In the year 2000 I published book called Magnum Chic. It recounted the madness around the turn of the millennium and how me and my mate Smiler strove to make sense of it. An important part of that was the Millennium Moustache.
At the time we were young men in our twenties, and growing a moustache was a well ironic way of poking fun at ourselves and the time-honoured white South African tradition of growing a ’tache.
My fascination with moustaches came from the fact that at my primary school all the coolest teachers used to rock a snor.
Mr McKay, Mr Frauenstein, Mr De Lange… and then at high school Mr Galloway, Mr Kew… This implanted a subconscious belief in the moustache as the mark of a man, a token of virility.
Of course this coincided with the rise of the moustache in popular culture. The Eighties was the time of Magnum PI, the mellow, denim hotpants-wearing ladykiller Hawaiian private eye. Eddie Murphy wore a moustache, Naas Botha wore a moustache, Clive Rice, Prince, Deon Kayser, the oke from Body Beat…
I believe the source for this deluge of Eighties moustache icons was the old SA Defence Force tradition of only allowing conscripts to grow moustaches once they’d been in the force for a year – and attained the status of “ouman”.
This helped young white men equate the moustache with seniority, maturity and success – not least because most ranking officers tended to wear the bristling snor of power.
By the turn of the millennium, though, the moustache had fallen into disuse. So for a young man to wear a lip ornament was so clearly an act of self-parody as not to require explanation. Particularly among one’s friends.
For every moustache there is a season, however, and for me that time came around again this month. A subversive office moustache cult sprang up, established over beers one afternoon and soon in full swing. At the height of the pandemic, seven guys in the company were wearing the tache.
It seems seven years is about the time it takes to forget why you don’t wear a hilarious irony moustache all the time.
The reason is that, while it’s funny to see the shock on your friends’ faces when you debut your mouzer, strangers simply treat you like a man with a moustache.
“Kan ek oom help,” they ask you at the take-away counter.
Irony, of course, is an inside joke. Those who don’t know the back story just take it at face value. It must also be said that as one ages, the moustache becomes a more comfortable resident on one’s face. The youthful good looks that used to provide the punchline are less in evidence. You’re a man with a moustache, and – horror of horrors – it suits you.
When this realization dawns, shaving is not far off.
Then, for a little bit, you become something you always feared. Something from your worst nightmares. A man who feels naked without his moustache.