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What is a Fu Manchu Mustache?

Douglas Bonderud
Douglas Bonderud

A fu manchu mustache is a style of men's facial hair that features a full mustache above the upper lip and extends straight down past the edges of the lips to the chin. Its name comes from a fictional character created by the English author Sax Rohmer. The character was originally featured in the 1913 novel The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu. In it, Fu Manchu was a criminal mastermind of Chinese origin, and the mustache has become associated with that type of character in popular culture.

The description of Fu Manchu in Rohmer's novel states that he did not have a mustache. It was only when Rohmer's books were converted into television serials and movies that the mustache appeared. The first known appearance of it was in the 1929 film The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu. Warner Orland, the actor who played Fu Manchu, wore a mustache which covered his upper lip and reached down to the edge of his chin.

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Businessman giving a thumbs-up

Instructions for growing a fu manchu mustache usually advise growing a full goatee first to determine if the hair will be thick enough to proceed. If so, the beard portion of the goatee, from the lower lip to the chin, can be removed, except for the two vertical bars running downward from the corners of the mouth. The fu manchu mustache is intended to be sleek and thin, and, for that reason, mustache wax is often used to keep it in place.

A fu manchu mustache should not be confused with a handlebar mustache, however, as the fu manchu involves hair running down from the ends of the mustache to the chin, whereas the handlebar does not. The handlebar moustache must also be waxed in order to stay horizontal, above the upper lip, and extend outward to the sides of the face. A fu manchu mustache should be groomed to be horizontal only along the top of the upper lip before it turns downward. This mustache must extend down past the corners of the lips, but has no set end point. It can stop at the edge of the chin or continue down, off of the face as far as desired, and still be considered a fu manchu mustache.

Fans of Rohmer's original character argue that the mustache should not bear his name. The style has, however, become ingrained in popular culture as being associated with a criminal archetype. This type of mustache is rarely worn by men, and is most often grown as part of a dare or costume than as a fashion choice.

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