Making its way from the streets of Greenpoint to the red carpet and runways, it’s undeniable that the mustache is officially back.
On day 3 of London Fashion Week, electric shaver brand Braun styled mustaches for several models heading down the runway at the fall 2023 show of LVMH prize-winning menswear label S.S. Daley. The event marked the latest example of a growing number of men’s brands upping their marketing focus on the mustache in the past year. Spurred by a shift away from clean-shaven looks and pop culture influences ranging from indie bands to “Top Gun,” mustaches have been following beards into the mainstream.
Data from Gillette estimates that 12.5 million U.S. men, or 9.6% of the U.S. male population, were wearing mustaches as of September 2022. This data was collected after the shaving brand’s 2020 launch of its new facial hair-grooming brand King C. Gillette, which taps into a growing market for beard and mustache maintenance amid a decline in razor sales. Mustache adoption has seen an increase of 1.5% since March 2020, which is the biggest increase in facial hair styles out of those tracked by the brand, including clean-shaven, stubble, mustache, beard, beard with mustache and goatee.
Following a cyclical trend pattern throughout history, mustaches previously peaked in the U.S. in the mid-aughts as millennials embraced ironic fashion. The current iteration “started to gain momentum over the pandemic, and now we’re just in a full-force mustache era,” said Taylor Hooker, marketing manager for activations in prestige grooming at Edgewell, the parent company of men’s grooming brand Jack Black.
Pop stars Justin Bieber and Harry Styles, “Last of Us” star Pedro Pascal, musician The Weeknd and “Euphoria” actor Jacob Elordi have been among celebrities seen with mustaches on the red carpet and social media in recent years, helping to accelerate the facial-hair style’s popularity.
Social media has also been a factor in the mustaches’s resurgence. Data collected by Jack Black’s marketing team shows that the phrase “top gun mustache” has been a trending keyword on social media, thanks to inspiration from the mustache on Miles Teller’s character in the 2022 “Top Gun: Maverick” film. The term has racked up 3.8 billion views on TikTok and a 3,200% increase in Google searches in the past 12 months. Yankees player Matt Carpenter has also been a major mustache influencer, with a 5,000% increase in searches related to his mustache since he trimmed off his beard in 2022.
“From a pop culture standpoint, there have been a few popular movies and shows in the last year starring men with mustaches, so it’s fair to say the style is more top of mind for guys,” said a Gillette spokesperson.
The mustache is also finding a place in the fashion world, where models have traditionally been expected to be more clean-shaven than the general population. That is quickly changing with models such as Jonathan Hayden, who has kept his mustache through fashion month and recently sported it in a sponsored post for Tiffany & Co.
“You don’t often see facial hair on the runway,” said S.S. Daley designer Steven Stokey-Daley in a press statement about the Braun partnership. “I now can’t imagine doing a show without facial grooming. It brings it all together.”
Among urban men in millennial and Gen-Z age groups, love for the mustache seems to be picking up steam at a faster pace than the general population, according to trendspotters’ observations.
“Greenpoint and Williamsburg have always had a good high concentration of well-groomed and not-so-well-groomed mustaches,” said street style photographer Johnny Cirillo. He estimated that the number of mustaches he’s photographed on the street has tripled this year. While he mainly noticed it concentrated in the more hipster areas, “In recent months, I’ve been seeing a ramping up of the upper-lip haircut all over NYC,” he said.
Mustaches also rode the general wave of facial hair’s skyrocketing popularity during the pandemic. “There are a few things that could be attributed to this trend. First, we know that during the pandemic – especially in early lockdown – guys were experimenting with their facial hair and different styles. So it’s possible that a mustache was a look they tried out and haven’t looked back since,” said the Gillette spokesperson.
TikTok influencer Eric Sedeño, for example, grew out his mustache in October 2020, saying that he’d noticed the “mustache and mullets” look take off since the start of the pandemic.
The comeback is likely also being driven by a desire for individuality, according to Phillip Wong and Brian Jeong, co-founders of men’s personal care brand Hawthorne. In addition to celebrities, they cited influencers such as New York Nico and Shy from Shy’s Burgers as trendsetters for the look.
