Alfred Nash wasn’t always an idol of hirsute achievement. “My facial hair didn’t really start to grow until I was about 30,” he says. In 2011, he grew a mustache for Movember—a month when guys grow ’staches and beards to raise awareness of men’s health issues, or simply to see if they can—and an avocation was born. For the past 10 years, Nash, ’86, has traveled around the United States, presenting his face full of award-winning follicles at the National Beard and Moustache Championships. In 2016, he commanded the stage at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn. Two solid, slender spears of hair jutted out from either side of his upper lip. The judges declared Nash’s ’stache, measuring 21 inches from tip to tip, the best English-style mustache in the country.
A physicist by training, Nash has spent two decades at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, helping test infrared telescopes for space missions and working on projects like the Mars sample return. So naturally, there’s a scientific flair to his method of mustache manipulation. Coercing the temperamental tresses into stick-straight form can take hours. Armed with a blow-dryer and a plasticky hairspray that’s pliable when warm and hardens as it cools, “you spray a little, style a little and just work from the roots on out,” Nash says. The results are bristles so stiff they click when flicked with a fingernail.
‘It’s the complete opposite of my job.’
But winning requires style that extends beyond the jawline: “Everybody’s in costume, so it’s not just the facial hair—it’s the whole gestalt.” The year Nash won at the Opry, he was in full safari garb, with a helmet, goggles, shorts, and knee-high socks. For the 2023 World Championships in Germany, he’ll be changing things up with a costume that complements not only his mustache but also the thick beard he grew during quarantine. The judges at these contests—often barbers, sponsor representatives, and former champions—use preset criteria for each mustache and beard category. Still, ultimately, their decision comes down to personal preference. The competitions, where success is subjective and participants are in it for the fun, are “the complete opposite of my job,” Nash says. Not that his work with NASA isn’t enjoyable, but “it’s only rocket science,” he says. “It’s actually easier than knowing what’s going on in a mustache competition.”
Kali Shiloh is a staff writer at Stanford. Email her at email@example.com.