Think makeup is for women only? Well, think twice, because makeup has been around for millennia and it was used by both men and women equally. I mean, why wouldn’t a guy want to make himself more beautiful? Back then the culture was different and there were less gender prejudices than we have in the modern world. Ancient Egyptians did it, Romans did it, and even Brits did it back in the day. So why did guys stop using makeup? Here is the extraordinary history of men’s makeup from 4000 BC to 2020 AD.
I think we can all agree that Egyptian guys looked pretty cool back in the day (at least, according to the remaining images). They didn’t think their masculinity would disappear if they wear some paints on their face – on the contrary, their regal eye makeup made them look even more powerful! They started doing it around 4000 BC and the makeup kept evolving. From black liners they went to green malachite eyeshadows and even used some red pigment on their lips. It wasn’t only for beauty – makeup had a magical, medicinal, and practical purpose. It was also a showcase of one’s status.
Around 1st century AD Roman guys were just as into cosmetics as were women. Today we would call it ‘gender bending’, but in those frivolous times guys simply liked to take care of themselves and had beauty routines of their own. They used rogue on their lips for a stunning effect and preferred to lighten their skin tone with special powders. They also painted their nails with some wild mix of pig blood and fat.
What about European culture then, you might ask? Well, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, English men were doing even more makeup than ladies! They adored taking care of their skin and used natural ingredients like eggs and honey to create facial masks, much like we do today. Still, everyone wanted to have pale skin and that led to using the white powder makeup which turned out to be quite deadly. Everyone wanted to have white hair, but the bleaching agent at that time was too harsh and often caused hair to fall out. That’s when the whole white wig aesthetic appeared!
This is the time when things got really bad for makeup-lovers all over Great Britain. Queen Victoria I was a strict lady and hated makeup so much that she proclaimed it immoral and utterly vulgar. Only theatre actors could paint their faces without facing repercussions. Actors were all male and had no other choice but to do drag to perform different plays. Church was also very powerful back in the day, so the whole makeup thing was declared as the work of the Devil, and no one wanted to get into that argument with the priests.
We should all thank Hollywood for starting a whole new era of male makeup. Being frowned upon and tabooed for hundreds of years, male makeup re-emerged quietly without any fuss whatsoever. Movie industry was interested in actors and actresses looking their best, so not only women, but men as well, underwent certain procedures. They were slight, but it was a start and a shift towards new makeup freedom.
70s and 80s
Male makeup came back with a blast riding the sound waves of rock and rock-n-roll. It was hardly mainstream, but guys who were in the music industry had the luxury of using makeup however they wanted. And oh boy, they went totally crazy with it! From polished look of Prince to a slightly weirder vibe of David Bowie and crazy-cool makeup looks worn by member of KISS– makeup was returning to the big scene and everyone loved it! It was also the time when male makeup artists like Way Bandy and Scott Barnes revealed themselves to the world. Scott Barnes, whose name is popular even today, confessed that professional makeup artists were mostly men!
The term ‘metrosexuality’ was re-introduced to the society as more and more musicians started using makeup, looking like they’ve just left a fancy beauty salon (which they probably did). We’re talking about artists like Adam Lambert and Jared Leto who liked to add a little extra panache to their looks, striking audiences on and off stage. Pop-punk bands popularized the male-eyeliner look, which inspired makeup brands to start releasing special makeup for men (because, obviously, girls‘ eyeliner is very different from boys’ eyeliner).
More men started embracing makeup, revealing what they can do with it. Androgynous men and women became a new fashion trend and that meant that the lines of makeup usage were also blurring. A guy could turn into a woman and a woman could look absolutely manly – those were the new freedoms we all got to experience thanks to the changing standards of beauty. Companies like Maybelline and Covergirl also used these trends to the fullest, showcasing male faces on their covers. And don’t forget David Beckham wearing eyeshadow on the cover of LOVE magazine!
Today makeup is as neutral as we have ever seen it, at least in our culture. More and more young men use it without feeling guilty or frowned upon. And why shouldn’t they perform some skincare routine to improve their look, or hide blemishes with a concealer just like women do? It’s not on a wide scale, of course, but makeup is becoming less of an issue with each passing year. Of course, if you take Asian countries like Japan and South Korea – guys have been using makeup there for decades and it has never been something extraordinary. It’s the most normal thing in the world, as well as a form of expression in various subcultures.