Aaron Perlut, who has preferred to be called Dr. Perlut since bestowing upon himself a Ph.D. in nuclear mustachology, has been a mustache advocate for several years now.
American Mustache Institute Chairman Aaron Perlut
It is not an easy task.
As chairman of the American Mustache Institute, a group he founded in 2006, Perlut campaigns against anti-mustache discrimination across the land--he's saved jobs from threatening employers and high school careers from anti-mustache deans--and generally tries to revive the 'stache as a prominent element of American male fashion. He seems willing to go to any length to preserve and advance what he calls the Mustached American lifestyle.
Find below an interview with Perlut, 39--who runs a public relations and social media firm in St. Louis when he's not actively campaigning for mustaches--about trends, styles, possibilities, and the State of the American Mustache.
Why do you like mustaches so much?
Honestly, I think that's the first time anyone's ever asked me that, in that way.
As a young man I grew up surrounded by mustaches in my family, but I was always intimidated to grow them, even though I could from a very young age, because of the public pressures against it--because they weren't cool, they weren't hip. There was a certain stigma attached to people with mustaches, that you weren't professional or intelligent, and I committed myself to working for an organization that battled against that.
What does your group hope to achieve?
Very simply, an equal playing field for people of Mustached American heritage. I got off the phone earlier today with a gentleman who told me he was told that he could have a job that he wanted, if he shaved his mustache.
Yeah. We recently saved the job of a young man who was a college student working at a restaurant, whose employers told him that he would either shave his mustache or lose his job that he was using to pay his tuition at the University of Georgia in Athens. There is a pattern of discrimination against people who are different from whatever the norm might be at the time in this country, and facial hair is no exception.
Have you done that many times, where you make a call and talk to an employer or save someone's job?
Yeah. Most often we use social media tools, quite frankly. Sometimes we lobby directly. There was an interesting case ... a young man named Sebastian Pham, who was 16 at the time and grew a mustache and was removed from his high school class because of a policy against mustaches, and we lobbied on his behalf and were able to ultimately have the policy changed within the school district. It's called the Royse City school district in Royse City, Texas, right outside of Dallas. But ultimately we were able to have the policy overturned, and he became kind of a cult hero among his classmates.
What percent of your followers, would you say, take this seriously, lightly, or both at the same time?
I would say that probably about 30 percent of our followers take it seriously, and the rest simply enjoy the show. We purposefully try to use a great sense of humor in promoting the mustache, because ultimately our goal is to bring the mustache further back into popular culture, and if humor is the vehicle that we use to get there and it's ultimately successful, then we are still pleased. We've still accomplished our goal.
Can you tell me a little bit about the 'Stache Bash?
Really kind of a circus, an annual celebration of the Mustached American people and lifestyle, where we try to have a tremendous amount of music and fun, and essentially it's a five hour festival, and we also award the Robert Goulet Memorial Mustached American of the Year honor, which is voted upon on our site.
Are there any early frontrunners or darkhorses for The Goulet in 2010, even though you've just opened up nominations?
Yeah, there's a couple that I can think of. One would be [Minnesota Twins pitcher] Carl Pavano. Carl Pavano grew a mustache this year and has had one of the best seasons of his career after being thought of as washed up and, really, soon to be out of baseball. It's really once again demonstrated that the ultimate performance enhancer is indeed the mustache on the athletic playing field. I would say another would be Dr. John Yeutter, who is a professor at Northeastern State University in Oklahoma. He's a finance professor, in fact he wrote our tax white paper...so those are two. He actually came in second last year to Clay Zevada.
You know, I haven't heard a lot of rumblings about [U.S. Attorney General] Eric Holder again, but I think he's still a very viable candidate, if only because he's the first Mustached American attorney general since 1946--Francis Biddle, I believe.
What are the trends in mustaches these days?
They're definintely going up still. We started to see a slow rise just in the last ten years, whereas in 2000, only about 17 percent of American males wore mustaches. Now we are in the low 30s--33, 32 percent--and a lot of it is fueled by a couple things. One of them is millenials looking for a new way to express themselves instead of a tattoo.
What about style? What mustache styles are popular now?
You see a pretty broad array. The Chevron style, which is often seen on police officers--in fact, 98 percent of all law enforcement agencies issue them along with badges and guns and things like that--but you've seen a lot of times Chevron style, but accentuated by other aspects, like a little bit of chin coverage, so you've seen kind of a broad array of styles. And we're also seeing the Fu Manchu come back a lot.
Are there any regional divergences on mustache style or growth rate?
You definitely see the Chevron style ... more often in the South. And you tend to see more Goatees on the coasts.
Is there a leading country or world region in mustaches?
Germany tends to be very strong. Europe is much stronger. The Handlebar Club is based there. But Americans have really come back in facial hair in recent years. The U.S. beard and mustache team has done extraordinarily well in some of the world beard and mustache games, but I think Europe has generally been much stronger. You also tend to see them in the Middle East. To a man, if you look at a picture of Middle Eastern men, generally 90 percent of them have mustaches.
Are we talking mustaches or beards?
Generally mustaches. If you look--especially Iraqis. Look at Saddam Hussein's Cabinet before he was taken out of office.
