What is a Handlebar Mustache?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

One of the quintessential facial hair stylings is known as the handlebar mustache. A handlebar mustache is a full mustache with extended length past the wearer's lip line. If the ends of a full mustache are allowed to droop, the style may be considered more of a Fu Manchu, but through the use of pomades such as mustache wax, the wearer can stiffen and curl the ends to create a true handlebar mustache.

Salvador Dali had a distinctive handlebar mustache.
Salvador Dali had a distinctive 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 highest level of public acceptance during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, coinciding with the Victorian and especially Edwardian eras. A properly groomed gentleman with facial hair would routinely ask his barber to create a curved handlebar mustache with the use of a stiffening agent.

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

The surrealistic artist Salvador Dali also wore a distinctive handlebar mustache which he frequently formed into long thin curls attached 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 as he discusses his evil plans for the damsel in distress. Many motorcycle enthusiasts also choose to grow mustaches as a somewhat rebellious facial hair statement, although some prefer to grow a more protective walrus mustache or a more sinister looking Fu Manchu.

There is an entire subculture which embraces and perpetuates the often misunderstood practice of stylized facial hair, including side burns, beards and mustaches. From mutton chops to Fu Manchus, group members carefully grow, groom and shave their facial hair into established styles or even very complex variations held together with mustache wax and other stiffening agents.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments

Potterspop

I was looking for handlebar mustache pictures when I found this. In a couple of months I'm to play the villain in an amateur theater production and I thought I'd try to grow one, rather than fake it.

My girlfriend isn't too keen on the idea, so I'm not sure I'll make it. I have to try though, especially as I just ordered the mustache wax online!

Acracadabra

@meghan36 - I've heard of that club. I'm pretty sure it was started by some famous fans of handlebar mustaches.

I wonder if this style will come back into fashion at some point. Not long ago it seemed every second guy had a goatee beard, which I now hardly see anymore.

Personally I think the look suits older men, but I can't imagine many younger people being into it.

meghan36

There is a Handlebar Club in England. You can be a member as long as you have a handlebar mustache. Their goal is to stop discrimination against the handlebarred and have mustache competitions.

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