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Toothbrush moustache

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Charlie Chaplin (pictured in 1921 as the Tramp) thought the moustache gave him a comical appearance.

The toothbrush moustache is a style of moustache in which the sides are vertical (or nearly so), often approximating the width of the nose and visually resembling the bristles on a toothbrush. First becoming popular in the United States in the late 19th century, it later spread to Germany and elsewhere. Comedians such as Charlie Chaplin and Oliver Hardy popularized it, reaching its heyday during the interwar years. By the end of World War II, the association with Nazi leader Adolf Hitler made it unfashionable, leading to it being colloquially termed the 'Hitler moustache'.

After World War II, the toothbrush was worn by some notable individuals, including several Israeli politicians and American real-estate developer Fred Trump (who wore a split variant). Remaining strongly associated with Hitler over subsequent decades, it was used satirically in works of popular culture and political imagery, including motion pictures, comic books, and 1970s-era rock and roll. A number of other variants developed during the 20th century, such as one covering only the philtrum.

19th century–World War II[edit]

In the United States[edit]

The toothbrush originally became popular in the late 19th century, in the United States.[1] It was a neat, uniform, low-maintenance moustache that echoed the standardization and uniformity brought on by industrialization, in contrast to the more flamboyant styles typical of the 19th century such as the imperial, walrus, handlebar, horseshoe, and pencil moustaches.[1]

English comic actor Charlie Chaplin was one of the most famous wearers of the toothbrush style. Shortly after wearing a full moustache for his 1914 film debut (Making a Living for Southern California's Keystone Studios), he sported a prop toothbrush moustache for his first film as the Tramp, Mabel's Strange Predicament (though Kid Auto Races at Venice was the first released).[2][3][4] After selecting a wardrobe, he added a moustache after recalling that producer Mack Sennett was expecting him to be older; Chaplin felt that the toothbrush had a comical appearance and was small enough not to hide his expression.[a][6] Within a few years of the Tramp's debut, the look was being copied;[7] by 1920, Chaplin purportedly entered and lost a Chaplin look-alike contest, having omitted his signature moustache.[8] Chaplin incorporated the noted similarity between the Tramp and Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler[9][b] in his 1940 film The Great Dictator, playing both a Tramp-like Jewish barber and a parody of Hitler.[11] This was Chaplin's final appearance with the moustache.[12]

Prominent American animation producer Max Fleischer wore a toothbrush moustache c. 1919.[13][14] Comedian Oliver Hardy also adopted the moustache—using it at least as early as the 1921 film The Lucky Dog. American actor Fred Kelsey flaunted a toothbrush c. 1925–1939,[15][c] while in the mid-1930s bit-part player Brooks Benedict thickened his mid-mustache, evoking the toothbrush style (flanked by pencil-thin sides).[16] Although Groucho Marx wore a larger moustache, novelty Groucho glasses (sold c. 1940s)[17] often elicit the toothbrush. It has been occasionally claimed that American film producer Walt Disney donned a toothbrush,[18][19][20] but his nose-width moustache lacked the characteristic steep sides. Frank Churchill, composer for a number of Disney films, sometimes styled one.[21]

San Francisco mayor (and later California governor) James Rolph and Los Angeles mayor Frank L. Shaw sported toothbrushes in the 1920s and 1930s, as did Washington state governor Clarence D. Martin in the 1930s. The moustache appeared on some members of the German American Bund during a 1937 parade in New York City. A number of associates of American company Heinz were photographed wearing toothbrushes in 1940 (at a convention in Montreal, Quebec).[22] American real-estate developer Fred Trump, the father of U.S. president Donald Trump, sported a variant (exposing his lower philtrum) as early as 1940. Animation director Tex Avery applied a split variant to his spoof of Hitler in his 1942 film Blitz Wolf.

In Germany[edit]

The toothbrush moustache was introduced to Germany in the late 19th century by visiting Americans.[1] Previously, the most popular style was the imperial moustache, also known as the "Kaiser moustache", which was perfumed and turned up at the ends, as worn by German emperor Wilhelm II.[1][23] By 1907, enough Germans were wearing the toothbrush moustache to elicit notice by The New York Times under the headline "'TOOTHBRUSH' MUSTACHE; German Women Resent Its Usurpation of the [Kaiser moustache]".[1][24] 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.[1][25] 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."[25] 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.[1] German serial killer Peter Kürten (1883–1931) eventually reduced it to only the philtrum.[26][27]

Adolf Hitler in the early 1920s; his appearance was so defined by his moustache that it became unfashionable by the end of World War II.

