COLUMBIA — It began with a dare. It ended with a mustache.
One late night last year, Davis Dunavin was hanging out with friends when one dared him to shave his beard and leave only a mustache. He accepted.
“I looked in the mirror and thought I looked awesome,” Dunavin, 25, said. "Really debonair."
Dunavin's mustache was widely accepted among friends, and he was often compared to Frank Zappa and John Lennon.
At the time, he was living in Brooklyn, N.Y. When he moved to Columbia last summer, he expected to shave it off. Instead, he found his mustache was accepted in the Midwest as well.
Dunavin is not alone. The mustache has been gaining popularity and recognition across Missouri. Recent mentions of the St. Louis-based American Mustache Institute on the Colbert Report and the Jay Leno Show have brought national attention to facial hair.
The mustache institute is headquartered in St. Louis because it is home to the world’s largest mustache: the Gateway Arch.
The organization brands itself as an advocacy organization with the mission of "protecting the rights of, and fighting discrimination against, mustached Americans by promoting the growth, care and culture of the mustache."
Aaron Perlut, chairman of the American Mustache Institute, said Americans have been unnecessarily harsh toward mustached men for many years. The trend peaked in the late 1970s, when men wore a perm, a good turtleneck and a mustache, Perlut said.
Celebrities and sports figures who were part of that movement include: singers David Crosby, Lionel Ritchie, George Harrison and Ringo Starr; actor Tom Selleck; and major-league baseball pitchers Rollie Fingers and Catfish Hunter.
Post-1970s, facial hair went into a decline. Now, apparently, it's on an upswing.
Perlut credits actors like Brad Pitt and George Clooney and sports figures like Brendan Ryan for helping to nudge the mustache back into the mainstream. He also attributes the resurgence to the 20-somethings who have embraced the trend.
A mustache is not permanent like a tattoo, Perlut said, adding, “It’s a simple form of expression.”
Dunavin prefers to think of his as more of a nod to the Victorian era.
“It’s a dignified, classic American look,” he said.
All of his heroes had mustaches — Albert Einstein, Mark Twain and Daniel Day Lewis. Dunavin's father and uncle have also been long-time mustache wearers.
For some it’s a trend, for others, a way of life, Dunavin said.
“For now," he says, "I have no plans of shaving.”
At MU, veterinary students hosted an event Nov. 18 to raise money for cancer by growing mustaches.
Mustaches on St. Louis Cardinals baseball players last season inspired MU seniors Elliot Hasse and Drew Roper to grow them.
Roper, 23, said it gave him an excuse, "If they can do it, I can do it."
Hasse, 23, has what he calls a Chevron-style mustache, where the hair grows down his face just slightly, near the corners of his mouth.
The two men, who run a custom T-shirt company called RadTankTops.com that features three mustache-inspired designs, said they occasionally get strange looks, but they shrug them off.
On Wednesday, Hasse and Roper will host a mustache party with proceeds to benefit prostate and testicular cancer as part of the global Movember movement.
Everyone will get an “I love Mustaches” T-shirt, and there will be a best mustache contest, Hasse said. Attendees who do not have a natural mustache will be given a fake one.
For the past four years, the mustache institute has sponsored the 'Stache Bash, an event celebrating mustached Americans. It also raises money for St. Louis Challenger Baseball, a league for kids and adults with disabilities.
On a slightly smaller scale, Lena Piazza-Leman of Columbia is taking her own measures to spread support for mustaches.
She and her best friend, who lives in North Carolina, have established their own "mustache day" on the third day of each month.
It started with a teaching assistant at an academic summer program the girls attended.
"He had the most luscious mustache," Piazza-Leman said. "It became an inside joke and just went from there."
They have made buttons and T-shirts promoting the mustache, and they have even created their own lingo.
A "jerkystache," is a bad mustache.
A "fake idol," is when a person wears a beard with their mustache.
On mustache day, Piazza-Leman wears a homemade 'stache support shirt and attaches a sign to her bike promoting mustaches.
"It's fun to see people's reactions," she says. "I think they appreciate it, but we're still working on spreading the word."
She says to successfully wear a mustache, the person must embrace it and must have fun with it.
"It's the purest form of randomness, really," she said.