What do John Waters, The Weeknd, and Will Smith have in common? Here’s a hint: it’s barely there but once you see it you can’t unsee it, and after a while, it grows on you. Answer: the thin mustache.
Up until recently, the thin mustache or “pencil mustache” could hardly be called an iconic style. Rather, what boosted its consistent, if not feeble popularity was the fact that those who dared to wear it had some outstanding (The Weeknd), outrageous (John Waters), or enigmatic (Will Smith) quality about them. Even its most famous poster child, John Waters, has openly admitted the choice to sport a thin mustache was just another part of his overall—and very intentional—sleazy look. But the pencil stache also has a dignified, Golden Age of Hollywood look about it that, like the fedora and bow tie, has managed to sneak its way into the twentieth and even twenty-first centuries as a unique, timeless style signature.
Nowadays, more and more male celebs are getting on the bandwagon and adopting an updated version of the thin mustache as a subtle, yet oh-so-impactful element of their personal look. As barbers Soren Roi and Benny Perez are about to show us, the new thin mustache can be a chic facial hair choice.
Meet the Expert
- Soren Roi is a barber at Fellow Barber Williamsburg.
- Benny Perez is a master barber for The Art of Shaving.
Is the Pencil Mustache Right for You?
Here are a few things to consider before taking the pencil 'stache plunge:
- Your Personal Style: “Wearing a pencil mustache can often be a statement about the music you listen to or a lifestyle you choose to embody,” says Roi. “It lets people know that you’re carefree enough to make a bold style choice but also meticulous in your grooming. You might be a rough-and-tumble kind of person but you take self-care seriously.”
- How Your Facial Hair Grows: If you’ve been aching to sport some sort of facial hair but find your natural beard only grows in patches and tufts, going for a thin mustache gives you a face-defining look that makes the most of the hair you can grow. You can even use an eyebrow pencil to add some realistic-looking definition.
- Your Hair Color: Roi points out that thin mustaches tend to work better on guys with darker hair, as a pencil-thin light-colored mustache won’t show up as well and could even look confusing to the eye (is that sweat on your upper lip?). However, those with lighter-hued hair could simply grow their pencil mustache a bit wider for an updated version that works with their natural look.
- Your Interest in Trendy Hairstyles: According to Perez, a thin mustache is an ideal accompaniment to some of today’s trendiest retro hairstyles, especially an undercut with a hard part or one of many modern variations on a nice, tight fade.
How to Shave a Pencil Mustache
To achieve the perfect thin mustache for your face, Roi recommends two things: a beard/mustache trimmer and a quality straight razor. “Regular razors often don’t give you enough visibility to achieve the thin lines of a pencil mustache,” he explains. He also says using a straight razor will help make maintenance easy, plus it immerses you in the delicate, yet rugged essence of the style.
As for the shaving part, start with a good, old-fashioned shave but leave your top lip for last. Then take the straight razor and gently work your way down toward your lip with brief, even strokes. Finally, use your trimmer (or mustache scissors if you’re used to them) to trim hair to about 1/8 inch, or longer if you’re going for a more modern version.
To complete the look (or if you accidentally cut a bit too low), Roi recommends using an eyebrow pencil or eyeliner in a shade that matches the color of your facial hair to fill in the stache for a clean line. Apply in fine, subtle strokes to build color beneath the hair so it looks natural.
If you have any doubts or questions, Perez recommends seeking the advice of your barber for your first few cuts to ensure you’re getting the right shape and doing it in the safest way possible. After all, the key to getting a pencil mustache right is confidence.
Maintaining and Styling a Pencil Mustache
With so little real estate to worry about, maintaining your thin mustache comes down to a quick trim every few days using a trimmer or mustache scissors, as well as practicing diligence while shaving. However, Roi points out that guys with darker hair are prone to a more prominent five o’clock shadow, which may end up diluting your pencil mustache or making it look unkempt if the stubble on top grows too long, so time your shaves accordingly.
Also, don’t be afraid to experiment. As you’re about to see, there are a wide variety of modern-day thin mustaches making the rounds, so if you’re game for the stand-out style afforded by a pencil mustache, play around until you find the one that works for you.
10 of Our Favorite Celebrity Pencil Mustaches
This is the OG thin mustache. The perfect balance of tooty and fruity, Little Richard embodies the more dapper side of the pencil mustache. “This pencil mustache makes his smile pop and with beautiful teeth like that, it really works to accentuate this feature,” says Roi.
Perhaps the most famous pencil mustache in the world, Waters’ take is pure kitsch—a perfect match for his art and lifestyle. “He’s darkened his mustache with a makeup pencil, which you can tell because his mustache is black but his hair is white,” says Roi. “He also has a little bit of a bleed out around his mustache. While it works for him, this can be a good example of what to be careful of if you want a more subtle style. Go easy on the pencil!”
Roi says Combs’ manicured goatee and mustache are iconic, but they overly accentuate the teardrop shape of his head. If you're going for a more balanced look, he suggests going for a full beard. Still, props to Puff for rocking such a style.
Milo’s wider take on the thin stache is paired with a soul patch and a nice amount of stubble for a cool, casual look. “This [stubble] length is actually good for a thin pencil mustache, but for this thicker mustache it looks a bit messy and unkempt,” says Roi. To avoid this stage Roi says it might be better to grow out a full beard and then go for the mustache once it gets to a length where the hair starts to lay down rather than stick out.
Could The Weeknd be any more innovative? Here he’s sporting a pencil mustache in a handlebar shape, which Roi says gives off a real '70s vibe, especially when paired with the tinted aviator sunglasses and plaid suit. The look could’ve gone overkill, but because the 'stache ends just below his mouth, Roi says it manages to look authentic and not costume-y.
Straight lines and sharp corners make Will Smith’s thin mustache look not only jiggy, but also high-maintenance. “The square shape of his goatee matches his hairline so well they could almost fit together like a puzzle,” says Roi. “I would assume that Will has these lines touched up before any big event where he wants to look sharp for the camera.”
Andre’s thin mustache-and-goatee combo is only one of 3,000 reasons we love his style, and Roi says that it works so well because it’s the perfect complement to the rest of his look: “His teeth have character, his mole has character, his facial hair is just there to hold down the foundation for everything else.”
Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Rhys Meyers's pencil mustache is a bit wide, but still nicely manicured. Roi says that he could’ve even gone a step further and darkened it in a bit with a mascara brush to give the appearance of a thicker stache.
Michael B. Jordan
“Michael’s mustache and goatee work well to balance out his face in this picture,” says Roi. “Without them, his dark eyebrows would stand out too much in contrast to his high fade. Most people don’t think of eyebrows as part of our facial hair but it’s good to consider them in the mix.”
“From looking at this photo I get the sense that Nick Cannon's facial hair doesn’t grow in fully, except for the mustache and goatee areas we see here,” Roi says. However, this is actually pretty common amongst men and is nothing to be ashamed of. Not everybody grows a full beard—sometimes Mother Nature picks our choice of facial hair for us, and Nick’s choice of thin mustache only helps to accentuate his classic smile.