Growing a month-long moustache

Tue, Nov 1, 2011, 00:00

For the next few weeks, many Irish men will be sporting a strange piece of fluff just above their upper lip, as they grow their moustaches for the “Movember” charity fundraiser. EOIN BUTLERjoins them

This is a generation that quite clearly yearns to experiment with facial hair

IN THE cavernous saloon of the Waldorf Barbershop, Liam Finnegan is leafing through a book entitled The Art and Science of Barbering. It is a retro Argos catalogue of facial hair. And he’s pitching me ideas. “The Divided Handlebar?” he offers. “The Modified Handlebar? The Painter’s Brush? The Nightshade?” The Nightshade looks dangerously close to The Hitler, I suggest. “Oh no, no,” he furrows his brow and flicks forward a few pages until he finds what he is looking for. “That would be The Adolph.” Blimey. How old is the book? He shrugs his shoulders. “Old.”

Finnegan has been running the Waldorf since 1969, when he took the business over from his father. As he lathers me up for a hot towel shave, shearing me of my long-cultivated facial hair in preparation for “Movember”, I notice a fluffy white caterpillar sneaking across his own upper lip.

What’s that one called, I inquire? He tuts softly. “I wouldn’t normally wear the moustache this long,” he says. “But they persuaded me to grow it out. You know, for this Movember thing.”

Ah, yes. Today is the first day of “Movember”: the annual charity drive to raise funds and awareness for men’s health issues, specifically for prostate cancer, by encouraging men to grow a moustache. Since it debuted in Ireland in 2008, Movember (the word is a clumsy portmanteau of “moustache” and “November”) has grown. Last year, it raised 1.6m for the Irish Cancer Society.

For participants, the rules are simple. Each “Mo Bro” (as volunteers are rather cringingly called) starts on November 1st with a clean shaven face. For the duration of the month, he must grow and groom a moustache. Growing a full beard and then shaving it down to a moustache at the end of the month is prohibited. Thus most Mo Bros will spend at least a fortnight with an embarrassing piece of bum fluff hovering below their nose.

Not to worry, promise the organisers. Even the worst moustache makes for an interesting conversation piece. (Unless one opts for the Adolph, of course, in which case I imagine it makes for a heated conversation piece.) Beyond that the world of the Mo Bro becomes slightly more opaque. “Each Mo Bro must conduct himself like a country gentleman,” is another rule. “The Mo Bro is dedicated to the cause of fine moustachery. He is aware of his responsibility to honour the moustache.”

The website ( is filled with bizarre slow-motion videos of moustachioed men standing in the fields staring at the camera, while slogans such as “The Pride” and “The Craft” flash past. Apparently, it helps fosters a sense of camaraderie among participants.

The genius of Movember, it seems, is not an ability to attract donations, but rather an ability to attract recruits. Last year, the average Irish Mo Bro raised a relatively modest €133 per ’tache. But because 12,700 of them signed up, that added up to a very respectable €1.6m for charity. I even know of people who have grown moustaches for the month but never signed up to the campaign and never raised any donations.

This in turn leads to an enormous amount of free publicity for the cause (this article included.) Yet for all the positives to be celebrated, there are reasons to feel ambivalent about Movember. The problem, obviously, is not that it raises lots of money for a very good cause. Donating to charity is something we all should do as often as we can, for any excuse or none at all.

Nor is there anything objectionable about facial hair. (The month has only started and already my face is a living monument to the possibilities of the art form.)

What’s troubling about Movember is what it seems to say about modern Ireland. This is a generation who jumped onto the property ladder because that’s what we were told to do. Who are trapped in negative equity, but do not deign to raise a word in protest as the banks responsible for the crisis are bailed out. And even on the silliest, most asinine level, this is a generation that quite clearly yearns to experiment with facial hair. But somehow we require official sanction to do so.

There is something very sad and Prufrockian about this: Movember is a fashion form letter for a generation too timid to make a fashion statement.

So heres my pitch. . . If one intends to solicit charitable donations from strangers, one should be prepared to endure, if not great physical exertion or privation, then at the very least inconvenience and mild discomfort. Other “mo bros” who come looking for your cash this month will be doing something easy that they fancy doing anyway. It might as well be a sponsored lie-in. They do make love to their employment.

But I find everything about Movember embarrassing in the extreme. I would rather claw my eyes out than be mistaken for someone who is dedicated to the cause of fine moustachery. I would rather re-sit my Leaving Cert than engage in moustache-related small talk on the Luas. Anyone kind enough to donate at the link below, therefore, can be assured that I am resenting, and feeling demeaned by, every single minute of it.

Oh, and it’s all for a very good cause!

Five facial furnishings


Celebrity exponentsTom Selleck, Ian Botham, Willie Joe Padden

ConLoses a certain cachet when referred to as the Willie O’Dea.

ProRequires zero grooming.

In its 1970s heyday, the Boxcar was redolent of a certain breed of tough guy. This was the moustache favoured by firemen, lumberjacks and sportsmen. Indeed, of the famous Liverpool side of the early 1980s, five first team members were aficionados. (Go on, have a go if you think you can name them all).


Celebrity exponentsDiego Velasquez, Salvador Dalí Snidely Whiplash

ConDenotes vanity, eccentricity and fastidiousness.

ProAnd how!

“It has always been my weakness to desire to show off,” confessed Hercule Poirot in Mrs McGinty’s Dead. “Indeed, it is necessary for a man of my abilities to admire himself.” For Agatha Christie, this ludicrous lip toupee was intended to signify a forensic attention to detail on the part of her hero. The more outlandish variant sported by Salvador Dalí, meanwhile, suggested flamboyance and a desire to be noticed.


Celebrity exponentsErrol Flynn, Frida Kahlo, filmmaker John Waters

ConBreaking news: You’re not Brad Pitt.

ProBrad Pitt pulled this look off in Inglourious Basterds.

Sported most recently by Bob Dylan, the Pencil is a sort of low-maintenance, utilitarian alternative to the Poirot. This is a moustache that says “I’m a cad, I’m a bounder, I cheat at cards and I’m not to be trusted around men or women, but can I really be bothered with all that waxing?


Celebrity exponentsMark Twain, 1916 leader Tom Clarke, Sam Elliot

ConSurprisingly absorbent.

ProRenders you impervious to lip readers. Possibly.

Unless you’re auditioning for the role of innkeeper in an upcoming Western, there really is nothing to recommend the Walrus. I speak from personal experience here. The problem with having hair hanging down over your lip is that it absorbs pretty much everything you attempt to eat or drink. If your whiskers fall into a pint of Guinness, for example, then you won’t need a napkin, you’ll need a bathroom towel.


Celebrity exponentsCharlie Chaplin, Oliver Hardy, er . . .

ProTechnically, this moustache was never an accessory to any crime.

Con. . . but still.

Ironically for a moustache now synonymous with the worst excesses of totalitarianism, this aerodynamic effort was conceived in the early 20th century as a way of thumbing one’s nose at authority. Throughout the 1910s and 1920s, the Toothbrush rode the crest of a wave of popularity, boosted by its association with much-loved funny men such as Charlie Chaplin and Oliver Hardy. But Hitler came along and the Toothbrush became a pariah moustache.

For more information on Movember, see