There are dubious claims that Adolf Hitler began wearing the toothbrush prior to the early 1920s (when it was first reliably documented).[1] His sister-in-law, Bridget Hitler, tenuously claimed that he spent the winter of 1912–13 at her home in Liverpool, England,[1][28] during which time the two quarreled, mostly because she could not stand his Kaiser moustache; she reputedly persuaded him to cut it, resulting in him fashioning a toothbrush.[1][29] A 1914 photograph by Heinrich Hoffmann purports to show Hitler with a toothbrush, but this was probably doctored to serve as Nazi propaganda.[30][31] As evidenced by photographs, Hitler wore the Kaiser moustache as a soldier during WWI.[32] Author Alexander Moritz Frey, who served as a medic in the same regiment as Hitler, claimed that the latter donned the toothbrush in the trenches after he was ordered to trim his moustache to facilitate the wearing of a gas mask;[1][33][34] although Frey's story is unproven, Hitler indeed had a blinding encounter with poison gas during WWI—causing his hospitalization at the war's very end.[35][d] Other sources claim Hitler wore it as early as 1919.[37][38]

Hitler is generally thought to have incorporated the toothbrush as a trademark of his appearance during the early meetings of the Nazi Party (formed in 1920).[1][39] According to cultural historian Ron Rosenbaum, "there is no evidence (though some speculation)" that Hitler modeled his moustache on Charlie Chaplin's.[37][b] In 1923, Hitler's future publicist Ernst Hanfstaengl advised Hitler to lose the toothbrush, to which he replied, "If it is not the fashion now, it will be later because I wear it." Hanfstaengl subsequently adopted the style.[40][1] In 1932, Hitler wore the toothbrush narrower on bottom.[41] In 1933 (the year Hitler became Chancellor of Germany), the Nazis began to lambast Chaplin as "non-Aryan" in anti-Semitic propaganda, though Chaplin was not Jewish.[9] According to Hitler's bodyguard Rochus Misch, Hitler "loved" Chaplin films, a number of which he watched at his teahouse near the Berghof (built c. 1936).[42] By the height of World War II, Hitler's toothbrush moustache was such a defining feature of his appearance that it was assumed he would be unrecognizable without it, and that he could use this logic to evade capture by the Allies.[43] In her posthumous memoir, Hitler's secretary Christa Schroeder (d. 1984) claimed that Hitler said in the mid-1920s that the moustache offset his purportedly oversized nose;[44] in fact, his nose was only visibly engorged during the final months of WWII in Europe.[45]

Politician Anton Drexler, a mentor of Hitler, wore a notched version of the toothbrush. Friedrich Kellner, a Social Democrat who campaigned against Hitler, also wore it. Various notable Nazis sported versions, including Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, politician Karl Holz, military officer Ernst Röhm and Hitler's chauffeur Julius Schreck. Near the end of World War II in Europe, the Soviet Union produced footage of a supposed body double of Hitler wearing the style[46]—variously invoked in Soviet-bolstered claims that Hitler somehow escaped.[e] Some Nazis in Chile were photographed wearing the moustache around the end of World War II.[f]

Other places[edit]

The toothbrush was quite popular in the Soviet Union in the early 20th century. A Russian-born, Chaplin-influenced clown named Karandash ('the pencil') had a version of it. During World War II, Karandash entertained Soviet troops by mocking the Axis powers.[48][49] Amongst other Soviet military displays, Commander Pavel Dybenko paired the style with his beard and Major General Hazi Aslanov wore a variant covering only the philtrum.[50]

English writer George Orwell wore a toothbrush during the 1920s before adapting his more iconic pencil moustache.[51] The toothbrush is worn by the sidekick of English author Agatha Christie's fictional detective Hercule Poirot.[52] Spanish general Francisco Franco (the dictator of Spain from 1939 to 1975) wore it throughout the 1930s. In a 1936 political cartoon, New Zealand artist David Low portrayed Soviet leader Joseph Stalin forging a toothbrush (along with a regular haircut) to mirror Hitler.[53] On a 1941 poster, Russian artist Dmitry Moor depicted Hitler with a split toothbrush variant.[54]

Fred Trump wearing a split variant (exposing the philtrum) c. 1950

Post–World War II[edit]

By the end of World War II, toothbrush moustaches had all but fallen out of fashion due to its strong association with Hitler,[1] but some notable people continued to wear it. American real-estate developer Fred Trump upkept his split variant until c. 1950, despite beginning to obfuscate his German ancestry during the war.[55][56][57][g] Several politicians of Israel (formed as a state in 1948) wore it, some for much of their careers. Austrian chancellor Julius Raab exhibited it in 1955 while negotiating for restored independence. Hitler's dentist, Hugo Blaschke (d. 1959),[66] wore a similar style—displaying an explicit toothbrush later in life.[67] Armenian Communist activist Anastas Mikoyan upkept one as late as 1962. French railway worker Jean-Marie Loret (b. 1918) donned a toothbrush to publicize his claim (c. 1980) of being Hitler's son.[68][69]

