“Makeup is for girls”
No, Chad, it’s not just for girls, that’s just your intolerance showing
For a long time, Makeup has been seen — at least by the general public — as exclusively sign of femininity. It’s not something that guys wear on themselves, and how dare we ‘steal’ that from the girls. Is there something wrong with us — we must be gay right (well okay I identify more gay leaning but that’s an aside). I’m here to say no, no we don’t have to be gay to enjoy wearing makeup, we don’t have to be anything. To wear makeup it’s simply a case of just…. well wearing makeup. You just… put it on. It may not always be a precise artistic application — but you know what? That’s fine as well. Because you don’t need to be super amazingly precise (in my opinion at least) without you want to make a career of it, you just need to have fun. But what if I was to say that there’s a long history of guys wearing makeup and nail polish, and doing many other things that in modern time would be seen as feminine? That’s what I want to talk about in this story.
However first of all a bit about me, and only a small bit, I’m vain okay? I discovered — or rediscovered should I say — my love of wearing makeup as I went through another gender identity realization event. I don’t want to say switch — as I don’t feel my identity has switched itself, I’ve just learned more about myself through time. I wish I could wear makeup more, but unfortunately, I can’t due to where I live, and the fact that it wouldn’t be necessarily safe for me to do so. However I come at it very much from the point of view as an artist, I enjoy experimenting, exploring, playing with color and using my face and skin as a canvas I can paint on, to adjust and illuminate certain features, to mask others (like top surgery scars!). It seems that historically I’m not the only one who has used makeup to do such.
So how far back did this seemingly modern phenomenon of guys wearing makeup stretch to — and what changed? We start our journey in Ancient Egypt, around 4000 BCE. Now in Ancient Egypt, both genders wore makeup — particularly that noticeably smokey black kohl around the eyes, done for a mix of religious-spiritual reasons (to ward off the evil eye, the perception kohl would protect against infections, to imitate and as thus become closer to the gods to name a few), in varying elaborate styles. Green malachite also very rapidly became a staple used to accent, to create pops of color around the eye area. Finally was the usage of lip color (and the painting of the nails), and blush. This application was very much related to class — as again while the lower classes could make their tints and the tools to apply such — it was only the upper class who could afford to accent their lips, and even get a unique color for themselves. Cleopatra had a particular shade of carmine red that only she wore.
Our next time period of focus is on Elizabethan England. This point of time laid claim to one of the more dangerous makeup trends. The use of Venetian Ceruse — a particularly cakey shade of white hue that lightened the skin tone considerably, and by sheer nature of how it was applied hide the smallpox scars that blighted so many of the population and also contained lead. This lead over time would poison the individual, causing an exceptionally unpleasant death. However, it was all the rage, the pure white skin proving once more as a class marker. If you had such pure white skin, you could not possibly be of the labouring poor class, working in the fields ruining your skin's fine complexion. The male face, in particular, was seen during those times as a sign of wealth, intelligence, and honor, and so to be blighted by imperfections would cast doubt upon all of those qualities.
We must also look to the court of King Louis XVI, where due to his own premature baldness he brought in the high wigs and extravagant facepaint, a look the men (and women) of court copied to ensure his favor. Beauty marks painted on, high stuffed wigs, fur muffs, all signs of opulence and extravagance, and a grand ball of wealth and richness. For again, makeup, and the expensive cost of such, meant it was rare for the laboring poor to be able to afford such items.
It was likely the high lead content in the facepaint that is believed by many sources to have caused the death of the then reigning monarch Queen Elizabeth I, that possibly put the nail in the coffin for makeup — not just for men, but for all but those considered of the basest class. At least in Great Britain, I cannot find sources for the rest of the world. However, this was a time when Great Britain was seen as a great power, with colonies across much of the world. For under the reign of Queen Victoria makeup was relegated to the position of doing the ‘devils work’ and worn only by sex workers. The effect was immediate, with the Church of England giving the same approach, makeup during the Victorian time period was largely abandoned. Instead, it was seen as good and healthy to show one's natural complexion.
At least until the late 19th and early 20th century. Makeup had cleaned up its act, there was no more lead in the makeup. It was safe to wear. This was also the point where the Industrial revolution hit its peak, and many labor-saving devices were starting to come onto the market. This lead to the women of the house having more perceived free time, and makeup was marketed solely to them. No more was it considered the norm for males and females to partake in makeup, due to advertising. Instead, makeup became for many years the sole female domain, with the focus on allowing females to become ‘alluring’ to ‘charm’ the male gaze, and to generally make themselves appealing to men. This was the start of makeup being used as a way of attracting men, attracting the male gaze, in a refined and genteel manner. A passive form of attraction as it were.
This trend was to continue with those masculine-presenting individuals deemed to be gay, or medically unsound without they belonged to specific subcultures — the Glam Rockers, the femmes, the punks and the goths to name but a few. They were not, however, the mainstream. The only other men who wore makeup — if very natural makeup, intended to enhance their features so they would show better on the silver screen — were the filmstars of the 1930s. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that men wearing makeup, and the concept of metrosexuality, started to return to the mainstream. It was acceptable to be well-groomed, suitably manscaped, and to throw on a small amount of guyliner. This was the start of the ‘revolution’, though I prefer to call it a return to makeup being an artistic tool in an ever-evolving selection of tools.
2010 hit and the big-name makeup brands took notice. Masculine-presenting individuals took off on social media, wearing makeup, carving their own niches, and this had been happening quietly until 2010. This was the year that the large names of makeup acknowledged this growing trend. In 2016 James Charles became the first cover-boy on the cover of Cover Girl, which historically only showcased women in its campaigns.
In modern times makeup with the bright flashy eyeshadow colors and rouged lips is still very much female-dominated, but there are signs this is slowly starting to shift. It’s becoming acceptable for men to be metrosexual, and to use face creams, and foundation, and concealer, in the name of covering up imperfections.
So sorry Chad, but no “Makeup isn’t just for girls”. Makeup is genderless, it’s always been genderless. It’s only advertising that has taught us otherwise.
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