Makeup for Men: Rethinking Masculinity

Way back in the early '00s, I was Chorus Member No. 11 in my high school musical. During six weeks of rehearsals, I discovered two things that make men infinitely more attractive -- at least to me. The first was flared jeans. (By way of explanation, we were doing a rather trippy version of "Pippin." Enter the Men's Boot cut. Thank you, Buckle.) The second, lord help me, was makeup. I didn't want to like it. I like my men mannish -- five o'clock shadows, hunting vests, burly arms that can lift me off the ground and into a hug. But a little concealer, a little mascara ... and damn if those men didn't look sexier. Zits, gone. Undereye circles, erased. Cheekbones, chiseled. From on stage, anyway, these guys were the pinnacle of androgynous beauty.

Since then, makeup has made its way off the stage and onto straight men nationwide. A little eyebrow gel on the guy at Banana Republic. A stroke of charcoal around the eyes of a budding musician. It seems there's been a revival in recent years that makes dudes in makeup more acceptable. Perhaps it's so they can say, "Yo, I can wear makeup and women still swoon over me." Remember the pink shirt phenomenon a few years back? Confidence is always sexy, and being comfortable enough to do something feminine is, in some ways, the ultimate show of machismo.

And if that's the case, a lot of today's fashion-forward men must have enough extra testosterone to bottle it to sell at a profit (hey, we think we're onto a product line there). Because men's cosmetics are getting to be as sophisticated and diversified as ours. There are, basically, two major classifications: The first is makeup that is supposed to look like actual, visible makeup, girl-style; I'll get to that in a bit. The second is makeup that is supposed to look like Pretty Man. Witness Studio5ive. Witness Male Species. Witness Naturally Man and the Men Pen and 4VOO. That last one even puts it all out there on its homepage: "Using cosmetics is no longer exclusive to gay men. Makeup is an essential element in men's grooming."

Welcome to the wonderful world of beauty pressure, boys! This kind of dolling up appears to be an acute symptom of metrosexuality: It all started when shaving cream manufacturers convinced the public that the foamy white stuff men had been using for decades just wouldn't cut it. "Try this, it'll work better!" they shouted, thrusting forward specialty gels. Sensing no resistance, they took another step forward. "Hey, try this too! Your women will love it!" they cried, adding exfoliants, creams, masks, and scrubs to the men's drugstore aisles. Intoxicated by their image-control abilities, this new breed of shiny clean men walked right into marketers' trap, snatching up lash tint and lip enhancers. It's called mascara and gloss, bro. Don't lie to yourself.

Now witness the other, more paradoxical side of the male makeup boom -- cosmetics that don't make one's eyes look magically larger or one's skin look clearer, but rather that look like, well, cosmetics. This category belongs mostly to the Rocker, who somehow simultaneously pulls off black eyeliner, ridiculous bangs, and undeniable sexiness. To subdivide further, we might look at the emo rockers (just look at that pretty Pete Wentz above!). In this case, guyliner makes sense -- it gives him teary, dreary Sad Clown eyes. Emo boys, like girls, can show their pain, the logic goes. So it's okay for them to borrow cosmetic strategies from the milder sex.

A related but different group is the Glam-Rockers. Think of Kevin Barnes of Of Montreal -- he manages guyliner, stupid bangs, bizarre costumes, and face glitter, and he's still oddly magnetic. Note also the eye makeup on Poison frontman and "Rock of Love" star Brett Michaels (who, rather than wearing shaggy bangs, sports a perpetual bandanna to hide his hair loss: man-vanity at its finest). Although not an actual musician, Johnny Depp personifies the brooding artiste. As Captain Jack Sparrow, he scored major sex appeal with smoky eyes. Honestly, would the kick-ass-est pirate of the 19th century have been running around with smoky peepers outlined in charcoal? We're not sure, but we're swooning anyway. That hasn't been a million Halloween costumes across the country several years running for nothing -- those dudes are getting laid. By chicks with Johnny Depp-in-eyeliner fantasies.

Last, I must give a nod to the Goth, who would probably tell me he was doing this eyeliner thing way before it was trendy. Surprising factoid: The Goth poster boy isn't Marilyn Manson, as you young kids might think, or even the Cure's Robert Smith -- but Dracula. Theories on origin of the pale-skin-black-eyeliner drill point to the Big Bad Bat himself, who roamed around in a bloodless body with dark, haunting eyes. The Goth subculture started out as one component of the punk rock movement. The black uniform and sullen stares countered the chipper days of disco, and when the punk rock scene faded, the subculture lived on. It's possible the Goth's makeup, in grand Dracula tradition, is supposed to make him look as scary and threatening as possible -- or he might just be seeking shock value. Pay attention to me, but do not attempt communication, the entire look often screams. Most likely, he just doesn't want you to follow him into Duane Reade, where he will gaze for several minutes at the array of pale pressed powders at reasonable prices.

So how do women feel about men taking up more medicine cabinet space? I took an informal poll of my straight girlfriends. A sampling of responses:

"As long as it's on Zac Efron and he's dancing on a golf course." (Explanatory YouTube video: )

"Boys in makeup? Only if we're talking about boys in Chelsea."

"I'm okay with it, as long as it's Jared Leto, and only if it's Jared Leto, and not because of his crappy band, but because he once was Jordan Catalano. Ooh! I wonder if he decided to wear eyeliner because of Rickie!" [rushes to, a tribute site to "My So-Called Life," to bring up relevant script:]

Rickie: Okay, see, the Egyptians? They wore eyeliner to ward off evil spirits. They believed that if they outlined their eyes that the good spirits would spot them easier. I read it in a book. So that's why I tried it ... the eyeliner, I mean.

Brian: So, you believe in, like, evil spirits?

Rickie: Oh, no. I'm Catholic. Basically, I just like how it looks.

Brian: Oh, okay. That kinda makes sense I guess.

Actually, I think that's it -- for the most part men wear it if they like how it looks. It's not a way for guys to feel feminine or macho, but rather a way of saying, "I can wear whatever the 'F' I want and still rock out/commandeer ships/ have my own reality dating show ... " And if feminism is really about equality, we can't hold certain lifestyle choices sacred to only our gender. Remember when men got all up in arms about women trading skirts for pants? Wearing makeup is a choice, sort of like working full-time or carrying a purse or watching pro-wrestling. Leaving choices open to half the population means duress to the other 50 percent. And nobody wins when half the camp has its arms tied behind its back.

Which doesn't mean you have to like it. You already know my feelings on dolled-up dudes wearing flared jeans and singing "We've Got Magic to Do" on stage. In the real world, I think makeup can look good on guys if it's obvious (not metro makeup) and they're wearing it confidently to distinguish themselves from a crowd. If that's the case, more power to 'em. Bring on the guyliner.

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