy.”
Steffen, a makeup artist, added, “I think that wearing a ’stache is, for me, a signal to the public of a different and active sexual lifestyle.” He sees it as a way to separate himself from “the queers trying to live straight-people lives.”
Along with being a symbol of sexual openness and queer freedom, the mustache also presents queer men with a way to hark back to a lost history. If this mustache had its own mood board, it might include Freddie Mercury, a few shots of the Castro in its heyday, and a vintage gay-porn image. “Among young queer men, our imagery was lost for a whole generation, so I feel we’re constantly seeking inspiration from the past,” said Eduardo. “I always smile when I channel Freddie Mercury successfully. Growing up, I didn’t have too many bisexual men to look up to, and he was always it.”
More important than the hair might be how you wear it. “I consider myself a deeply feminine person. I’m very much a bona fide faggot,” said Fran Tirado, deputy editor of Out. “I think there’s something about the way I wear my mustache with the new Glossier Play or a really faggy earring or red lips that fucks with people’s conceptions of what gender or presentation has to be.” When he shaved his mustache, his friends all expressed their disappointment. “It really does something for people that fits into the bill of our ’80s gay male porn fantasy.’”
Oldstone-Moore thinks the popularity of the mustache makes perfect sense for the current moment. He says a craze for mustaches often follows a craze for beards (like the ones we saw in the previous decade). And he believes men often experiment with facial hair at times when societal masculinity is in flux — when we are encouraged to ask broad questions like “What is a man? What does he look like?”
The skinny ’stache lets its wearer ask those questions without saying a word. Steph, who wears his very thin mustache with a perfectly beat face, said, “My friends admire that I commit to my mustache as a part of my androgynous appearance.” Nate, an artist, counters “It makes me feel older, and it puts me in a kind of ‘man drag.’”
What other style of facial hair has that kind of range?