CINCINNATI -- Thirty years ago, one of the greatest mustaches in the world was born.
Back then, Phil Jones was a doorman the Omni Netherland Plaza hotel, known today as the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza. Jones said he was inspired to start growing a mustache because it seemed to complement the old-world charm of his doorman uniform.
The general manager of the hotel took note of Jones' mustache and suggested that he start shaping it with wax. Jones took his manager's advice and soon the meticulously curled mustache started to get quite a reputation at the hotel.
"When I was at the hotel the comment cards would come back, 'the guy with the mustache,' 'the dude with the handlebars,' " said Jones.
His mustache even got a royal commendation.
"I had the privilege of being the personal doorman to Prince Charles," said Jones. "And when Prince Charles says, 'You have a wonderful mustache,' you tell the rest of the world you're not shaving ever again."
Jones has been sporting a magnificent mustache ever since.
Jones, aka "Taxi Phil," has taken his famous mustache even further as the president of the Beard Barons, a facial hair enthusiast club based here in Cincinnati.
The Beard Barons began in 2012 after four of the future members met at a beard competition in Columbus. There were eight people at the first meeting; now, the society counts 55 members.
"We had tried other clubs in the area but nothing really clicked until this one," said Jones. "I think the right group of people finally got together. We all just meshed. It was just perfect."
Although the club is based in Cincinnati, members travel from as far as Brown County and Hillsboro to attend meetings. The Beard Barons hold their meetings within the 275 loop, preferring to patronize locally owned businesses like Mac's Pizza Pub in Fairfax and Madison Bowl in Oakley.
"It's the niche that we've found," said Jones. "We're a bunch of outcasts that have finally found a home."
The love and friendship within the club is evident. Jones said that the Beard Barons have consistently helped their fellow members in times of need.
"Someone broke into one of our friend's truck and stole all his tools," said Jones.
Once the club knew of their bearded friend's misfortune via social media, the members started fundraising on his behalf.
"He had the money to replace all of his tools within hours," said Jones.
Jeremy Sharp, the Beard Baron's media and marketing expert, got involved with the group after meeting Jones at a Movember fundraising event at Rhinegeist. Movember is an annual event where men grow mustaches to raise awareness for men's health issues such as prostate cancer.
"A man with a huge handlebar mustache comes up to the stage and says, 'Hey there, I'm Taxi Phil,' " said Sharp. "I was already doing charitable work and growing facial hair, so the dominoes just started to fall."
Sharp said he was impressed with the magnitude and generosity of the facial hair community.
"When 700 outcasts come to an event, you're not really an outcast anymore," said Sharp.
As Sharp began to get more involved with the Beard Barons, his wife, Margo, started to take an interest as well. Though the name suggests the club is distinctly masculine, the membership is actually split 50/50 -- half men, half women.
"This is a family thing for our club," Margo Sharp said. "Women are involved in this club. Women sometimes run the club. You've got these great beards and we're there to support them."
Competition is one of the most important components of the facial hair community. Not only does competition push members creatively, but the events give people a chance to make friends all over the world. Clubs and organizations from around the globe host events where people can compete.
"When I went to my first competition, I realized I'm not the only freak out there. There's a bunch of us out there walking around like this," Jones said.
This year, 20 members of the Beard Barons went to Austin, Texas, to compete in the World Beard and Moustache Championships (WBMC). The Barons garnered many awards at the competition, including Best in Show for Jason Kiley's freestyle beard. The freestyle category gives competitors the chance to get really creative with their facial hair, molding their beards into symmetrical curlicues or even decorate masks.
"For freestyle mustache, I'm third in the world," Jones said.
Every year the Beard Barons host their own competition called the Big Whisker Revival at the Southgate House Revival in Newport. The Big Whisker Revival features 14 different categories.
"To give a few examples of categories, we gauge facial hair by length, style, mustache, no mustache," Sharp said. "Then you can have specific categories like goatee, chops and whalers."
Women have a chance to compete, too. Competitions often feature female categories for most realistic fake beard and most creative beard. Women craft their beards out of a variety of materials including human hair, feathers and other strange things.
"When the women's category hits the stage, you don't know what to expect," said Margo Sharp. "All of a sudden this woman walked out in a full Cruella de Vil outfit with a beard made out of Dalmatian beanie babies. I was thrown -- it was so beautiful and so off the wall crazy."
Like other competitive sports and hobbies, people with a winning track record can be sponsored by beard balm and beard oil companies. Corporate sponsorship comes with perks like paid competition admission and comped travel and hotels for competitive events.
"The beard balm and oil industry is huge right now," Margo Sharp said. "So instead of a beard model, you become a beard ambassador for different brands."
"When I first started growing my mustache, there was one wax, Clubman's," Jones, who still uses Clubman's to this day, said. "Now we can go to one event and there's fifty different flavors of mustache wax."
Competitions also allow clubs to support their favorite charities. Jones and the Sharps both emphasize that charity is one of the biggest reasons why the Beard Barons exist. The group proudly supports One Way Farm Children's Home in Fairfield, an organization that provides a home for children who have suffered abuse and neglect. So far this year the Beard Barons have raised approximately $7,500 for the nonprofit.
"We prefer a small, local charity," Jones said. "To them, $7,500 is a lot of money and they can do a lot of things with the kids."
The Beard Barons and Baronesses hope to continue spreading their message of charitable giving, fun and acceptance.
"One of the reasons this started was to show people that just because we have facial hair doesn't mean that we're bums or losers," said Jones. "We're just people."
"You learn as you go out in the world that you have to find beauty in everything," said Sharp. "People have stereotyped people with beards or a mustache. They might be seen as outcasts, they might be seen as freakish, but they're so genuine and good-hearted. This community says there are some beautiful people out there."