What is a handlebar mustache?

Salvador Dali had a distinctive handlebar-shaped mustache.

One of the quintessential facial hair styles is known as the handlebar mustache. A handlebar mustache is a full length mustache extended beyond the wearer’s lip line. If the ends of a full mustache can fall off, the style can be considered more Fu Manchu, but with the use of pomades such as mustache wax, the wearer can stiffen and curl the ends to create a true handlebar mustache.

The idea is that the stylized and extended ends of the mustache resemble the handlebars of a bicycle or motorcycle. The handlebar style has been popular for centuries, but perhaps reached its greatest level of public acceptance during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, coinciding with the Victorian and especially Edwardian eras. A well-groomed gentleman with facial hair would often ask the barber to create a curved mustache with the use of a hardening agent.

In modern times, sporting a handlebar mustache is often seen as anachronistic, or just something a member of a barbershop quartet would wear. The style immediately harks back to the turn-of-the-century days of elaborate facial hair such as mutton sideburns and wavy moustaches. During the 1970s, however, the handlebar mustache made something of a comeback when several prominent athletes, most notably baseball player Rollie Fingers, began wearing stylized mustaches for primarily promotional reasons.

Surrealist artist Salvador Dali also sported a distinctive handlebar moustache, which he often shaped into long thin curls secured to his face with mustache wax. In popular culture, the villain of an Old West melodrama is often shown twirling his fingers through an exaggerated mustache while discussing his evil plans for the damsel in distress. Many motorcycle enthusiasts also choose to grow a mustache as a somewhat rebellious facial hair statement, though some prefer to grow a more protective walrus mustache or a more sinister-looking Fu Manchu.

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There is an entire subculture that embraces and perpetuates the often misunderstood practice of styling facial hair, including sideburns, beards and mustaches. From mutton chops to Fu Manchus, members of the group carefully grow, treat and shave their facial hair in established styles or even very complex variations joined with mustache wax and other hardening agents.

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