HITLER. Several members of the Village People. Ned Flanders from The Simpsons. And of course the pantomime baddie. Really, the moustache doesn’t have a good history in PR terms.
True, there was 20th century matinee idol Clark Gable, who sported a pencil-thin number and had ladies swooning at his silver screen exploits for decades. But then he has been dead for 50 years and it’s hard to find anyone who has taken up his fuzzy beneath-the-nose baton since, unless you’re a fan of hard-core 70s porn.
Until now, that is. Or, strictly speaking, back in 2003, when the first Movember, a month-long drive to raise awareness of men’s health, was held in Melbourne, Australia.
Since then the campaign has snowballed and now has 1.1 million folk worldwide taking part, with 3000 signing up in Edinburgh last year. Movember, which lasts throughout the 30 days of November, is aimed at highlighting men’s heath issues, in particular prostate and testicular cancer, and to raise cash – £11.7 million in the UK last year – with gala parties, whisky picnics and other such revelleries taking place over the month.
But, of course, there is another aim for all those who sign up to become “Mo Bros” – the challenge of spending the coming four weeks attempting to grow more than a fuzzy covering over their top lip.
Howie Nicholsby, of 21st Century Kilts on Thistle Street, is a Movember veteran. This will be the third year he’s gone hirsute in the cause of men’s health, while this is the campaign’s fourth year in Edinburgh.
“It’s the perfect charity for me because the testicular cancer link fits so well with with kilt-wearing,” he says. “Men’s bits are on the outside for a reason, to keep them cool. And if you look at history, men have always worn clothes – togas, Eygptian robes – which have left them unbifurcated.” That’s not hemmed in by pants or trousers to you and me.
Howie’s first attempts were a bit of a revelation. “It is quite a challenge to grow a moustache from scratch in only a month,” he says. “For the first week or so it is quite embarrassing, it is just a lip of fluff.”
The 33-year-old’s biggest shock, though, was that he quite liked his new lip accessory. “That was a massive surprise. My dad had a moustache at one point, but mostly moustaches had connotations of YMCA and 70s porn.”
For first-time growers, Howie advises: “Really, it’s finding your own way with it. I put a little bit of wax on it especially when it’s just bum fluff, but don’t overdo it, you don’t want a big gluey, waxy lip. And I would recommend tweezers.”
There is fun to be had in front of the bathroom mirror, including shaving to see what you’d look like with a certain rather famous 20th century moustache. “Let’s call it the Charlie Chaplin rather than the Hitler,” says Howie. As for the downsides, he adds: “It drives my wife, Charlotte, a little mad. She is a bit of a Movember widow.”
Boombarbers, which has branches in Stockbridge, Broughton Street, Melville Place and Dalkeith, is the official snipper for Edinburgh’s Movember. Owner Scott Williams explains: “Through the month, if people come into the shop we offer a free styling, we will trim it up and talk about different styles.”
So what should a mo virgin be aiming for? “Be realistic,” says the 41-year-old. “A handlebar is never going to happen in a month. And it’s silly to put a big chopper moustache on someone who has a thin face but I don’t think there are any rights or wrongs.”
He suggests starting off with a good, clean shave, then decide on the shape of your moustache and shave daily around that. “Or you can just go for freestyling where you keep as much as possible and obviously it’s easier to start bigger and get smaller.”
Some men’s growth will be a lot more rapid than others. “You do get big-built 6ft 2in guy who only manage about three hairs on their top lip,” says Scott. “But there is a Movember prize for the worst moustache.”
Richard Boullemier, of Movember, praised the city’s efforts last year. “The Edinburgh Mo Bros were amazing and turned out in force with all sorts of moustaches. It’s great to see passionate Mo Bros, but when they come to the gala parties in kilts despite the snow and elements, that shows real balls.”
Howie agrees: “If a moustache starts a conversation about why it’s being grown and that leads on to talking about getting checked out and tested, then it’s job done.”