Hooker said Jack Black has also tracked the rise of the combination of mustaches and mullets, especially among Gen Z.
“This Gen-Z guy is so much more willing to experiment with what he does and to change up his look, compared to what we’ve historically seen with the Boomer and millennial [customer],” she said.
“For me, it adds a new feature to my face that it didn’t have before. I’m in my mustache era. I think that, in general, it just makes a man look really handsome,” said Sedeño.
“My mustache was born of boredom from having a beard for 12 years,” said Kelcey Ayer, co-founder of indie-rock band Local Natives, which is known for its members’ mustaches. He also adopted the style at the beginning of the pandemic, in March 2020, and said he was not following a particular trend. “I honestly don’t follow facial-hair trends,” he said. “Between hating my face clean-shaven and wanting facial hair that wasn’t a beard, a mustache felt right.” He’s not open to all facial hair styles, however. “I will die before I have a goatee,” he said.
“With a wave of sameness and uniformity the past several years over social media, a lot of guys are learning to look inward and embrace the features that make them unique – and for a lot of guys, that can be facial hair,” said Wong. “I’ve noticed a big return to definable character traits, as customizing your online presence both for social media and gaming has become routine.”
Men’s brands are now offering a variety of products to help men care for their facial hair, including oils, balms, combs and wax. Often marketed with the word “beard” in the name, such as beard oils or beard balms, these products are increasingly being purchased by consumers specifically for the mustache.
“For so long, we created products that were catered toward beards because we were heavy into that millennial customer. He had a beard — like the COVID beard that all the guys had. But our beard grooming kit is so perfect for mustaches,” said Hooker. With the rise of the mustache, “We probably should have named it the facial-hair grooming kit, but it just doesn’t roll off the tongue as well.”
“We aim to make the self-care experience as thoughtful and experiential as possible, especially if it involves your face,” said Wong. “We’ve also heard from some experimental friends that our currently sold-out Water-Based Pomade both hydrates their mustaches and keeps it defined and healthy-looking.”
As mustaches take off, more mustached models and influencers are being shown in men’s-care brand marketing.
Gillette, for example, teamed up with influencers last summer for a #MustacheMonday campaign. Harry’s, meanwhile, “often” collaborates with mustached models and influencers for its campaigns, said Marina Cashdan, head of creative and communications at the brand.
“We hope the comeback of the mustache is another way guys are charting their own path and showcasing their personal style out in the world,” said Jeff Raider, co-CEO and co-founder at Harry’s.
As men’s personal-care companies develop future campaigns, products and even brands, the question for them is whether the mustache holds the same staying power that the beard has shown in the past decade. Facial hair, in general, has been on a long upward trajectory as office dress codes have relaxed, with the work-from-home era especially accelerating its popularity. Data from Kantar showed that 2021 marked the first time that there were more men with facial hair than those who were clean shaven, at 41% and 40% respectively.
There’s no doubt that the choice to adopt a mustache can still be a polarizing one, and not everyone sticks with it long-term. Many celebrities that made headlines with mustaches have since opted to grow out beards, such as Pascal, or return to a clean-shaven look, like Bieber.
In a recent sponsored TikTok video for Harry’s, fashion influencer Albert Muzquiz shaved his mustache and has since been wearing an all-over stubble look. “His followers have very strong opinions about him changing his signature style,” said Cashdan. “Put it back!!!” said one of the comments lamenting the new look.
Significant others’ opinions also often factor into the decision. While some find the look handsome, others are not so enthusiastic about their partners’ facial-hair choice. Justin Bieber’s wife Hailey Bieber, for example, is credited with requesting he shave his mustache.
“I’m currently rocking a major mustache, and my wife is borderline about to divorce me,” said Cirillo. He noted that we may be entering an era of peak mustache, which inevitably leads to oversaturation and decline in the trend cycle.
“Get your mustaches now before the trend reaches the internet and the fun ends,” he advised.