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The Hair-Raising History of Movember and No-Shave November

For centuries, humans have grown their facial hair to reflect the cultural norms of the era. Ancient Egyptian nobles shaved their body hair yet wore artificial beards as a sign of divinity. The Mesopotamians and Greeks grew beards, while Macedonia's Alexander the Great and Rome's Julius Caesar shunned them. In the 19th century, Abraham Lincoln set a presidential trend in motion when he let his whiskers sprout for the start of his administration.

Now, a new entry can be added to the historical ledger with the emergence of rules to guide charitable-minded souls through the year’s penultimate month without shaving, a modern tradition fostered by the nonprofit organizations Movember and No-Shave November.

Movember Began in 1999

Closeup of a man twisting the end of his mustache.
Credit: Maria Khodosevich/ Shutterstock

The first organized attempt at a razor-free November can be attributed to a collection of friends in Adelaide, Australia, who launched a spirited effort to revive the popularity of the mustache in 1999.

Fusing the regional nickname for a mustache ("mo") and the 11th month into a catchy portmanteau, the friends designated "Movember" as a period to forego shaving that particular hair patch and formed the "Movember Committee" to coordinate communications and merchandise sales.

The group generated enough interest to earn a segment on Australia's Seven Nightly News, and while the buzz seemingly quieted after the early publicity, its record survives through a website that claims to be the home of the "MO-riginal and MO-fficial Movember."

In 2003, Movember Began Raising Money for Prostate Cancer

The back of Rugby player Joe Marler of Harlequins wearing a Movember t-shirt that says "Whatever you grow will save a bro."
Credit: Henry Browne via Getty Images

Four years later and some 450 miles away in Melbourne, buddies Travis Garone and Luke Slattery also got to talking about the possibilities of bringing back the upper-lip hair once proudly wielded by celebrities and laymen alike.

They recruited a group of 30 colleagues willing to push back against cultural etiquette for their version of Movember and, with a nod to a friend’s mother who was raising money for breast cancer, collected $10 from each of the "Mo Bros" to raise a modest sum for prostate cancer.

When the group swelled to more than 450 participants in 2004, and then to nearly 10,000 in 2005, the founders realized it was time to get serious with the enterprise. They registered Movember as an official charity and formed a partnership with the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, which received the largest donation in its history following the 2005 campaign.

By 2007, Movember had exploded beyond the shores of Australia and neighboring New Zealand to establish branches in Spain, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada.

A Cancer Patient’s Children Founded No-Shave November in 2009

A blue ribbon for  Prostate Cancer Awareness with a moustache.
Credit: ThitareeSarmkasat/ iStock

Meanwhile, a separate American organization was beginning to drum up interest with a close but not quite identical message to the hairy folks from Down Under.

After a Chicago man named Matthew Hill died of colorectal cancer in 2007, his eight surviving children rallied around a plan to raise money and awareness for cancer victims in their father’s memory. The Hills asked friends and family to forego shaving throughout November and donate the money that would otherwise be spent on razors and related grooming products, and in 2009, they formally launched No-Shave November.

Whether they were growing mustaches or full beards (or declining to shave their armpits and legs), American college students took to the challenges posed by Movember and No-Shave November, their enthusiasm fueled by the opportunity to showcase goofy facial hair and to partake in the celebrations that marked the close of a wild month.

Both Organizations Continue To Grow

Although the idea of nonprofits relying on funny facial hair had the potential to fizzle into an outdated fad, both organizations have displayed impressive staying power through the emphasis on charity.

Movember has positioned itself as a global driver of men's wellness, adding testicular cancer, mental health, and physical inactivity to its areas of focus. Along with announcing fun contests like the "Moscars," to celebrate videos created by participants, the organization launched the Global Action Plan (GAP) in 2010 to sponsor its research, and introduced the Move initiative in 2015 to inspire followers to improve their fitness routines.

Heading into 2021, Movember had raised more than $1.1 billion from its work in 20-plus countries.

No-Shave November lacks the global footprint of the Aussie-founded group but has also enjoyed steady growth. In 2015, the family launched the Matthew Hill Foundation to advance their efforts toward cancer research, prevention, and education. Entering 2021, with $12 million raised since its inception, the organization announced that donors would have more of a say in which specific cancer-fighting foundation they choose to fund.

It may seem like Movember and No-Shave November are at odds with one another, but the entities have shown they can co-exist while providing donors with a range of options, much in the same manner that one could grow a mustache, soul patch, goatee, or sideburns, or choose to wear them all together in perfect harmony.