Twentieth-Century Mustache Mania

By Maureen A. Taylor

From the White House to Hollywood, mustaches of the 20th century were iconic and considered manly. The underlying message was that strong men wore facial hair. Teddy Roosevelt to Clark Gable and beyond, the presence of a mustache conveyed a sense of strength in personality and actions. Each of these men were facial hair fashion icons for their generation.

Teddy Roosevelt
One can only imagine the shock on Vice President Teddy Roosevelt’s face when a photographer in 1901 suggested he shave off his mustache before being inducted in office. As President from Sept. 14, 1901 (after McKinley’s assassination), to March 1909, his iconic facial hair set the tone for his time in office. He was a forceful personality in life and in politics.

Library of Congress

This poster is a collage of images of T.R. from childhood to the Presidency—from the long sideburns of his years at Harvard to the brush- style mustache that became equated with being manly.

Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin used his small under-the-nose mustache as a comedic element in silent films.

The Tramp
, 1914

This style of facial hair is still known as a “Charlie Chaplin.”

Errol Flynn
Errol Flynn’s portrayal of dashing adventurers of the 1930s and 1940s wasn’t complete without his iconic pencil-thin mustache. The look is named for him.

It took careful shaving underneath the nose and at the top of the lip to get this tiny mustache just right.

Clark Gable
Clark Gable’s notable performance as Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind is memorable and so was his facial hair.

Clark Gable with the 8th Air Force in Britain, 1943

Like Errol Flynn, his mustache was an integral part of the characters he played in the movies.

So which mustache did the men in your family emulate? The full brush mustache of T.R., the “Charlie Chaplin,” the “Errol Flynn,” or the look popularized by Clark Gable?

Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now