Class Distinctions

Restaurants, hotels, mustaches, wages

Matthew Taub, writing in Atlas Obscura

Around the same time, the first modern restaurants were rising around Paris. These establishments, primarily for the wealthy, sought to recreate the experience of dining in an upscale home. The experience was about more than food. Waiters had to retain the appearance of domestic valets, who were forbidden to wear mustaches as a sign of their rank. Diners were “paying to humiliate people in an almost institutional way,” says historian Gil Mihaely, who has published extensively on the subject of French masculinity. The clientele had “paid for an experience. And the experience was to be the master.”

And then the waiters struck. They were petitioning for better pay, and the right to grow facial hair.

The Parisian waiters won the right to mustaches, but the fight for a living wage continues to this day: Marriott hotel workers have been striking for a week now. Today’s strikers don’t give a darn about mustaches, but like the Parisian strikers, they do demand a living wage.