That's one special 'stache! Erlanger native takes top prize in worldwide facial hair competition

ERLANGER, Ky. - Some may consider the moustache the "little brother" of the full beard. For Erlanger native Patrick Fette, it's an art form that deserves respect.

Now a Louisville resident, Fette holds the 2013 first place title for an "English-style moustache." The World Beard and Moustache Championships  has a category for this specialized 'stache. Not only did Fette take first place in his category, he got a perfect score of 50--a rare feat, according to Beard Team USA Captain Phil Olsen.

Growing a moustache has not always been Fette's forte, though. Until recently he actually struggled to grow facial hair. 

'Stache growth spurt

Growing up, Fette had an avid interest in the American Civil War and enjoyed learning about it in school. One thing that particularly intrigued him about the period was the popularity of facial hair and the various styles that were in fashion.

“I always wanted to grow facial hair. But, I couldn’t grow substantial facial hair until I was 25,” he said.

The online sales and marketing professional started growing his moustache in the summer of 2011. Someone noticed his handlebars one day and suggested he join a facial hair club and consider entering competitions.

Until then, Fette was unaware that facial hair clubs and competitions existed. Upon doing some research, he found out about an upcoming championship, and in the spring of 2012, he entered his first one in Philadelphia.

He “got hooked” and began to pick up steam as he entered more competitions. He began to groom his facial hair to perfect a certain look.

The English-style moustache

Fette, 27, has grown his moustache 14 inches since 2011. When worn English style, it is parted in the middle and comes straight out to both sides in a long, thin line.

To get it right, he first combs it to make sure there are no tangles. He then uses one type of wax, which is good for bringing all the hairs together. He applies the wax, rolling the hair between his fingers. Then, he coats his moustache with another, tackier wax. The second wax helps create a good, solid hold--keeping the moustache in place.

It takes about an hour to an hour and a half to get his moustache just right.

Fette said he typically only wears his moustache English style for special occasions, such as competitions, because it can get in the way and bump into other people. When not competing, he wears his moustache naturally or styles it in a circle. (Photos: Below, left, provided by P. Fette. Below, right by Glen Hallissy)

Making an impression

While having perfectly styled facial hair can help a contestant place well in a competition, one must look good overall to make an impression on judges.

"A lot of times, people don't realize it's not just about doing a style or doing your own thing, but about looking good," Fette said.

The World Beard and Moustache Championships are judged subjectively; basically, whomever the judges like best tend to score highest, Olsen said.

For the championships, Fette sought help at Costume Gallery in Newport, where owners Joy and Elizabeth Galbraith supplied a Civil War era costume to complete his look.

A history of facial hair

Facial hair has gone in and out of fashion over the centuries. Call it part of the circle of life.

According to Beard Team USA  captain Olsen, it was popular around Europe during the middle ages. That popularity waned in the 1600s, when the clean-shaved look was big. In fact, Emperor Peter I of Russia instituted a beard tax in the 1700s.

Beards again came back into style during the mid-1800s, particularly around the time of the American Civil War. With the invention of the safety razor in 1880, the clean-shaven look made a comeback. Facial hair made a brief resurgence in the 1970s before passing out of style again. It came back in style in the 1990s, and many believe that its popularity has continued to increase since.

“Men of all ages are growing out their beards and experimenting with different styles," Olsen said.

Remember Movember? Men around the Tri-State (and, in fact, around the world) grew facial hair in "No-shave November" as a way to raise awareness about men's health issues . You may know a man who decided to keep going--and growing.

Are beards in or out? Opinions vary: On April 15, none other than The Guardian warned that beards may have peaked in popularity . Closer to home, a January 13 Columbus Dispatch headline proclaimed, "Beards growing in popularity among men."

A hairy trend

Fette believes safety razor marketing contributed significantly to the decline in facial hair popularity toward the end of the 1800s and for most of the 1900s.

"I think it's been ingrained in our culture and safety razor marketing that to be a man, you have to be clean shaven," he said.

The recent increase in facial hair popularity is "a difficult phenomenon to explain," Olsen said.

Fette believes beards have become more socially acceptable, leading more men to grow them. Olsen

suggested men have long been pressured by women to shave their facial hair.

"I think men are realizing they want to look like men. They're no longer bowing to pressure from the women in their lives," Olsen said.

Facial hair competitions may play a role as well. Although claims have been made that the World Beard and Moustache Championships date back to the 1970s in Italy, the first known event was organized in Hoefen/Enz, Germany in 1990 by the First Hoefner Beard Club. A second event was held in 1995 in Pforzheim, Germany. Since then, the championships have taken place every two years in various cities in Germany, Sweden, Norway, England and the United States.

The 2013 World Beard and Moustache Championships took place in Leinfelden-Echterdingen, Germany and drew about 330 contestants representing 30 countries and competing in 18 categories.

An expression of individuality

Nearly three years after he began growing his moustache, Fette feels "weird" without facial hair, when he has to shave it. He still is unable to grow a beard, but he sometimes sports a goatee.

While ability plays a role for some, the decision to grow a beard, moustache--or both--comes down to a personal preference for most men, he said.

"It's a unique, fun way to express individuality," Fette said.

His advice for men considering growing facial hair or entering contests is to be themselves and not worry about what others think.

"If you want to grow a beard, grow a beard. My moustache wouldn't be 14 inches long if I let people telling me I looked goofy stop me from growing it out," he said.

Look for more WCPO Beard Week stories through Saturday!

Connect with WCPO Contributor Roxanna Swift on Twitter: @r0xiehart

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