The toothbrush moustache is a moustache style that is shaved at the edges, leaving three to five centimeters of facial hair above the center of the lip. The sides of the moustache are vertical (or nearly vertical) rather than tapered, giving the moustache hairs the appearance of toothbrush bristles that are attached to the nose. It was made famous by comedians like Charlie Chaplin and Oliver Hardy. The style first became popular in the United States in the late 19th century--from there it spread to Germany and elsewhere--reaching a height of popularity in the inter-war years, before becoming unfashionable after World War II due to its association with German Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
The style originally became popular in the late 19th century in the United States. It was a neat, uniform, low-maintenance style that echoed the standardization and uniformity brought on by industrialization, in contrast to the more flamboyant moustaches typical of the 19th century such as the Imperial, Walrus, Handlebar, Horseshoe, and Pencil.
Charlie Chaplin was one of the most famous wearers of the toothbrush moustache, first adopting it sometime after 1914 for his Mack Sennett silent comedies. In a 1933 interview, Chaplin said he added the moustache to his costume because it had a comical appearance and was small enough so as not to hide his expression. Adolf Hitler was a fan of Chaplin, but "there is no evidence (though some speculation) that Hitler modeled his 'stache on [Charlie Chaplin]", according to cultural historian Ron Rosenbaum. Chaplin took advantage of the noted similarity between his on-screen appearance and that of Hitler, such as in his 1940 film The Great Dictator, where he wore the moustache as part of two new characters that parodied Hitler.
The style was introduced in Germany in the late 19th century by visiting Americans. Prior to the toothbrush, the most popular style was called the Kaiser moustache, perfumed and turned up at the ends, as worn by Wilhelm II, German Emperor. By 1907 enough Germans were wearing the new trimmed down and simple toothbrush moustache to elicit notice by The New York Times under the headline "'TOOTHBRUSH' MUSTACHE; German Women Resent Its Usurpation of the 'Kaiserbart'". The toothbrush was taken up by German automobile racer and folk hero Hans Koeppen in the famous 1908 New York to Paris Race, cementing its popularity among young gentry. Koeppen was described as "Six-feet in height, slim, and athletic, with a toothbrush mustache characteristic of his class, he looks the ideal type of the young Prussian guardsman." By the end of World War I even some of the German royals were sporting the toothbrush; Crown Prince Wilhelm can be seen with a toothbrush moustache in a 1918 photograph that shows him about to be sent into exile.
Hitler originally wore the Kaiser moustache, as evidenced by photographs of him as a soldier during World War I. There is no agreement as to what year Hitler first adopted the toothbrush.Alexander Moritz Frey, who served with Hitler during World War I, said Hitler wore the toothbrush in the trenches after he was ordered to trim his moustache to facilitate the wearing of a gas mask. Cultural historian Ron Rosenbaum instead says Hitler did not wear it until late 1919; he was also photographed c. 1919-21 with a more traditional moustache in between wearing the Kaiser and toothbrush style.
Despite the photographic evidence of his much larger moustache during the First World War, Hitler's sister-in-law, Bridget Hitler, said she was responsible for giving Hitler his toothbrush moustache before the war--considered by most scholars to be fiction designed to cash in on Hitler's notoriety. Bridget claimed that Adolf spent a "lost winter" at her home in Liverpool in 1912-13. The two quarreled a lot, mostly, she said, because she could not stand his unruly Kaiser moustache. He cut it, as she says in her memoirs, but that in doing so--as in most things--he went too far.
After World War II the style fell from favor in much of the world, due to its strong association with Hitler, and also became known as the "Hitler moustache".
Artist Steve Ditko's original design for fictional character J. Jonah Jameson, a supporting character in the Spider-Man comics, sported a toothbrush moustache, apparently meant to make him seem Hitleresque and thus more loathsome, considering his extreme antagonism to Spider-Man, and most appearances of Jameson since his creation have maintained the style or a variant thereof in the comics. (Notably, however, actor J. K. Simmons's portrayal of Jameson in the Spider-Man films of the early 2000s featured a pencil moustache instead.)
Ron Mael of the Los Angeles-based rock band Sparks maintained a toothbrush-moustache throughout most of the 1970s and 80s. Upon achieving mainstream success in the United Kingdom in 1974 with the song "This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us", The Economist noted that "a whole generation switched on Top of the Pops, saw Ron Mael's moustache, and ran out of the room, crying, 'Mum! Dad! Hitler's playing the piano on 'Top of the Pops'!'" (The Sparks song "Moustache" addresses the problem, with the lyrics "And when I trimmed it very small/My Jewish friends would never call.")
In 2009, British comedian Richard Herring, while sporting a toothbrush moustache, created a stand-up show titled Hitler Moustache, to see if he "could reclaim the toothbrush moustache for comedy--it was Chaplin's first, then Hitler ruined it." The show also discusses broader issues, such as fascism and the British National Party.
In May 2010, former basketball star Michael Jordan appeared in a Hanes commercial wearing a toothbrush moustache. Reaction from the press and public was unfavourable. Jordan's friend Charles Barkley said, "I have got to admit that I don't know what the hell he was thinking and I don't know what Hanes was thinking. I mean it is just stupid, it is just bad, plain and simple." Jordan has not been seen with it since.
In China, a version of this moustache is viewed as a stereotype of Japanese people, especially of Japanese soldiers from the Second World War. This style is depicted in The Adventures of Tintin comic album "The Blue Lotus." An extreme variant of the toothbrush moustache narrows it to the philtrum only; Robert Mugabe and Soviet politician Vasil Mzhavanadze both wore this style.