Mustachioed Men Regain Swagger

Members of the American Mustache Institute, clockwise from bottom left, are Ryan McClure, Ron Heinz, Bobby Jones, Aaron Perlut, Vijoy Rao, Josh Rogers and Tony Zagora. (AP Photo/Whitney Curtis)
AP Photo
Tom Selleck still sports one on the television show "Boston Legal." Burt Reynolds and Reggie Jackson were also known for theirs. Time was, all the hip guys wore mustaches.

Those days largely went by the wayside with disco and mood rings. The mustache, the epitome of macho cool in the '70s, is now often the subject of scorn and ridicule. Few athletes or celebrities wear them unless they are attached to beards. Mustache-wearing TV and movie characters tend to be evil or goofy.

And corporate America? "There is certainly a level of discrimination in the workplace," said Aaron Perlut, a St. Louis-based public relations executive and one of the founders of the American Mustache Institute. "That's one of the things we'd like to see go away."

Perlut and six of his mustachioed friends started the AMI last year. On Saturday, the group is hosting "'Stache Bash 2007" at the St. Louis bar owned by former Cardinals reliever -- and noted mustache wearer -- Al Hrabosky. Up to 500 people are expected, with proceeds going to Challenger Baseball, a program for children with disabilities.

Perlut, 36, has worn a Fu Manchu on and off for years, despite the funny looks and snide comments.

"I'm commonly told I look better without it," he said. "My wife? She loves me either way. But if it was up to her I wouldn't have it."

Co-worker Dan Callahan agreed. He wore one for years "until I decided I looked like G. Gordon Liddy," he said. Still, he grew back a "painter's brush" mustache, a thin, narrow, closely-clipped 'stache.

He acknowledges ridicule from colleagues, friends and family, but urges mustache wearers to keep a stiff - albeit hairy – upper lip.

"The culture, the fashion has moved so far away from it," Callahan, 51, said. "But you can tell the pendulum is swinging the other way. It almost feels as if there have been people waiting to grow one. We're here to tell them, 'it's safe to go back into the water."'

Filmmaker Jay Della Valle wanted to find out. For his documentary "The Glorius (sic) Mustache Challenge," Della Valle enlisted several 30-and-under men to wear a mustache for one month, then chronicled their lives.

"Certain guys felt embarrassed with girls," he said. "It was difficult for them to assert themselves if they felt self-conscious at all. Few got to the point where they used it to their advantage."

Some women liked their man in a mustache, finding it "edgy and showing of a good sense of humor," Della Valle said. But for the majority, "It reminded them of the Village People, '70s porn stars and rednecks," he said, using a derogatory reference relating to certain groups of white southerners in the U.S.

That is exactly the stereotype Perlut and Callahan want to bring to an end with "'Stache Bash." The group's Web site has received nearly 500,000 hits since it was launched in late July.

The American Mustache Institute received mentions on ESPN and in
Sports Illustrated thanks to its contest seeking the best-ever sports mustache. Not surprisingly, the top contenders typically hail from the era of the Nixon, Ford or Carter administrations -- Hrabosky with his menacing Fu Manchu, Oakland A's reliever Rollie Fingers and his famous handlebar. A surprising write-in contender is former Cardinals and Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez.

Do Perlut and Callahan think the mustache will ever really come back into style?

"I think a lot of it has to do with the fickle nature of the American public," Perlut said. "Fads go in and fads go out."

Callahan said, "It's too bad. Today, the only mustache you see on TV is a milk mustache."