Welcome to Movember! This year, we’re doing a famous mustache series. For our mid-Movember Mustache, the Toothbrush, 2 -3 centimeters of whiskers, synonymous with one of the most criminally insane minds of modern history, Adolf Hitler.
The Toothbrush was a popular American mustache style starting in the nineteen-teens, brought to life by entertainers of the day like Oliver Hardy and Charlie Chaplin. Once brought to Germany, the younger generation immediately took it on to replace the full ornate styles like the Kaiser, the Handlebar, and the Walrus, worn by their fathers.
Why Hitler took the Toothbrush style on in the first place has been argued for decades. Some believe that the neat, efficient style of the period was simply adopted by Hitler out of personal preference. His sister-in-law claimed that it was she, with her dislike of his bushy, unruly mustache that urged him to cut it.
It’s now understood that Hitler preferred a fuller Prussian style as a younger man during World War 1, but had to compact his mustache to wear a gas mask, when the British developed mustard gas during the Great War. Toothbrush mustache or not, Hitler’s gas mask proved ineffective – he was gassed and temporarily blinded in 1918.
Alexander Moritz Frey, who knew Hitler in the Bavarian infantry, explained his first impression of him: “At that time he looked tall because he was so thin. A full moustache, which had to be trimmed later because of the new gas masks, covered the ugly slit of his mouth.” (Source: The Telegraph)
After the war, it’s no surprise that the Toothbrush mustache style disappeared; to this day, it is the infamous symbol of one of the most evil minds the world has ever witnessed, whipping up the same emotional response as seeing a swastika.
Strangely, the Hitler style ‘stache hasn’t died out entirely. Zimbabwe’s dictator, Robert Mugabe, wears a mutation of the Hitler, called a “Philtrum”, named after the place it grows, in the groove of the upper lip.
Mugabe started out okay, voted into power in 1980 and at first, “delivered on promises of peace, reconciliation with the white minority, and social development.” (Source: PBS) But as history has shown us, Mugabe terrorized, abused, and murdered his own people.
“Mugabe must be viewed as the 21st century Hitler because of the deaths and suffering of Zimbabweans under his rule,” Anglican bishop of Pretoria said in 2008. Another South African bishop explained Mugabe was a “person seemingly without conscience or remorse, and a murderer”. Sound familiar?
I found in my travels a story of Frank Spisak, convicted Ohio murderer who, in 1982, shot three people to death, and wore a Hitler mustache at his trial. For you old school Spiderman fans, J. Jonah Jameson, Peter Parker’s angry, screaming boss at the Daily Bugle, out to squash the web-headed Spiderman, was another nasty figure who wore the Hitler style mustache.
Could the Hitler and pseudo-Hitler mustache styles have drawn out their delusional cruelty?
In his excellent 2007 Vanity Fair article, Becoming Adolf, Rich Cohen explains his take on the Toothbrush as being “the most powerful configuration of facial hair the world has ever known. It overpowers whoever touches it. By merely doodling a Toothbrush mustache on a poster, you make a political statement.”
But just when a pattern begins to form, along comes Michael Jordan.
No one but basketball star himself knows why he chose to wear this mustache for a 2010 Hanes underwear commercial, but he caused a furor when he sported the ‘stache of der Führer:
Ironically, the mustache helped to increase Hanes’ sales, according to CBS, but since Jordan’s been called on it, it hasn’t been seen since. No surprise there.
But it’s still not dead. British comedian, Richard Herring, sports a Toothbrush in his show, Hitler Mustache, to draw attention to voter apathy in the UK, and to see if he can associate the mustache style with something other than the leader of the Third Reich.
Herring admits that when he first grew the Hitler, he got paranoid and feared being assaulted by someone in the street, but eventually became comfortable with it for his paying audience and for a reclamation of the mustache style “as a political protest against the BNP (British National Party)”, saying he was “using the Hitler moustache to oppose fascism.” (Source: BBC)
Creating a positive connection with the Hitler mustache will take a lot of work. And many generations.
TIP: For those of you in mid-Movember mustache depression, check out this great Movember video for support from Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation)!