When it comes to mustaches, Nick Callanan thinks some deep thoughts.

“The ‘stache is rooted in the soul,” says Callanan, founder of Portland’s 4-year-old mustache contest known as Stache Pag. “The whole thing is really about expression. The way a ‘stache grows reflects the man who is wearing it.”

The idea for Stache Pag came out of the brains of a bunch of young men — Callanan and his friends — trying to alleviate the boredom of a long Maine winter and, perhaps not surprisingly, involved alcohol.

They decided to grow mustaches during the winter of 2008. Then they decided to have a little get-together in a bar to see whose ‘staches were best. From there, Stache Pag has grown to an annual event that has drawn as many as 60 contestants and 360 spectators.

During the past four years, Callanan and his friends, which includes his brother Zeke, have spent a lot of time growing the event while growing their own mustaches and continuing to think deep thoughts about the mustache and its many wondrous qualities.

“My mustache makes me more approachable. With its curled-up handlebars, it naturally looks like I’m smiling,” said Jamin Badger, 35, of Portland, who will be entering Stache Pag for the third straight year. “On a recent trip to Disney World, I caught people taking pictures of it. I didn’t mind, of course.”

This year’s Stache Pag is scheduled for Friday at Port City Music Hall. Stache Pag organizers are also holding the International Moustache Film Festival at Deering Grange Hall on Saturday, with short films about ‘staches and ‘stache wearers from all over the world. (For more info on the film festival, see Page E14.)

The Stache Pag has gotten so big, Callanan said, that this year it has a national sponsor, Progressive Insurance. Progressive uses a mustached man with some serious ’70s swagger as one of its pitchmen, so it apparently made sense to the company.

“This is a national company that sought us out and thought the event was in good taste and wanted to be a part of it,” said Callanan, 32, who runs a video services company in Portland called No Umbrella Media.

The “good taste” part could be questioned, at least slightly, when one looks over the names of the mustache categories people can enter. One is called “The Thigh Tickler,” and let’s just say it’s not referring to a ‘stache that’s so long it tickles the wearer’s thigh.

Callanan says The Thigh Tickler is basically a freestyle category where the shape or style doesn’t really matter. The other categories are more precise.

“The Uncle Rico,” for instance, has to be thin and scruffy like the ‘stache of the slimy Uncle Rico character in the comedy film “Napoleon Dynamite.” “The Magnum P.I.” has to be thick and full, and will be judged against the majesty of Tom Selleck’s facial hair when he starred in the television drama of the same name.

And the “1899 Maine Legislature” category is for styles popular at the end of the 19th century, including the handlebar and the horseshoe ‘stache.

The Stache Pag is all about celebrating mustaches and those who wear them. So the evening will begin at 7 p.m. with a “private” party just for contestants, who can sign up that night, as well as judges and people who pay for $20 VIP tickets.

During this time, there will be music, drinks and milling about. There will also be a special screening of footage from the mustache film festival. And the judges — all women — will be measuring, feeling and otherwise getting a good look at the mustaches before the pageant begins.

Which begs the question: Do any contestants have a problem with their ‘staches being handled in such a way?

“The judges are typically female, and females can always touch it,” said Wayne Daniels, 65, of Cape Elizabeth. Daniels said he won the “Magnum P.I.” category a couple of years ago and felt “like a rock star.” So of course, he continues to enter.

At 9:30 p.m., the general public — those who paid $10 for tickets — can enter, and the pageant will begin.

The contest will be like a fashion show or beauty pageant, with the contestants in each category taking to the stage one at a time. Each will have the spotlight to himself for about five seconds.

The judges will then pick finalists, who will strut their stuff again in “special” competitions that Callanan said are better seen than described. Finally, crowd applause decides the overall winners.

There will be trophies and all sorts of prizes for contestants, including T-shirts, a grooming guide and passes to the Portland Museum of Art. Money raised goes to various charities.

But the real prize, Callanan and others say, is the fun, camaraderie and pride that comes from making such a big deal out of a little hair on one’s lip.

“We are seeing a resurgence in the popularity of the mustache, and we can’t help but claim the bulk of that,” said Callanan. “We want to offer men with mustaches some support in this mustache-hostile world.”

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at [email protected]

Twitter: @RayRouthier


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