Charting the rise of the mustached-American in Baltimore

The modern mustache is a symbol of many things: confidence, culture, sex appeal, charity.

As November comes to a close, millions of men will give in and finally shave their scruffy, patchy yield from the so-called "No Shave November" rule. But millions more will go on with their neatly crafted beards and manicured lip-warmers—carrying the torches of the mustache movement that has literally raised millions of dollars for charity globally.

If glam rock and boy bands killed the mustache in the late 90s and early 2000s, these are the rock stars who are bringing the mustache back to life:

 "Right now we're sort of riding a crest … people are embracing this look," Adam Causgrove, president of the American Mustache Institute, said. "It's a very niche sub culture. …There is a community for it now."

The AMI is a non-profit "think-tank" that conducts "research" and charts trends of the mustache movement that Causgrove calls MustacheForward. Its website is dedicated to all things mustachery (their word), peppered with comedy that celebrates the mustached-American lifestyle.

"We are here to fight for the civil liberties of the mustached American," Causgrove said, referring to a study the institute conducted on mustache discrimination in the workplace. It was a cheeky update to a 1991 report on the "Effects of Cranial and Facial Hair on Perceptions of Age and Person," that was published in the  Journal of Social Psychology.

"What you're seeing now is more of an acceptance in pop culture," Causgrove said. The chairman of the institute said the resurgence of mustache style hinges the social media boom and the desire for individuality.

"With how much people are tuned-in and they're just very connected 24/7 it becomes harder and harder to stand out," Causgrove said.  The mustache thus becomes an adopted identity trait.

"You like it enough to alter your face … to something more befitting of yourself," Causgrove said.

The Pittsburgh-based institute has even gone has far as to propose a $250 tax refund for mustached-Americans, which isn't a joke. They call it the Stache Act.

Stache for cash

But when the group is not asking for money back from the Federal government, it's raising money for various charities. The group raised $2,000 without blinking an eye at its annual Stache Bash 2013 for children with motor disabilities.

"Not every mustache is worn on the face, some are worn on the heart," Causgrove said.

Baltimore is no exception to the mustache movement or its charitable arm. Not bad for a city that in 2011 wasn't even listed as an honorable mention for most mustache-friendly city, which is surprising considering two of its most iconic characters—Edgar Allen Poe and Mr. Natty Boh—both sport mustaches.

 "My mustache now is somewhat respectable. It's grown strength every year," Baltimore native and general do-gooder Adam Van Bavel said.

Van Bavel has been involved with the organization Mustaches 4 Kids Baltimore chapter for the last six years. In that time, the charity has raised $200,000 for Baltimore City classrooms—on just the premise of growing a mustache. They raised $40,000 in just four weeks of 2013.

"It's the mystique of the mustache," Van Bavel said.

That or, friends are willing to donate $5 to see their buddy suffer through a month of scraggily whisker growth.  

"The first year I did it, it was horrific. It looked like I glued shavings on my lip," Van Bavel said.

Mustaches 4 Kids Baltimore chapter is composed of about 100 members, with a core group of about 40 guys. A team from Commodore John Rodgers Elementary and Middle School in East Baltimore called the " Baltimore Growers" were actually the second highest fund-raising team nationally.

 "It's a pretty awesome statement about a mustache," Van Bavel said.

Van Bavel said he's going to keep his mustache until Dec. 3 to dovetail with the national Giving Tuesday challenge. GiveCorps, a nationally recognized charity, has orchestrated the Bmore Gives More goal of raising $5 million on Tuesday, making Baltimore the "most generous city in America."

So does the mustache make the man? Or does the man make the mustache?

"The mustache holds all of the power," Van Bavel said. "You slap a good mustache on him and you have a party animal.  You gotta give credit where credit is due."

Man makes the mustache

Although he may no longer be a party animal, Bruce Robinson is a true-blue mustached-American. The Baltimore County man has kept and groomed his trademark mustache since the 1960s.

"It's been my identity since my childhood," Robinson said.

He's been a rock n' roller, a police officer, a biker (well, motorcycle instructor) — all professions, often associated with the mustache.

When he was in his 20s, Robinson was promoted to assistant store manager of Webster Clothes in Towson Plaza because his then-boss said his beard made him look more mature. To be fair, however, that was a beard.

"It's just a part of my being. Which one came first? The man or the mustache?" Robinson said. "I think that mustaches are worn by those people that have a great deal of confidence, who don't mind being in the limelight. …"Those who wear strong mustaches are usually very self-confident and willing to step into the breach—whatever that is."

In fact, in the last 40 or so years, Robinson has only been without his mustache for a single month, the night before he resigned from the Baltimore Police Department in 1985.

"My wife looked at me when she came into the bedroom, and she said ‘ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-.' She just laughed at me," Robinson said. "That lasted for a month. …I'd shower. I'd shave. I'd look in the mirror and say ‘who is that?'"

He's kept the mustache going ever since.

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