Sunday, 7 June 2009

Men and Makeup

You'd be hard-pressed to find a bigger fan of men in makeup than me. Maybe I shouldn't admit it, but there it stands.

However on a recent trip to check out Illamasqua, I was served by an overtly bitchy guy in drag. Did he feel he had to be that way to complement his ostentatious fake lashes and glitter? I could tell he was viewing me as a corporate slave, by dint of my rather austere coat and boots and generally sober garb (it was a weekday). I felt uncomfortable and ended up going on a Trish McEvoy haul instead.

Yet in fact one of my favourite books is "DRAG: A History of Female Impersonation in the Performing Arts" by Roger Baker. The book traces the progress through centuries of female impersonation, which began with pageants as far back as 1100. The catalyst proves to have been the Church dramatisations: It all began as an attempt to make the liturgy of the church more intelligible to the largely illiterate congregations’, which evolved to incorporate comic routines.

The last day of Christmas (Twelfth Night) became associated with misrule and reversal of order. As the various dramas were completely separated from the Church and responsibility for them was taken over by the local Guilds, each Guild chose episodes most appropriate to their skill (mystery plays) and Bible stories were given sub-plots. Noah’s wife in particular, although not imbued with any characteristics in the original story, became a nagging shrew and still stands as a blueprint for countless nagging wives jokes.

Aside from the prevalence of what Baker calls the "Male Actress" in all corners of the world - from the ancient theatres in Japan and China, to the post-war boom of drag acts in Britain, to the trend in American cinema from Tootsie to Mrs Doubtfire, spreading then to Baz Luhrmann's fantastic Priscilla Queen of the Desert and the countless cross dressing comedians, from Benny Hill to Dame Edna, culminating in the revival now of stage musicals: Priscilla Queen of the Desert (with Jason Donovan reclaiming the chance he had all those years ago, and possibly going some way to softening the fact that he killed 'The Face' magazine off....), and Hairspray; The Rocky Horror Show. What's clear is that never has drag lost its audience. The recent passing of Danny La Rue has brought that point back too.

But if drag is at one extreme, does it filter down to the everyman or will it always be at the periphery, and always under the guise of entertainment?

We must remember Superdrug (UK drugstore) picking up Taxi Man, a brand which excels at punning: "Disguys", the concealer; followed by the now familiar "manscara" and "guyliner". The promo pic was accordingly mainstream, featuring a very heterosexual looking cabbie:

However despite the brand holding up Russell Brand and Robbie Williams as examples of their target audience mainstream appeal, the very use of these jocular terms admits their taboo nature.

Even at the other side of the spectrum, where it seems there are genuine attempts to invite male grooming and vanity to come to the fore (in much the same way as a female consumer may be enticed), there lies a coyness.

Notwithstanding the fact that the term 'makeup' is avoided, replaced by a more vague descriptions such as 'complexion enhancer'; the mascara a 'brow and lash groomer', and packaged in masculine affirming black thick robust compacts, Jean Pual Gaultier, who led the pack, had the press release of his Monsieur range as:

'A Monsieur lies hidden in every man. Monsieur is sophisticated and elegant without fuss or complication, but of course not without humour'.

This vital reference to "humour" may be there to relax its male purchaser that it's all just an experiment; a laugh. At the least it acknowledges that these products are usually only to be found at the margins of society and generally associated with rebellious teens, eccentric gay men and cross-dressers.

YSL's famous hero product, Touche Eclat, also seemed to transfer well. It already had a pen design rather than anything too flouncy, so renamed 'L'Homme Touche Eclat" and deprived it of its shiny gold tube (in favour of pewter) YSL used the biggest pleb-magnet - a Big Brother contestant!

Stuart Pilkington as the face of the eyeliner and concealer look:

Johnny Depp in his role as a pirate has done much to popularise the eyeliner look, and of course Pete Wentz fancies himself as another male makeup icon.

For a rock look, it seems in keeping with the role. However, this still means male makeup is marginalised.

Clarins male bronzing ranges, and Clinique's, and the countless male skincare products now launching within mainstream drugstore ranges, all attempt to edge closer to a point where men reach for their bronzer, concealer, mascara and lip tint without a moment's hesitation. Companies, after all, could double their market if they could convince men that they, too, were unsightly without make-up.

Before dismissing any likelihood of this,it is worth remembering that up until the 1850s men did openly wear makeup.

Male makeup has a long history, starting with the Egyptians, whose men applied thick eyeliner to ward off the "evil eye." Roman men used chalk-based foundation to brighten their complexions, and, in the 18th century, Louis XV and his court made it highly fashionable for men to wear (often toxic lead-based) makeup and rouge. During the French Restoration in the 18th century, red rouge and lipstick were used to give the impression of a healthy, fun-loving spirit.

Eventually, their preference for excessive makeup led to the jibe that the "painted" French had something to hide. Thus the trend ebbed as it began to be associated with being a rather too dandy sort. Perhaps by adding L'Homme or Monsieur, these cosmetic houses aim to hark back to a French bygone era?!

