The Martial Moustache of Masculinity

I found the following story in Bradley Deane’s Masculinity and the New Imperialism (2014).

In the newly emerging field of masculinity studies, there has been some interesting work done on the role of facial hair in defining certain types of masculinity (especially in the nineteenth century). While there were many factors which contributed to magnificent beards like these


one of the main things that brought beards into fashion and redefined styles of masculinity was British Imperialism, especially in India.

Deane writes that the stylishness of the moustache, especially on military men like Baden-Powell, “owes a great deal to the example set by Indian men. In the late eighteenth century […] Tipu, the Sultan of Mysore, commemorated his victory over East India Company troops with a mural designed to emphasize, in Indian terms, the effeminacy of the British:

“‘Without exception,’ Colley writes, ‘Tipu and his turbaned armies are shown all sporting beards or moustaches,’ but the British soldiers are depicted as ‘conspicuously and invariably clean-shaven. Neatly side-burned, with doe-like eyes, raised eyebrows, and pretty pink lips, they have been painted to look like girls, or at least creatures who are not fully male.’

“Whether British soldiers dreaded the contempt of Indian men or simply admired the masculine style, they were keen to appropriate this Indian sign of virility for themselves. In the 1850s, after years of prohibitions against them, moustaches were made compulsory for British soldiers in the Bombay Presidency, and were, according to Piers Brendon, ‘enthusiastically adopted elsewhere’ in the subcontinent, and continued to grow in popularity over the following decades. Brendon argues that ‘the moustache became the emblem of empire'” (55-56).

And it’s true–if you look back at sculptures and portraits of British male figures from the eighteenth century, almost all of them are clean-shaven. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve seen a single one with facial hair. But as the second wave of British empire exploded in the nineteenth century, so did beards. They exploded. They exploded everywhere.

Here is a portrait of Tipu, Sultan of Mysore, with his Moustache of Virility front and center:
And virile he was, for he had several wives and at least 16 children.

I attempted to find images of the mural he had commissioned (which I assume is the one on the wall in his palace), but all the images were too far away to show any detail. If anyone has any close-ups, please let me know!

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One Response to The Martial Moustache of Masculinity

  1. Pingback: BizarreVictoria: Celebrating 3 Years | BizarreVictoria

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