A Gentleman's Hair Treatment

"A well-groomed moustache means that you're a cool Daddy-O -- a man making the scene." - Frankie Fortsleeper

"Being kissed by a man who didn't wax his moustache was like eating an egg without salt" - The Gadsbys, Rudyard Kipling.

Back in the day, the handlebar moustache was the thing. Sweeping curves from the top lip, reminscent of British Army types, Dick Dastardly and Snidely Whiplash. But how did they keep their unruly whiskers in place? Magic? No, it was a pomade called moustache wax.

For a while following the middle of the 19th century (between 1870 and 1920), the handlebar was all the rage in Europe, and various products were formulated to help these men construct and control their "hirsute appendage of the upper lip, with graspable extremities". As the fashion spread throughout India, it was taken up by many people, and nowadays, the good old handlebar is evident in many places - wherever men are proud of their facial hair. Vanity, when appealed to, must answer, and many companies are making waxes, even though it is painfully easy to make one's own.

The prime ingredient of these ointments is wax, usually beeswax, and the mixture is frequently blended with a perfuming agent, and is used not just to style the moustache, but protect the whiskers - presumably to prevent split ends. As moustache growers are proud of their facial ornamentation, they want to ensure good growth as well as style.

Rolling your own Moustache Wax

There are probably as many recipes for good moustache wax as there are people making them, but I have chosen a few from a variety of places.

The first is introduced as a "Hungarian Pomade for the Moustache":

"Melt by a gentle heat ½ pound gum-arabic, and ½ pound of oil soap, in 1 pint rose water, then add 1 pound white wax, constantly stirring. When of a uniform consistency, add 1 ounce attar of bergamot, and ½ drachm attar of thyme, for perfume."
The quantities involved are tremendous, and unless you have an entire tribe of moustache-wielders, you may want to scale the amount down some. Others have used a mixture of waxes and petroleum products, thus:
"I melt ½ pound of bees wax in a double boiler, when it is completely liquid, I add approximately 4 ounces of white petroleum jelly. The same stuff you put on a baby's bottom. We call it Vaseline..."
Others have used cheaper and simpler alternatives, including toilet seal waxes ("This wax has no odour, spreads colourless, and does not cause potty mouth...") old-fashioned hard soap and white glue.

Finally, one blend developed by Bud Peppers, a member of the Handlebar Club (yes there is a club...)

  • Gum Arabic
  • Murphy Oil Soap
  • Beeswax
  • Flat bottom stainless steel serving dish approx. 6" wide 10" long (oval)
  • Stainless steel spatula
  • Small glass jar (to melt wax in)
  • Small container with tight fitting cap for finished product
Melt the wax in a jar standing in warm water, and mix a teaspoon of powdered gum arabic and one of soap to two teaspoons of water in the dish. Gently heat the gum mixture, taking care that it is not too hot to touch. While still warm, add 2 teaspoons molten bees wax, stirring constantly while continuing to hold over heat. When of a uniform consistency let it cool to room temperature.

Add several drops of your favorite scented oil (if desired) and shear the solidified mass against the bottom of the stainless steel dish with the stainless steel mixing spatula to create a smooth and thick cream. Slowly and in small quantities add water to this mix, continuing slowly while still shearing until the desired consistency is reached. It will create a light water-soluble paste. Store tightly capped to avoid evaporation of water.

Rolling your own Moustache

Now to use it! Only you will know how to form the desired shape, but the application is the same no matter what the end result is to be. The secret, apparently, is to work the wax slowly into the whiskers, at the same time massaging the skin to promote new growth.

As a result, you will want to ensure that the wax and the moustache itself are ready for action. After your ablutions, groom the moustache with a comb. Take a quantity of wax on each index finger, and rub your thumbs and index fingers together - this warms the wax ready for application. Next, apply the wax evenly to both sides of the moustache, starting at the roots and working outward.

If you are fortunate enough to have a moustache longer than a couple of inches, you may need to make more than one application, until the whole moustache is sufficiently well coated from lip to tip. Finally, make certain that there is no excess wax on your face or fingers before applying the final grooming with your comb and fingertips.

Just as a final thought, this may also apply to other facial hair or body hair that you wish to sculpt. I'll draw the line at whiskers and sideburns, though.

Inspired by a gentleman by the name of Ronald, met today in Nottingham