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’.
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.
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.
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.
— Dr Stephen Gapps, Curator