Moustache Growing Contests Continue Local Tradition

Moustache Growing Contests Continue Local Tradition

From pitcher Rich “Goose” Gossage to first baseman Bill Buckner and the late great Rod Beck, Wrigley Field has seen its fair share of gloriously bushy mustaches. No Cub now has such notable facial hair—it is the 21st century, after all. But several Chicagoans are tapping into a local tradition and attempting to bring back the mustache. For Chicago Public Radio, Evan Chung reports.

Mustaches have had a long and troubled history. They flourished in the late 19th century, but have faced a great deal of opposition over the years. Governments have attacked them, like the English parliament’s 1447 ban. And clerics have condemned them, worrying that mustaches might interfere with the receiving of Communion wine. Yet here in 21st century Chicago, multiple groups are attempting a mustache revival.

SHAFFNER: Hey everybody! It is that time to do our annual check-in about our week with our facial hair. Does anybody have any horror stories or love stories to share with the group about their mustaches or prosthetic growth?

826Chicago, a non-profit tutoring center for children, is in the midst of its second annual Moustache-a-thon. More than 20 volunteers are growing mustaches to earn donations supporting the organization’s free writing programs. Patrick Shaffner, 826Chicago’s outreach coordinator, sees mustache growing as more effective than traditional fundraisers like walkathons.

SHAFFNER: There’s a certain amount of energy that goes into walking or running or other –a-thoning. But with the moustache-a-thon, it’s just the beauty of being able to sit there and have it happen without you even knowing it. So we should probably look into doing blink-a-thon and breathing-a-thons as well.

Women who wish to participate are encouraged to wear prosthetic mustaches and also compete in mustache-related challenges. Kara Thorstenson spent this week designing a piece of mustache art:

THORSTENSON: The people depicted on the poster, their photographs came from magazines. And anyone not blessed with a natural mustache, I just drew one on them.

Many of the growers agree that mustaches are first and foremost a statement of personal style. Dani Hoyler believes that your mustache can say a lot about your personality.

HOYLER: Someone with a Fu Manchu is obviously very strong and adventurous. And maybe someone with more of a handlebar mustache really really likes…riding on horses.

But Meghan Keys urges growers to use caution with certain mustache styles.

KEYS: There’s the skinny little mustache that’s like the little tiny one. It’s kind of the backward alley one where you don’t really want to be caught…John Waters? Yeah, a little bit John Waters.

Though the 826Chicago Moustache-a-Thon is only in its second year, right here in Chicago, the practice of competitive mustache growing dates back nearly a century.

MUSIC: “The Varsity Drag”

It all started in 1910 at the University of Chicago, when a few seniors issued an edict requiring all other members of the class to grow mustaches, or else risk being thrown into a pond. Each year after that, the campus barber would fire a starting pistol, and the senior men would have a few weeks to grow the most luxurious mustache they could. The student with the most impressive growth was awarded the Moustache Cup. For an unknown reason, the Mustache Race was retired in 1942, going the way of other lost collegiate traditions like goldfish swallowing and flagpole sitting. But nearly a century after the initial Mustache Race, a few University of Chicago students are reviving the tradition.

NALVEN: It’s not just mustaches – it’s mustaches, beards, and female facial hair.

Josh Nalven is a second year at the University and a contributor to the Shady Dealer, the campus humor publication responsible for this year’s Mustache Race. Nalven says it’s about nostalgia.

NALVEN: There’s a certain old timey-ness about a mustache race. You know, it kind of evokes that sort of fur coat, pork pie hat, old timey university thing going on, which I really like. It’s really cool to have people come together and try to grow the most outrageous, or most stylish or voluminous facial hair they can. Especially with the female facial hair competition, we really encourage women to construct false beards.

The judges this year will determine the winner based on a number of criteria.
NALVEN: Length, volume, coverage, fullness, strength – how sturdy it looks, in a way, style is big, how you fashion it. Dressing up in a costume related to your mustache is encouraged.

The University of Chicago and 826Chicago mustache contests both demonstrate that even in the year 2008, there’s room for mustaches to be taken seriously. More and more people are fighting to reclaim the mustache from dictators and villains and make it once again a viable, un-ironic, and growing statement of style.

MUSIC: “If You’ve Only Got a Moustache”