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ISSUE 117 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/12/2004

Marginalized facial hair celebrated

By Daniel Grupe
Staff Writer

Friday, March 12, 2004

Over a year ago, Tom Balsley `05 had an idea -- one that would spawn an entire week of celebration and appreciation.

"It was quite spontaneous actually," Balsley recalled. "I had grown out a beard for two months and as a joke shaved it into a mustache. Though he planned on shaving the mustache after a day, encouragement from his friends, including Brendan Eagan `05, persuaded Tom to keep the mustache for a full week.

"That Sunday, walking around with my 'stache, I was pretty proud, but I didn't get the same reaction from other people," Balsley said. "So I decided that I needed to find the 'stache that is me. Each morning I would wake up, find my inner being, and express that in the clothes that I wore."

Balsley soon decided to turn his joke into "Mustache Appreciation Week" -- a celebration of perhaps the most underappreciated, yet most expressive, form of facial hair. In addition to the mustache, he picked out daily apparel that accentuated and celebrated the mustache in its finest forms.

"Because I already had the clothes, it made sense that the 'stache was just in me," Balsley said. "I knew it before I even grew the 'stache, when I bought those clothes. Each day of the week featured a different mustache-related theme, including 'trucker day' and the fan favorite 'middle management day.'"

"It was only me at first," Balsley said. "I know that my friends would have supported me but it was so sudden that they didn't have time to grow 'staches."

"What's beautiful about Mustache Appreciation Week," Eagan said, "is that Tom was the only one who had the mustache -- but everybody was appreciating it. We have friends who can't grow mustaches, like Cole Blume [`05] and Sean Wendt [`05]. But, they can still appreciate 'staches." This appreciation, according to Balsley, was a little slow-growing at first.

"Some people might have been a little shocked at first by my flannel cutoffs and denim stonewashed jeans that made my butt look really good," Balsley said. "But once they realized what was going on they were like, 'That's a mighty fine 'stache. I appreciate that 'stache.'"

What was purely appreciation in its first year grew into full-fledged participation in 2004. Anywhere between six and 12 people took part in the second annual Mustache Appreciation Week, held March 1-5. According to Eagan, "It was like Tom was the Buddha, and he had become enlightened, and I was like a bodhisattva. I just kind of spread the word out there."

Eagan took the word as far as his study abroad trip in Japan, making Mustache Appreciation Week an international phenomenon. Eagan also participated in the 2004 festivities, and contributed his own artistic flair to the week.

"Wearing different outfits is like using different lighting for a photographer, or using a different filter on a camera," Eagan explained. "My favorite days were the days when I was a Caribbean gigolo and the day that I was a London [hustler]."

Balsley also had a few tricks up his sleeve for this year's mustache week. "'Dirty dad' was my favorite," he said. "I like to go with the free spirit, like wearing a sweater, no t-shirt underneath and having it half-zipped. You're free, man. Free as a bird. I just felt like going back to the dorm room, and putting on Free Bird and [drinking a Coke]! "

Pete Nelson `04 was among the students bit by the mustache bug. "I participated in Mustache Appreciation Week," Nelson said, "not because I can grow a sweet 'stache, but because I feel that we must pay homage to the great mustaches that have come before us. It seems that most people think of mustaches as dirty, but they're not. They're just underappreciated."

Somewhat surprisingly, participation in Mustache Appreciation Week was not limited to the student body. St. Olaf men's basketball coach Dan Kosmoski shaved his facial hair after basketball season -- as did all of the players on the team -- but his mustache began to grow back "right in the middle of [Mustache Appreciation Week]."

"I found out about it in one of my classes," Kosmoski said. "Someone said, 'Coach Kosmoski, I see you're trying to grow a mustache.'" Despite being unaware of the official appreciation week begun by Balsley, Kosmoski's new mustache appeared just in time. Balsley has an explanation for this serendipitous timing.

"I think that Mustache Appreciation Week might actually be part of the collective unconscious of humanity," Balsley said.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and that includes Mustache Appreciation Week. "You really do get attached to the 'stache," Balsley said. "By Friday afternoon I was pretty close to just keeping it. I had learned to appreciate it so much that I wanted to just let the 'stache be. No shenanigans, no outfits, me and the 'stache united as one."

Encouraged by the success of this year's event, Balsley and Eagan are planning big things for Mustache Appreciation Week `05.

"Next year we're taking it to a new level, Balsley said. "It's called 'Liberate the 'Stache'. We will be tabling, and the promotional video is in editing right now." Above all, Balsley wants people to realize the point of this week.

"I'm a little nervous that people might think that I'm making fun of somebody with a 'stache," Balsley said. "But that's why it's called Mustache Appreciation Week. You really get to see what it feels like to have a mustache. And I feel like having a 'stache is a good thing. It's not about making fun of people. It's about celebrating. Liberate the 'stache, liberate yourself."

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