It began as a dare.
Baker not only accepted his co-worker’s challenge, he decided if he was taking on a beard, he was going to do it right.
“I bought some beard shampoo, beard oil and beard balm, and by the end of the year in 2019, I had this really nice-looking beard,” he said. “It was about seven inches long — the longest one I’d ever had.”
There was one problem, though. His wife, Pam Baker, didn’t like it.
“She was always saying, ‘Okay, you’ve gone more than a year — when are you going to shave it off?’” said Baker, 49, a computer systems administrator and father of four.
“I’d also grown a big mustache, and the national mustache competition was coming up,” he said.
He struck a deal with his wife that he’d shave his beard but keep his huge mustache for the National Beard and Moustache Championships. He’d put so much work into it, and he’d grown it impressively long, so he wanted to see how far he could take it.
Then, to his great shock, he won first place in the handlebar mustache category in 2020.
There was no going back.
“I was so shocked when they announced I was the winner that I about fell off my chair,” he said. “I decided right there to keep going with it.”
The following year, in 2021, he came in second place in the handlebar category. And in November 2022, with about 200 competitors across all categories, he clinched first place again by winning the top freestyle mustache.
“Styling my mustache has become a passion of mine,” he said. “I’ve really learned a lot since I started on this journey four years ago.”
He now has his sights set on the World Beard and Moustache Championships this June in Germany.
Baker has had a beard and mustache on and off since leaving the Army in 2005 “because finally, nobody could tell me I couldn’t grow facial hair,” he said.
But this mustache he’d grown was something apart.
Now, each morning, he picks which style he’s in the mood for: Sometimes he styles his mustache into a classic handlebar shape, other days he’ll go for the Imperial look — a thick tapered design with sloping points.
He’s been known to opt for the Hungarian — a thick and bushy Wyatt Earp style mustache — or the English, a tight and narrow mustache with straight, pencil-thin ends.
A support network of 1.3 million followers on TikTok watch his videos about proper mustache care and cheer him on, said Baker, noting that he also posts photos of his latest mustache looks on Instagram.
He has named his mustache Elliot Norris, “because if Sam Elliot and Chuck Norris had a baby, my mustache would be it,” he said.
When one of his mustache heroes, MJ Johnson, called from Minnesota in 2021 and asked if he’d like to appear with him in interviews to promote mustache competitions, Baker was all in.
He and his mustache were also featured in a short film about bare-knuckle boxing, “Alexander the Brain,” which has not been released yet.
“They told me they’d like to get a solo shot of my mustache to showcase it, and I told them if they needed somebody to take some punches, I was up for it,” Baker said. “That’s how I ended up with a speaking part.”
People pepper him with questions on social media. It isn’t uncommon for him to be stopped when he’s shopping or dining out.
“My mustache definitely piques a lot of curiosity, but I don’t mind,” Baker said. “It allows me to reach and engage with people from around the world and show them it’s not overly difficult to grow a big mustache and maintain it.”
Most people want to know how Baker manages to eat without ending up with marinara sauce or clam chowder all over his face.
There’s a video for that, he tells them, directing them to his TikTok page.
“Basically, I style [the mustache] away from my mouth with wax, and I drink a lot more stuff with straws,” he said. “You don’t want to chew the mustache or bite the hairs off. Otherwise, you’ve just lost four months of growth.”
Baker said he spends about 20 minutes each day styling his mustache using a product called Death Grip Wax. At night, he will sometimes sleep with a small pillow balled up beneath his jaw line to help preserve the shape of his handiwork.
“I always tell people on social media that my motto is to be you, be genuine and let your passions flow,” he said. “When I share my routines, it’s my hope that somebody else might be inspired.”
He now uses his newfound celebrity to draw attention to male health issues, he said, noting that he has helped raise funds for prostate cancer research and suicide prevention, and he participates every year in the Movember mustache-growing campaign to raise awareness about the importance of men’s health.
But people (including his wife) still often ask what it would take for him to shave his mustache off, Baker said.
“I see this question all the time, and I’ve decided that it would take 10 million TikTok followers or $10 million U.S. dollars,” he said.
Baker’s biggest fan, his 8-year-old daughter Lilah Baker, said that’s not an option.
“We’d have to move houses — I’d be very disappointed if he shaved it off,” she said.
That’s good enough for her dad, although he notes that he’d also consider getting out his electric razor if people donated $5 million to one of his favorite charities.
Until then, he said, the coifed and curated hair on his upper lip will remain his signature look, with a little help from some shaping wax.