November is special for the First City Troop. Not only is it the month of our unit’s 1774 founding, it’s also “Movember,” an annual event when mustaches are grown to raise awareness for issues of men’s health and suicide.
As old photos attest, mustaches were exceedingly popular among First City Troopers during the “wild years” of the 1970s and early 80s. This begs two questions. Was the Troop mustache a product of 1960s hippy fashion? Or was it part of a deeper military tradition? The answer is probably “yes” to both.
A lazy internet search reveals that military facial hair was common during the Troop’s 19th century glory years, and that its origins where probably British. Between 1860 and 1916, British Army uniform regulations required every soldier to keep the hair on his head short, the chin and under lip shaved, and the upper lip free to grow as it pleased. That is, mustaches were MANDATORY. The act of shaving one’s upper lip brought disciplinary action.
The British probably adopted this custom for strategic imperial reasons. In India, bare faces were scorned as being juvenile and un-manly. In Arab countries, mustaches and beards were likewise associated with power. In France, Napoleonic armies required men to have facial hair as marks of bravery and aggression.
Americans also adopted this idea throughout the 19th century, which is why anyone who stops shaving for a long time gets a "Civil War" look to him. Military facial hair came to an abrupt end in World War I, when it became essential to keep the face cleanly shaven for gasmask seal. But beards have had a 21st century renaissance among combat and peacekeeping operators in the middle east.
For those who like word derivations, our English “mustache” comes from the French “moustache,” which came from the Italian “mostaccio," which came from the Latin “mustacium,” which came from the ancient Greek “mustax,” which means “upper lip.” As you can see, the word has been around.