The mustache has probably been around since nearly the beginning of time. Historically, we can see it dates it back to at least 2300 years ago, a time in which a serious drought of shaving tools covered the Earth, and mustache hair was yet to become anything other than just good old-fashioned facial hair.
A portrait of an Iranian horseman from 300 BC is the first record we have of a shaved man with a mustache. Much later, the book Peregrinations And Voyages, Made Into Turkie documented the first use of the English mustache in 1585, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The rest is history, as they say.
Every fashionable trend seems to be accompanied by additional equipment of one kind or another to help it along, and it’s true for the mustache as well.
These innovative mustache cups from the late 19th century, seen in the picture below, kept men’s whiskers dry for tea drinking and are a crucial part of history regarding the ‘stache.
The mugs look like any other mug one might drink tea from with one major exception. A special ledge prevented the drinker from getting his mustache wet. The 19th-century mustache was all the rage if you were a man, and wax was used to keep the hair looking groomed and in place. If you drank a cup of hot tea, you could melt that wax away and leave yourself looking a lot more like the 300 BC mustache-owner rather quickly. Waxy tea was probably not very delicious either.
These special tea cups solved all of these problems. You could find the cups in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, from dainty styles, embossed with your name, or the more rugged “farmer-style” cup that could hold a full pint of tea! You could even find cups made of silver with a saucer to match.
Historically, men have had it easier in the cosmetic department, however, the 19th century mustache was a major exception. There was further maintenance involved.
A book titled Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness, authored by Cecil B Hartley in 1860, laid out the rules about how mustaches were to be kept. “Mustaches should be ‘within limits’ and never be curled, nor pulled out to an absurd length. Still worse is it to cut them close with the scissors. The mustache should be neat and not too large,” declared Hartley.
It wasn’t until World War I that the mustache was seriously challenged as a fashionable facial hair style, and those cups were about to disappear right along with them. You can thank the British army for that. They were tired of dealing with men who struggled to care for their mustaches, and therefore they banned them completely for any enlisted man.
There were legitimate reasons for the mustache ban. A man with a mustache couldn’t get as tight of a seal around his gas mask to keep poisonous war-time chemicals from getting in. You really can’t hinder a war effort over a mustache, so just like that, the mustache virtually disappeared from the British army. Home industry also shifted to serving the troops and the war effort, and the mustache cup fell first from favor and then from sight.
Of course, you can’t hold back fashion forever, and a surge in popularity brought the mustache back in the late 1920s and early 1930s. They were now on the big screens and all over popular magazines.
But the mustache cups? Those were left behind only to be of interest to those who enjoyed history and/or antiques.