After the war, German artist Otto Dix finished his 1933 painting of the seven deadly sins by adding a split toothbrush to a mask worn by Envy.[70] The moustache was utilized in popular cartoons, e.g. Harry Hanan's pantomime comic Louie (1947),[71][72][73] which focuses on the everyday trials of a domestic loser.[74] It is worn by the father of the titular character of the British comic Dennis the Menace (1951).[75] The 1955 Warner Bros. cartoon The Hole Idea features characters with the moustache, and it also appears on a puppet in the 1958 Japanese animated film The White Snake Enchantress (which also features the toothbrush area–omitting Fu Manchu). Caricatures resembling outgrown nasal hair appear in Rocky and Bullwinkle (1959–1964), Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy (c. 1960s), and The Pink Panther (1964–1980).[76][77] The early 1960s American animated sitcom The Jetsons features a character with the moustache—George Jetson's boss, Cosmo Spacely. It was worn by Spider-Man character J. Jonah Jameson, created by writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko.[78] (Later in life, Lee trimmed his own moustache nearly down to toothbrush width to keep from tickling his wife.)[79]

The toothbrush appears (outside of France) on the cover of French composer Michel Legrand's debut album, I Love Paris (1954).[80] Soviet actor Yevgeny Morgunov wore a toothbrush in the 1967 comedy film Kidnapping, Caucasian Style. The live-action British sitcom On the Buses (1969–1973) features a comedic villain with it, while the British sketch comedy series Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969–1974) invoked it on occasion, most notably on a lunatic class of characters known as Gumbys, who shout stupid phrases and commonly clap bricks.[81] A version appears in 2014's Monty Python Live (Mostly), and in October 2019 (Python's 50th anniversary), a world record was attempted in London for the most people dressed as Gumbys.[82]

A number of rock and roll musicians dabbled with the moustache around the early 1970s. John Entwistle, bassist for English band the Who, wore a split moustache omitting the toothbrush area c. 1969.[83][84] In 1970, Keith Moon, drummer for the Who, donned the toothbrush for a sardonic photo shoot as a Nazi officer (with musician Vivian Stanshall).[85] Roy Loney, co-founder of American rock band Flamin' Groovies, flaunted a toothbrush on the cover of a 1971 live album.[86][87] Inspired by Chaplin, keyboardist Ron Mael of American band Sparks wore a toothbrush;[h][i] the band gained attention in 1974 with "This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us", featured on British music television series Top of the Pops.[90] While watching this, John Lennon reputedly phoned his former Beatles bandmate Ringo Starr and said he was watching Hitler perform (with the lead singer of T. Rex, to boot).[91][j][k] The cover of the 1974 debut album by American art-rock band the Residents features a graffitied version of Meet the Beatles! with a toothbrush-moustachioed Lennon.

Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe's philtrum-covering variant

Former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe wore a philtrum-only version from as early as 1976 to as late as 2016.

An antagonist wears a toothbrush in the 1977 Disney animated film The Rescuers. Amongst other spoofs of Hitler in his work, American Jewish comedian Mel Brooks donned the moustache (as Hitler) in the 1983 music video for "The Hitler Rap".[l][m] Between 1985 and 1989, the British children's television drama series Grange Hill featured an authoritarian teacher played by Michael Sheard (who also portrayed Hitler in several productions) wearing a toothbrush.[23]

In a 1992 home movie, Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain invoked a Hitler moustache (via fake eyelashes) while wearing a dress to mock a pejorative letter to the editor about his wife, Courtney Love. This was featured in the 2015 documentary Cobain: Montage of Heck and shared online to promote the film.[96][97][98]

A villainous character in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000) and its film adaptation wears the moustache.[99] It appears on a mad school principal in the animated series Whatever Happened to... Robot Jones?. In Mike Judge's 2006 comedy film Idiocracy, the society of a greatly dumbed-down future believes that Charlie Chaplin, not Hitler, led the Nazis. In 2009, English comedian Richard Herring wore the toothbrush for a weeklong stand-up show in a feeble attempt to "reclaim the toothbrush moustache for comedy [because] it was Chaplin's first, then Hitler ruined it."[100][23]

In May 2010, American basketball star Michael Jordan appeared in a Hanes commercial sporting a hybrid of the toothbrush and pencil moustache,[101] along with a soul patch. This prompted Jordan's friend Charles Barkley to say, "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."[102]

In 2014, a photograph of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and German Chancellor Angela Merkel provoked online amusement due to the former's pointing finger casting a Hitleresque shadow onto the latter's face.[103] Late that same year, Southern All Stars frontman Keisuke Kuwata briefly donned a toothbrush moustache during a televised performance, prompting online speculation as to the reason.[104]

