October 11, 2012

Once just facial hair, staches now stylish

Retailers are cashing in on a fashion trend that's been growing right under their noses.

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Sarah Rabinowitz and Sydney Pearl heart mustaches.

click image to enlarge

Sarah Rabinowitz, top, and Sydney Pearl, sixth-graders at Falmouth Middle School, are heavily into the mustache craze and say they regularly wear fake staches to school. They own T-shirts, magnets, wallets, duct tape and other items with a mustache theme.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

20120927_Mustaches
click image to enlarge

Rachel McDonald, public relations intern at the Portland Museum of Art, left, and Glenda McKertich and Matthew Lorello, both visitor experience associates, ham it up around the Winslow Homer souvenirs display while wearing mustaches similar to those of the Maine artist.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

MUSTACHES AT THE MUSEUM

A wide variety of mustache merchandise -- some designed by Might & Main -- is being sold in the Portland Museum of Art gift shop in connection with an exhibit of work by the famous mustachioed artist Winslow Homer and the reopening of Homer's studio on Prouts Neck to public tours. Images of the products are online.

Homer Hat and 'Stache Onesie: Silkscreened onesie, printed here in Portland.
Designed for the PMA by Might & Main. $22

Winslow Homer Nodder (aka Bobblehead)
: Designed for the PMA by Might & Main.
$32

Homer Hat and 'Stache Stainless Steel Bookmark
: Made in the USA by Pink
Tank. Designed for the PMA by Might & Main. $12.95

Winslow's Whiskers: Designed for the PMA by Might & Main. $3.95

Mustache Eraser: produced by Kikkerland. $1

MUSTACHE MANIA

Images of mustaches appear as style elements today on everything from jewelry and gift wrap to drink stirrers and bandages. Here’s some of the stache stuff sold at Cool As a Moose stores in Portland, Freeport, Brunswick and Bar Harbor:

Stylish mustaches, $9.99

Mustache candy, $5.99

Mustache bandages, $5.99

Mustache ornament, $6.99

Mustache ice cube tray, $12.99

Mustache and monocle bamboo bag, $9.99

Mustache gift wrap, $4.99

Mustache lollipops, $4.99

Car/fridge mustache magnet, $14.99

The Falmouth Middle School sixth-graders have images of the traditionally male facial embellishments on T-shirts, ink presses, key chains, magnets, wallets, duct tape and, thanks to fake mustaches, their own upper lips.

They can get all that mustache stuff because merchandise makers around the world seriously heart mustaches as well this year. At least, they love the money to be made ($25 for a set of four mustache drink stirrers at Pottery Barn!) in what has become a full-blown mustache merchandise craze.

Go online, go into any Portland gift shop, go to the Maine Mall and even the Portland Museum of Art, and you'll learn what Sarah and Sydney and their middle school classmates have known for a while: The mustache as a style element is a very hot commodity.

"We started joking about mustaches last year, and then we saw some of the stuff in catalogs and thought it was funny," said Sarah, 11, who has made herself a wallet out of mustache duct tape. "Sydney and I started making things with mustaches, and lots of other people did too."

Sydney remembers classmates selling mustache merchandise last year at her school's student store. Soon after that, she bought cookie cutters in mustache shapes at the mall.

Sydney's mom, Jodi Pearl, thought her daughter and friends were relatively isolated in their mustache mania -- until she started seeing stache stuff in her daily life.

"I saw all these kids making mustache things, and I was like, 'What's going on?' " said Pearl. "Then I was in a restaurant and saw these mustache coasters."

As with any fashion trend, the big question is why.

In this case, the answer is big -- as in, there's no quick way to answer. Like many fashion trends, the image of a mustache on merchandise has sort of evolved over the years.

Mustache aficionados say the origins of mustache merchandise mania can probably be traced to the resurgence of actual mustaches a few years ago, after they had been out of favor for years.

Hipsters started growing mustaches because they weren't popular -- which, of course, made them popular. Then lots of groups started "grow a mustache" events as fundraisers.

"I think it traces back about five years, when we saw a rise in mustaches -- they were uncool one day and hip the next. Then they started becoming part of all these charitable movements," said Aaron Perlut, chairman of the American Mustache Institute, a 47-year-old organization dedicated to the promotion of the mustache and mustache-wearer equality.

"As there's been this global effort to bring back the mustache, there's been a lot of media attention to the mustache as fashion and sort of a retro symbol," Perlut said. "Then this trickled down to people creating humor T-shirts and other merchandise, and then bigger stores like Walmart and Target started selling the stuff too."

Trendy mustache stuff for middle schoolers at Walmart? Is that the way to live better?

"We know our customers trust us to have the items they want. ... We offer mustache images on many different items from duct tape to costume jewelry and much more," Debbie Wishon of Walmart Media Relations wrote in an email responding to questions about stache stuff.

Wishon said the trend "is gaining in popularity and we are ready to meet our customers' desires with a diverse collection of mustache-themed items, saving our customers money so they can live better lives."

The mustache merchandise trend has really taken off in the past year or so. Buyers for Maine-based Cool As a Moose stores began seeing all sorts of items with mustaches at trade shows and in vendor catalogs in fall 2011, said Karen Gauer, one of the buyers.

(Continued on page 2)

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