You brought up Germany.
Hitler had a mustache.
Was that almost the end of mustaches?
Not mustaches, but it was interesting how it coincided with a change in American culture as well, because in the early part of the 20th century, up until World War II, mustaches were very popular in the U.S., but World War II was, unlike some wars, a very popular war, because it wasn't a war of aggression ... we were defending ourselves after being attacked. So when soldiers came back from the war, very clean cut obviously because they had been as soldiers, in the '40s and '50s that kind of became part of the cultural norm, where American men had short, trimmed-cut hair with very little facial hair.
Now, as we started getting into the hippie movement of the '60s, that slowly started to change, but the way that it happened to coincide with Adolf Hitler's infamous mustache and soldiers coming back from the war, and generally being clean cut, has always been rather interesting and a transitional period for facial hair in the U.S.
The voicemail message of the American Mustache Institute references the sexually adventurous lifestyle of the Mustached American. Is there a one-to-one correlation between mustaches and sexual adventurism?
There is a sexual dynamic between people who have entered the Mustached American lifestyle and the pleasure that they are able to provide to their partners, that only the Mustached American is capable of, and those that are not capable of living a Mustached American lifestyle, or are unwilling for some reason, can never quite understand that dynamic, but again it goes beyond our sexual proclivities and more to a full, broad lifestlye.
What is your personal favorite mustache of all time?
I would say that I believe the most influential mustache of all time to be Walter Cronkite, because he influenced a decade of mustache fashion in America, and when he left, the mustache essentially was on life support in this country. I also have great admiration for Dr. Martin Luther King, who really inspired black America to be very consistent with its support of a Mustached American lifestyle to this day, dating back to when he was a civil rights leader, as well as someone like Burt Reynolds, who has really been a stalwart in our community.
Do you have a personal favorite mustache aesthetically, apart from historical significance?
I have always been a big fan of former major league pitcher Al Hrabosky. Al, when he was playing, wore a Fu Manchu mustache that was so intense that it could strip paint, lead paint, off a windowsill, and he had a personality to match it, and I have always been kind of taken by old photos of Al's mustache. I would also say Robert Goulet is also a personal favorite, which is one of the reasons we named the Robert Goulet Mustached American of the year award after him.
Have you noticed that one of your Mustaches that Changed History, Ron Burgundy, was basically Will Ferell's impression of Robert Goulet? He did it on Saturday Night Live, and he basically rolled that impression over into Ron Burgundy in the same way that he rolled over his George W. Bush impression into Talladega Nights.
It was kind of an amalgamation of Robert Goulet and some of the old school newsmen of the '70s, and as a former journalism student, I was very aware of what he was trying to accomplish and achieve in that role, so I was always very taken by it and very impressed by it.
Do you think that a mustache would improve President Obama's approval rating?
I think so. I think that it would really help bridge the gap with some of the more moderate Republicans, and even some of the Tea Party Republicans, in that they would understand the intensity of his resolve to come a little bit further to the right to find that middle ground that right now our political system is so sorely in need of.
What needs to happen for the mustache to make its emergence or reemergence into mainstream fashion, and when do you think that will happen?
I think we've seen inklings of it when celebrities, sadly, have donned mustaches. People like Brad Pitt and George Clooney, because we tend to be a very celebrity-driven culture, and when celebrities take on an aspect of fashion, we tend to follow it in great numbers. I think millenials were already kind of flocking to the Mustached American lifestyle, and then you had people like Daniel Day Lewis, who became the first mustached Best Actor award winner in 11 years when he won for Daniel Plainview [in "There Will Be Blood"] in 2007, immediately followed by George Clooney and Brad Pitt wearing mustaches.
Then we had some political mustaches enter the fray with David Axelrod and Eric Holder, so I think we had leaders and celebrities who had adopted a mustached lifestyle that were very much in the forefront of the media, and I think it began a very strong movement along with organizations like ours and Movember [see here] that encouraged mustache growth or mustache growth for philanthopy, so I think organizationally and from a celebrity perspective we've started to see that sea change coming, but we're not there yet.
More specifically, I do think it's going to take one of those cross-generational personalities--who somehow has touched both grandfathers, fathers, and college students--to adopt a Mustached American lifestyle that's really going to start to push us more fully in what we would consider to be the right direction.
What are the biggest geopolitical factors affecting mustaches right now?
There is still the perception that leaders cannot have mustaches. At least in the U.S., there are less than 30 members of Congress that wear mustaches, and unfortunately some of the people that have been deemed by Americans to be tyrants or evil, such as Saddam Hussein, have been heavily mustached. So I think that there is a perception still that Mustached Americans are incapable of leading, are incapable of being role models, are incapable of living a just life by certain sectors of our culture.
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Last Sunday the host of a popular news show asked me what it meant to lose my body. The host was broadcasting from Washington, D.C., and I was seated in a remote studio on the Far West Side of Manhattan. A satellite closed the miles between us, but no machinery could close the gap between her world and the world for which I had been summoned to speak. When the host asked me about my body, her face faded from the screen, and was replaced by a scroll of words, written by me earlier that week.
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By Heart is a series in which authors share and discuss their all-time favorite passages in literature.
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