It is hard to think that eyeliner on a man will be acceptable outside of the confines of a deliberate artistic flourish, but indeed our times seem to have heralded the return of the dandy:

"Recent reports have revealed that the global sales of men's grooming products reached $19.5bn in 2008. The value of the market in 2009 is estimated to be $21.7bn, an increase of 11.3% as compared to last year.... The desire to look and feel healthy has been driven by male role models such as film actors and sportsmen, and communicated via the huge growth in premium magazines dedicated to men.... As the boundaries between genders continue to be broken down, global companies are expected to find increasingly innovative ways to profit from the evolving characteristics of the male consumer." 1

Is male makeup the last bastion of the gender divide? Will the acceptance of male skincare extend to male cosmetics?? What are your predictions and thoughts???


  1. I think slowly but surely it will creep in - men seem to be getting more and more accepting of skincare etc, surely makeup is the next step...

  2. @mizzworthy

    That's what I think too!! scary stuff! They are always intrigued by our lotions and potions so I don't put it past them at all to start experimenting. Once they realise the power of foundation there'll be no stopping them!! aargh!

  3. I have seen men browsing aisles of make-up, picking up concealer and powder but I just don't think they would talk about it or admit it, especially to their mates. I reckon a lot of professional business men wear make-up like concealer and natural looking bronzer to help them look their best especially as they can be under a lot of stress and sleepless nights. I used to work as a receptionist in a day spa and we had loads of men come in for manicures and pedicures as going into the boardroom with scraggly peeling cuticles is seen as a no-no in some firms. I reckon manicures are fine, and face creams and lotions but make-up like lip-gloss and mascara? That would be weird!!

    I really enjoy your posts Gail. You always explore the subject in depth and present us with questions and cultural issues that are usually swept under the superficial layer that surrounds the topic of make-up and beauty. It's very refreshing.

    PS: I know which Illamasqua guy you're talking about. He's so moody! But I suppose it's his "alter ego"!

  4. @LamiatS

    haha that is soooo hilarious, yes goes to show sometimes your alter ego should be kept behind closed doors!!! Illamasqua are opening a can of worms there hahahahah!!

    Oh and how interesting to have the insider knowledge! Fabulous!! Thanks so much for the compliment too, highly appreciated! - I have so much fun doing my blog, but I do wonder if anyone actually reads them haha, so thanks!!!!

  5. Youd be hard pressed to get my man to wear makeup! Although ....shhhh...dont share this with ANYONE! He has admitted to putting a bit of concealer on when he was a teen and had acne.So I do think certain products that are unnoticeable like concealer and powders may be somewhat secretly popular, however I doubt eye makeup will ever become mainstream.Most men are just plain lazy about that sort of thing.
    Who knows though!


    Yes from talking to male friends somehow they are admitting to concealer ... it's like concealer has already made the transition into unisex territory already... it's a slippery slope! x

  7. In highschool (in a smallish southern town of all places), we had this yearly pageant called the ugly walk that came right after the "real" beauty pageant. One year, I participated in putting slap on a football player as well as dress and heels. It was amazing to see how so transformed these young men looked. Some even looked like attractive women, awkward but still feminine nonetheless. I wonder if any of them dress up now to re-visit the good ole days...

    The above story was just for fun...Now, one of my good male friends loves high-end skincare and is always on the look out for that perfect concealer. Unfortunately, for me, he isn't interested in putting on anything else; unless were going to a gay bar, he'll put on a little eyeliner.

    With the advent of the Metrosexual (although not really a word that's batted around anymore), I think men are more than ever concerned about their physical appearances. Although, my thought is that they will probably seek out plastic surgeons, derms, or artfully applied tans before applying a layer of foundation.

    As always, great post Gail!

  8. My boyfriend is a fan of the occasional makeup. He tends to save it for the nights we're going out and he's feeling especially "rocker". Then he'll put on a bit of black eyeliner (on the top lid) and mascara.

    He's always been particular about his facial hair and is one to make it very unique, so it was never a surprise to see him dabbling into the makeup fun! :)

  9. @Kendra Congrats on your lovely baby!!! And your man has gorgeous eyes, don't blame him for wanting to enhance them!!! xxxx

  10. I'm a guy and I admit, I wear makeup. Although I tend to stick with the "complexion enhancers" mentioned above. But still, I wear as much as any woman: foundation, concealer, blush, powder, eyeshadow, black and white eyeliner, and (slightly) tinted lip balm. It sounds like a lot but I only ever wear it in thin, naturally colored and tinted, well blended amounts. By the time I'm done it looks very natural actually. I personally see nothing wrong with men wearing makeup, or whatever you want to call it. But when they get gaudy with it, and are NOT in drag or some kind of costume, it can get a bit weird. Although, I've seen quite a few gaudy, overdone women as well...