To the Victorian gentleman, a hairy upper lip was an essential accessory. The mustache was an affectation the most flattering to the vanity of the young. With it, the boy feels himself a man. It helps him to look old and the look of age is useful in business and inspires confidence. The youth of twenty one looks thirty with a mustache and without it he would look sixteen.
However, the mustache was, in this socially-conscious society, the prerogative of the gentleman. Menservants were required to be clean-shaven, and in contrast to the ornate beards and mustaches worn by the officers of the day, which complemented their rank and age, subalterns and lesser ranks made do with much simpler styles.
For an officer to shave his mustache would be treated like a breach of discipline and in the gentlemen’s clubs of St James’s, to appear with a naked upper lip was as unacceptable as forgetting to put on your trousers!
The mustache also had its attractions for ladies. In the 1880s, Rudyard Kipling wrote of a woman who complained that being kissed by a man who did not wax his mustache was like eating an egg without salt.
These mustaches were pampered: they were trimmed, brushed, combed, dyed, and even curled up at the ends. Great gobs of wax were melted and then applied to the mustache to keep the curls intact. Everything from mustache curlers to wax to snoods (that kept your mustache safe during the night) to modified mugs with a special pierced rim or little bars across known as “mustache lifters” were invented over the course of the nineteenth century to cultivate the requisite sartorial distinction associated with it.
Below is a collection of 40 fascinating portraits of handsome Victorian men with mustache: