When I was in my early twenties, I had a soul patch—regrettably. But that little tuft of hair under my bottom lip did teach me a valuable lesson about life.
If you don’t know what a soul patch is, it’s defined as a tuft of hair that grows under the bottom lip. It’s one of five distinct areas on a man’s face where facial hair grows—the other four being the mustache, chin (goatee), cheeks, and neck—and may also be known as a flavor saver, flava sava, jazz dot, cookie duster, or mouche (the French word for fly… yeah, a French fly).
But, this isn’t a blog about how the flavor saver fits into your beard or goatee. No, this is a blog about the maligned solo soul patch (soulo patch?) as worn by the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Howie Mandel—and myself.
My first soul patch wasn’t intentional. If you looked close enough, you might have seen traces of a mustache or goatee, but to anyone who wasn’t examining my face with a microscope, it was just a soul patch. That area under my bottom lip was where my facial hair decided it was going to be its most prominent, and there wasn't anything I could do about it at that age.
When you have a soul patch, people want to talk to you about it, but they don’t really know how to. This is especially true when it’s the only facial hair you have on your face. People would ask me what to call it, but mostly they wanted to know why I didn’t shave it.
As it turns out, around this time, Howie Mandel—the most famous contemporary soul patch—was being asked the same sort of questions about his “lip bangs.” The fact that he referred to his soul patch as lip bangs still makes me uncomfortable to this day.
What I learned is that, generally, people don’t like soul patches, and they want you to do something about it. The only exception I can think of is when Spanish footballer David Villa was leading Spain to glory in the 2010 World Cup. Villa managed to make the soul patch look great, but he was an outlier, and probably got a pass because he was a European soccer star.
The other famous athlete sporting a cookie duster in the aughts was Olympic speed skater Apolo Ohno, with his soul-patch-meets-goatee racing stripe. Even though Ohno’s hometown of Seattle sold faux soul patches during the 2006 Olympics, Ohno’s patch was not spared its share of criticism. In fact, it was still coming under fire over a decade later.
By the end of the aughts, the public opinion of soul patches was that its wearers likely lived off a diet of Sonic slushes and listened to Nickelback. Look, Sonic slushes are fantastic, but I was no Nickelback fan. So why was I submitting myself to such scrutiny by wearing a facial hair style that suggested otherwise?
The easy answer would be that it was the mid-2000s and lots of men my age—and in general—were making terrible fashion and style choices. Bruce Springsteen, Chris Gaines (Garth Brooks’ emo alter ego), Billy Bob Thornton, Howie Mandel, Samuel L Jackson had all been dabbling in jazz dabs in the 90s and throughout the aughts.
But that’s not the full story. There’s another reason why the flavor saver stuck around for me.
For many men, the desire to have facial hair begins early—even if we only want it so we can shave it off. Shaving, after all, is a right of passage into adulthood.
As an adolescent, I clung tightly to any and every hair my face could grow. When I was 14, my sister intentionally plucked one of the three hairs growing from my chin. I don’t think I’ve ever been angrier with her, which may seem like an overreaction, but she had just casually ripped out 33% of my beard!
The point is that when my soul patch started coming in, I wasn’t going to get rid of it just because having one hasn’t been cool since Dizzy Gillespie was tearing up jazz clubs in the 1940s.
Gillespie wore his jazz dab for a reason—to avoid irritation under his lip caused by his mouthpiece. Dizzy was unorthodox—he used a bent trumpet, his cheeks filled up like a blowfish when he played. Unusual facial hair made sense for Gillespie.
Since Gillespie, the jazz dab’s popularity has been on a downward spiral. Just how much do people dislike them?
I once heard a story about a woman breaking up with a guy because he had a soul patch. When asked if she would re-consider seeing him if he shaved it off, she said, “no, because he can’t shave off the part of his brain that thought it was a good idea in the first place.”
Yikes. Need more evidence? Here’s a Reddit post asking women how they feel about soul patches. There aren’t too many positive responses.
That little tuft of hair is really divisive, and maybe that’s the point. Perhaps the fact that it’s unpopular is the key here. There are only so many ways a guy can physically separate himself from the mainstream. A soul patch is one of them. If the soul patch is about rebellion, that could partially explain its popularity in the early days of Seattle’s grunge scene.
But, let’s face it, those flannel-clad rockers were kids, and soul patches were likely the only facial hair they could grow. Almost any man can grow one, even when they’re young—it’s the most inclusive facial hair.
And that’s how I entered the equation—an awkward college kid whose ears were maybe too big for his head, trying to grow whatever facial hair he could. My soul patch stuck around until the rest of my facial hair caught up, and then I quickly closed that chapter of my life.
I cringe when I see pictures of myself from that age. But recently, I’ve found myself wondering why I laugh every time I look at these photographs (yes, that’s a Nickelback reference).
What did the soul patch ever do to anyone? Where does this unpopularity stem from?
Is it because every year, some magazine, blog, or YouTuber puts out a new list of facial hair styles that people hate the most and it always includes the soul patch?
Perhaps the intentions behind these lists are good, and they’re helping men make decisions that allow them to feel more confident in their ability to attract a partner. That desire to attract a mate can undoubtedly drive a majority of choices that we make when we’re single.
But, herein lies the problem, and the lesson that my soul patch taught me—you can’t please everyone. No matter what you do with your facial or head hair, someone is always going to criticize it, or be turned off by it. Sure, making improvements to your look is never a bad thing, just so long as it’s not at the expense of how you want to present yourself to the world.
I once shaved off an eight-month beard because I was interested in dating someone, and had read an article that said women found men with stubble to be the most attractive. I didn’t want to leave anything to chance, so off went the beard. I showed up to our second date with a layer of stubble on my jaw that Adam Levine would have been jealous of, and it worked—until it didn’t. We dated for a few months, but quickly realized we weren’t really all that compatible. Actually, we were a total disaster.
I swore I would never shave my beard off for someone again. That held true until I was offered a job that came with an expectation of no facial hair. My gut said no, but my mouth (and my need to pay my bills) said yes. It was a poor fit from day one, and I didn’t stick around for very long.
The lesson I’ve learned in all of this? Never make decisions about your facial hair based on what you think the world wants to see.
In recent years, I’ve scrapped my beard and brought the soul patch back.
The difference this time around is that it’s in combination with a chevron mustache. There isn’t really a proper name for the mustache and soul patch combo, and it’s origins are a bit of a mystery.
There is, of course, the Zappa mustache style, but that is a very distinct look that combines a soul patch with a horseshoe mustache. The chevron mustache soul patch combo is different—or so I tell myself.
Comedian Marc Maron wore the chevron mustache and soul patch combo for a while. Phil Jackson has worn it off and on throughout his coaching career. I, on the other hand, opted for it mostly because I watched the HBO series, Deadwood, and thought actors Ian McShane and Timothy Olyphant made it look cool.
Perhaps my new soul patch is overshadowed by the mustache. Or maybe, just maybe, 2020 is a more accepting time and place for the mouche. Every now and then, someone makes a comment about my soul patch or asks a question about it. But, there’s no disdain for it—it’s mostly inquisitive.
I suppose the only way to find out would be to lose the ‘stache and keep the patch, but I’m not going to do that. I like my mustache way too much, and as I mentioned above, letting external influences dictate my facial hair and style choices never ends well for me.
It’s a style that I enjoy wearing, and I’ve received enough compliments from people whose opinions I trust to validate my belief that it’s a good look for me. Through experimenting with my facial hair and trying things that most lists suggest you shouldn’t, I’ve found a style that boosts my confidence. That increase in confidence has allowed me to better show up for my friends, family, career, and community, and, at the end of the day, that’s what it’s really about.
So, whether you want to grow a soul patch, mustache, goatee, beard, or any combination thereof, just make sure you do it for you and not because someone on the internet told you that you should—or shouldn’t.
Change up your style every now and then and step out of your comfort zone. You’ll be surprised at what may stick. And, hey, since Howie Mandel retired his, the soul patch is long overdue for a new champion—maybe it’s you.
Keep on Growing.
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A soul patch is defined as a tuft of hair that grows under the bottom lip. It’s one of five distinct areas on a man’s face where facial hair grows—the other four being the mustache, chin (goatee), cheeks, and neck—and may also be known as a flavor saver, flava sava, jazz dot, cookie duster, or mouche.