Facial hair is widely perceived as masculine and mature. Be it a well-groomed moustache or a lush and untrimmed beard, prominent facial hair on a male character is used to show them as a bona fide tough guy, a man's man, a veritable buffet of manliness.
The reason for this is that women and young boys usually don't grow facial hair, and the lack of it on a post-pubescent man can make them look "delicate" (see Pretty Boy) so its presence is associated with a gruff, hardened older guy. While a sufficiently muscled and square-jawed hunk can get away with being clean-shaven or sporting Perma-Stubble, he is just as likely to have a thick moustache and/or a full and gorgeous beard. Characters who lack facial hair can be considered less masculine, and the growth of facial hair on someone who was previously unable to grow one or was clean-shaven can be a visual indicator that the guy Took a Level in Badass.
Common "manly" types who tend to have facial hair are the Chick Magnet (who may be sporting a Clark Gable-style mustache), the Mighty Lumberjack and Nature Hero (in these cases a bushy beard shows their relation to and dominance over nature), The Strongman (who is usually associated with a handlebar moustache), and the Macho Latino sporting one of the Magnificent Moustaches of Mexico. Sometimes the association becomes parodic, as in the case of Testosterone Poisoning types who also sport exaggerated facial hair.
Sister Trope to Carpet of Virility, which achieves the same effect with chest hair, and Lantern Jaw of Justice, the way to go if you want to look manly without a beard. Super-Trope to Beard of Barbarism (where long facial hair is used to mark someone as being from a violent warrior culture) and Seadog Beard (where a bushy beard is on an experienced seaman). Compare Girls with Moustaches, mustached or bearded women are usually presented as funny or disgusting, since women should not be manly and should not have facial hair. And note that not all facial hair is manly — a Porn Stache might make people giggle instead, and a Wizard Beard serves more to make them look wise and old.
In real life, moustaches are considered more professional than beards and they were mandatory in certain services. In certain areas of India, police officers are encouraged to grow a moustache or have moustaches as part of the uniform. From 1860 to 1916, it was mandatory for British soldiers to wear moustaches and they would be arrested if they removed their facial hair. Beards have also fallen in and out of fashion throughout history. They were out in the 20th century thanks to the rise of widely-available shaving equipment making it easy to get rid of facial hair, but made a comeback in the 21st.
Note: it is not enough for a male character to simply have a moustache, sideburns, or beard. The work must associate the facial hair with masculinity in some way.
- Fullmetal Alchemist:
- Major Alex Louis Armstrong, despite being totally bald save for one lock of hair, sports a prominent handlebar moustache. Fittingly he's one of the most overtly manly characters in the series: he's got incredibly large muscles and has one of the most physical fighting styles among the State Alchemists.
- Sid, Izumi's husband, is a bearded butcher who's equally as tough and muscled as Armstrong and can fight alongside him despite not being an alchemist himself. Notably, when Armstrong meets him for the first time, Sid's face is one of the things he admires.
- Invincible: The Viltrumites are a race of physically powerful and genocidal space conquerors who prioritize strength. Perhaps fittingly, it is cultural tradition among their males to sport thick mustaches. When Mark becomes the Emperor at the end of the series, he has to justify why he remains clean-shaven.
- The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie: When SpongeBob and Patrick feel like they're not manly enough to make it to Shell City, Mindy decides to use her "mermaid magic" to make them into men. What she actually does, however, is stick seaweed on their faces to make it look like they have moustaches. With their newfound confidence, our duo head back on the road... but they then run into Dennis the bounty hunter, who not only tears off their fake moustaches, but shows them what a real moustache looks like by instantly growing one himself.
- Rod of the film Hot Rod wears a fake moustache when performing stunts in order to make himself manlier. He claims to have some kind of hormonal imbalance that prevents him from growing a real one, but at the end of the movie he's starting to grow one for real anyway.
- Police Academy: Hightower has a thick mustache and is one of the toughest characters in the franchise.
- The Princess Bride: The contrast in physical capability between facial hair haves and have-nots can be seen in the main characters.
- Wesley was clean-shaven as the innocent farm boy at the beginning. By the time he turns up again as the formidable fighter the Dread Pirate Roberts he's gotten a moustache. Master Swordsman Inigo Montoya has a fairly bushy moustache of his own, while the strong giant Fezzik has healthy sideburns. The villainous yet competent Rugen, Humperdinck's main enforcer, has a Beard of Evil.
- These stand in contrast to the sniveling Vizzini, the Prince Charmless Humperdinck, the elderly Max, and the creepy Albino, who don't have facial hair.
- "Macho Man" Randy Savage always had a beard and/or moustache (usually both) on.
- Dead In Vinland, being set in The Viking Age, is unsurprisingly chock full of these. Almost every single male character, from The Hero to random mooks, has a beard, including non-Norse characters, and they tend to be ornate Beards of Barbarism, decorated with gold rings, braids, dreadlocks (in the case of eccentric African griot Cisse), and the like. Only Brother Angelico, a timid young Italian monk who's basically a male version of the White Magician Girl, is clean-shaven.
- Pokémon Black and White: Used as Tertiary Sexual Characteristics in the Jellicent line. Both male (blue) and female (pink) Jellicent have white lining underneath their eyes; in females this resembles a puffy collar, but in males it resembles a moustache.
- Street Fighter: Zangief, who's characterized by his muscular physique, boisterous attitude, and herculean levels of strength, has a very iconic beard that stays consistent across all of his appearances. He's also got a strong Carpet of Virility to go with it.
- Cyanide & Happiness: In one strip, two characters are comparing their manly mustaches. One of them has a mustache that is so manly, it can flex itself like flexing arm muscles.
- Overly muscled manly man and Awesome Aussie Saxton Hale of the Team Fortress 2 webcomics displays a thick and prominent moustache.
- The Amazing World of Gumball: In "The Mustache" the teenage Gumball and Darwin take a muscle-building supplement out of a desire to become men, and turn into heavily ripped and mustachioed strongmen.
- In Centurions, Max Ray (who was modeled after Tom Selleck) sports a Porn Stache, while Rex Charger has a sandy blonde beard that gives him a Viking-like appearance. Both characters (like all the other Centurions) are manly Action Heroes.
- Chowder: Mung Daal claims his mustache helps him with the ladies.
- Cupcake & Dino: General Services: Everyone in the eponymous club in "The Manly Men's Man Club" has a manly mustache. Cupcake himself grows one to join the club, only for it to become a rampaging monster.
- In one episode of Family Guy, Peter grows a moustache and becomes innately more badass: he rescues a guy from a burning building. However, the moustache is burnt off in the attempt, reverting him back to normal.
- The Simpsons: In "The Haw Hawed Couple", Homer's revised ending to the Angelica Button book has Greystash activate his "mustache powers," causing his mustache to enlarge and flex like muscular arms that punch Malicious Krubb into submission.
- The Village People's first recruitment was through a flyer that read, "Macho Types Wanted: Must Have Moustache".
- Pedro Pascal usually sports a groomed mustache while acting or making public appearances. He discussed this trope in an interview from the Triple Frontier press tour, claiming that someone warned him that he resembles their "grandmother" during his rare clean-shaven appearances.