For too long, we’ve been wandering in the land of the facially frizzy. The era of the Heritage Man, his slim-fit jeans and too-tight plaid button-up, his lauded whiskers simply an outgrowth (pun intended) of his depilatory neglect, is coming to an end.
The bearded hipster, the bushy metal head, the stubbly sleaze, the … shudder … Duck Dynasty.
The art of the beard is simply the art of not bothering to shave.
It is time, weary travelers, to return to that majestic age of the mustache. The Mouth Brow. The Lip Sweater. The Flavor Saver. To when legendary mustaches wandered the Earth like hairy titans. To the time of Sam Elliott’s glorious, droopy Western walrus, of John Waters’s neighborhood-pervert pencil-thin, of Burt Reynolds, naked on a bear-skin rug wearing nothing but that sweet, sweet chevron. The mustache on Matthew McConaughey’s Wooderson in Dazed and Confused tells you right away that everything is gonna be “all right, all right, all right.”
At the forefront of the charge to bring the mustache back to its louche 1970s glory are the good people of the American Mustache Institute. Its mission? To promote the acceptance, understanding, and sexual dynamism of the mustached lifestyle. The team at the AMI has, over the years, worked to raise funds for several charities as well as protect the rights of the mustached American.
Adam Causgrove, a thirty-year-old native of Erie, Pennsylvania, who currently resides in Pittsburgh, is the President and Chairman of the American Mustache Institute, a title he’s held since soon after winning the group’s Robert Goulet Memorial Mustached American of the Year Award in 2012. He recently sat with me in one of Pittsburgh’s famous Primanti Bros. sandwich shops and, while holding back his own luxurious handlebar to eat (a struggle, even though it had been trimmed dramatically for his recent wedding), told me about the group’s work.
“There are two stories. There’s the overblown sort of fictional, fun story on the website that will have [the AMI] starting in the sixties … in reality it [was] started in 1988 by a guy named Aaron Perlut.” Perlut, a St. Louis public relations exec, wanted to combine the then-growing concept of online community-building and a healthy dose of wiseass humor with charitable work he was doing in his hometown. Along with some friends, he arranged the first annual ‘Stache Bash, a costume party to help raise money for Challenger Baseball, a local league for children with disabilities. Since then, the Bash has grown into a costumed freak-out that has attracted both the mustachioed and the mustache-friendly from all across the country, including Morgan Spurlock, Bill Geist, and John Oates (who performed at the 2009 celebration). The event is the focus of the AMI’s philanthropic efforts and has been held in, among other places, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Chicago, and, this year, Richmond, Virginia, each time raising money for a children’s charity in the host city.
It is also where the Goulet Award is presented to the “person who best represents or contributes to the Mustached American community.” Finalists are selected by the AMI from a number of nominee submissions and voted on by website visitors. Past winners include two Major League Baseball pitchers, and, while this year’s nominees included former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the 2014 Goulet Award went to Richmond native Stephen Brown for his mustache advocacy and local charitable endeavors.
After Causgrove won, he decided to become more involved with the institute, eventually taking over the project and moving it from St. Louis to Pittsburgh. His own community activism and work with nonprofits dovetail nicely with the philanthropy of the AMI. A research grant administrator at the University of Pittsburgh, his own side project is called Side Project Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps charitable and philanthropic groups with their efforts. And while he finds his mustache-related celebrity bemusing, his relatives and prospective in-laws were a little more freaked out.
“I was in TIME magazine talking about mustaches. I have family in Seattle, and when the AMI moved from St. Louis to Pittsburgh, [the story] ran on the AP wire and they read it in the weird news section. Always in the weird news, this guy … with our daughter.”
A core group of ten people around the country generate the content and media for the AMI, whose active membership is about 50,000. The organization’s website gets more than 100,000 unique views each month, and the group has nearly doubled its exposure on Facebook and other social media.
“It’s very social-media-driven,” Causgrove says. “Ninety percent of it is social-media-driven, which is great, because it’s free,” A partnership with Wahl trimmers helps to underwrite the cost of the AMI’s agenda. “I don’t make a cent off of this.”
As the point man for the AMI, however, he does get a lot of calls and messages from would-be mustachioed sexual dynamos, bemoaning their hairless baby faces. And he has some words of comfort for those who can’t grow a truly resplendent ’stache.
“Not every mustache is worn on the face; some are worn on the heart. As long as you support the lifestyle, we’re all in it together.”