Into the 21st century, the moustache remained a poignant symbol of satire and protest, maligning people in power perceived to be acting like Hitler.[105][106][107] Some facial-hair-themed websites attempted to reclaim it as acceptable to wear again—especially variations diverging from the strictly rectangular version made famous by Hitler—emphasizing that some notable individuals have worn it.[18][108] Nevertheless, the toothbrush continued to be widely derided as eliciting the association with Hitler.[109][110][n][o] Even shadows cast down by the nose are generally considered to sully portraits.[115] One moustache website, acknowledging efforts to reclaim it, concludes:[84]

I'm pretty sure Hitler ruined it forever! Bastard!

Other notable wearers[edit]


Nazi Germany[edit]

Soviet Union and successor states[edit]

State of Israel[edit]

Other regions[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Chaplin said in 1933: "It all came about in an emergency. The cameraman said put on some funny make-up, and I hadn't the slightest idea what to do. I went to the dress department and decided I wanted everything to be a mass of contradictions. So I took a bowler hat, an abnormally tight jacket, an abnormally loose pair of trousers, and some dirty, raggedy shoes. This was who I wanted my character to be; raggedy but, at the same time, a gentleman. I didn't know how I was going to do the face, but it was going to be a sad, serious face. I wanted to hide that it was comic, so I took a little toothbrush mustache. ... It doesn't hide my expression, after all."[5]
  2. ^ a b Upon first seeing Hitler in newsreels, Chaplin assumed that his look alluded to the Tramp.[10]
  3. ^ Kelsey's guise was spoofed in the 1943 Tex Avery cartoon Who Killed Who?.
  4. ^ The History program The World Wars embellishes the gas-mask story by omitting the commanding officer; executive producer Stephen David claimed that Hitler actually "shaved the mustache while he was in the hospital".[36]
  5. ^ In an alleged sighting of his arrival in Argentina, Hitler was claimed to have shaved the toothbrush, with his unusually exposed philtrum lending his upper mouth area the appearance of bare buttocks.[47]
  6. ^ According to a purported 1954 photograph, the allegedly escaped Hitler ostensibly reclaimed his moustache in Colombia, northwestern South America.
  7. ^ In particular, although Fred Trump spoke in a German accent,[58] he denied that he spoke the language, claimed he was of Swedish origin and aligned himself with Jewish causes.[56][57] (He further claimed he was born in New Jersey, not New York.)[59] Donald Trump sustained Fred's heritage-related deceptions in The Art of the Deal (1987),[60] but as U.S. president, insisted that his father was born in Germany.[61][62] During his last year in office, Trump reputedly once uttered while disparaging the German Chancellor, "I know the fucking krauts." Pointing to his father's (toothbrush-free) portrait,[63] he avowed, "I was raised by the biggest kraut of them all,"[64] invoking an ethnic slur for a German soldier of either world war.[65]
  8. ^ Mael maintained a toothbrush throughout most of the 1970s and 1980s.[88][89]
  9. ^ Further, the 1982 Sparks song "Moustache" includes the lyrics: "And when I trimmed it very small / My Jewish friends would never call," referencing the association with Hitler. The band once had a booking to perform on a French television show cancelled due to Mael's moustache.[88] In later years, Mael wore a pencil-variant of the toothbrush.[89]
  10. ^ Before this occurrence, which took place during his so-called "lost weekend" with May Pang,[92] Lennon had demonstrated a fascination with Hitler,[93] e.g. requesting the dictator's inclusion on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967).[94]
  11. ^ Intelligent Life editor Tim de Lisle gambols that "a whole generation ... saw Ron Mael's moustache, and ran out of the room, crying, 'Mum! Dad! Hitler's playing the piano on "Top of the Pops"!'"[90]
  12. ^ In Brooks's 1967 film The Producers, an actor (in an intentionally bad play) wears the moustache as the primary visual indicator that he is portraying Hitler.
  13. ^ A woman wears a toothbrush in one shot of the rap video, as an extension of her Nazi chic outfit.[95]
  14. ^ E.g., a participant in the January 6 U.S. Capitol attack had a toothbrush;[111] in 2021, tech company Amazon changed its app logo following complaints that part of the design—meant to look like tape on a box—resembled a Hitler moustache.[112] In 2022, professional wrestler Nash Carter was fired after a photo surfaced of him wearing a toothbrush and performing a Nazi salute.[113]
  15. ^ In an episode of the 2023 Scooby-Doo spin-off Velma, rain causes one of Fred's fake eyelashes to swim under his nose in a series of events making him resemble the Nazi dictator.[114]


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