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Hair today… Gone tomorrow

11/13/2013

When the Virginia Historical Society publications department was putting together the last issue of History Notes, I got a phone call informing me that there was a typo in the title of our November Behind the Scenes Tour “MoVember: A History of Facial Hair.”  That’s not a typo, I said, “It’s an actual thing!”

Since it started a decade ago in Melbourne, Australia, Movember has “grown” into a global movement. According to their website, there are now more than 3 Million “Mo Bros” and “Mo Sistas” participating in twenty-one countries.  Men can join the movement by growing a Mo (slang for mustache) for the 30-days of November and asking friends and family to donate to their effort to raise awareness of men’s health issues. Last year over 1.1 million people (209,000 in the United States) raised $147 million.

The variety of facial hair styles across the United States seems to be at its highest since the American Civil War. In addition to growing it today, there’s also an interest who grew it in the past. Yesterday I found myself playing a card game in which players needed to identify famous people based on a silhouettes of their facial hair. Although we may take it for granted, it’s important to remember that growing, or not growing, facial hair is a visual symbol of a man’s identity within a particular community. The circle beard popular when John Smith arrived at Jamestown was unfashionable in 1700. The smooth shave of the 1950s gave way to the handlebar mustaches of the 1970s. As for me, I’ve had an on again, off again relationship with facial hair.

If you’re interested in learning more about the long (and occasionally short) story of facial hair in Virginia and seeing what kind of facial hair I decide to wear, join me on our “MoVember” Behind the Scenes Tour on Saturday, November 30, at 10:30 a.m. No beards required.

Andrew Talkov is head of program development and coordinator for Virginia’s Civil War at the Virginia Historical Society.

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