Maritime Moustaches

Able Seaman Thomas Fleming Walker in the uniform of the New South Wales Naval Brigade circa 1900. ANMM Collection 00054875. Gift from John Walker.

Able Seaman Thomas Fleming Walker in the uniform of the New South Wales Naval Brigade circa 1900. ANMM Collection 00054875. Gift from John Walker.

Moustaches were big in the late 19th century. Really big.

As the wielder of a reasonably large moustache, I thought I might look into the museum’s collection of photographs and see how many and what sorts of moustaches are there. My hunch was correct – there are hundreds and hundreds of them. From nice thick ‘chevrons’, to the simple ‘English style’, to the classic ‘handlebar’ and even a few ‘walrus’ and ‘toothbrushes’. So I thought I would create a display of Maritime Moustaches in time for that important event every year – Movember!

Hair-raising questions

Was there a particular ‘maritime style’ though? After looking at quite a few moustaches of sea captains, stewards, engineers and crew, I could not see one that differed from the general facial hair trends. There do appear to be differences between the officers of ships and their crews that probably reflect available time and money as much as an effort to impress. The waxing and curling and general care of outrageous moustaches was expensive.

Unidentified man with a moustache (and beard). Samuel J Hood Studio ANMM Collection 00036910.

Unidentified man with moustache (and beard). Samuel J Hood Studio ANMM Collection 00036910.

Still, the more hirsute average sailor could certainly have a large drooping walrus moustache and a captain might go for the short and simple toothbrush style made famous by Charlie Chaplin and infamous by Adolf Hitler.

Unidentified man with a 'toothbrush' moustache. Photographer William James Hall ANMM Collection 00013206.

Unidentified man with a ‘toothbrush’ moustache. Photographer William James Hall ANMM Collection 00013206.

The stache makes the ‘modern man’

Moustaches were linked to expressions of masculinity as much as style. In the mid-nineteenth century beards and sideburns were all the rage and apparently outward signs of virility and good health. By the 1880s, the introduction of personal safety razors gave expression to the more creative moustache style – and a very ‘modern man’.

While there were obvious trends in moustaches, whiskers and beards during the 19th and 20th centuries, trying to date a photograph or painting by facial hair styles is not always easy. Individual styles change and get recycled constantly.

An exhibition of moustaches!

From 18 November throughout the summer a display of the museum’s extraordinary moustaches will be on show. There will also be something for the Mo Sistas and others who might not have an actual moustache. A Moustache Testing Device is available for everyone to see what they might look like with a hairy face. Take a picture using the  Device and don’t forget to tag #MaritimeMoustaches

Here is a selection of just some of the many moustachioed figures in the National Maritime Collection.

 

Possibly 'Strongman' Stephen P Cohen. ANMM Collection ANMS1032[014]_01, donated through the Australian Government Cultural Gifts Program by the Williams family, descendants of Beatrice Kerr.

Possibly ‘Strongman’ Stephen P Cohen. ANMM Collection ANMS1032[014]_01, donated through the Australian Government Cultural Gifts Program by the Williams family, descendants of Beatrice Kerr.

— Dr Stephen Gapps, Curator

Maritime Moustaches opens 18 November and is part of the FREE galleries ticket. Why not explore our collection for more vintage fashion inspiration and marvellous ‘staches.

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