Article by Sofia Goldstein
Makeup for men has existed since early history. In ancient Egypt, men wore kohl eyeliner and dark eyeshadow, used oils and fats as lotion, and applied henna dye to conceal gray beard hairs. Egyptian men were even buried with their cosmetic box to symbolize their rank, showing the value to which they held their appearances. Ancient Roman men used pigments and powders and 18th-century French aristocrats applied red cheek rouge, fake beauty marks, and heavy white face paint to lighten their skin.
However, men experienced a change in attitude toward beauty products at the turn of the 19th century. They stopped wearing makeup and avoided extravagant clothes, deciding that men needed to wear simpler clothing and plain faces. British psychologist John Carl Flügel called this period the Great Masculine Renunciation, as men assigned traits and habits to be feminine or masculine with hardly any overlap between the two.
The idea of cosmetics and more ornate clothing being solely feminine has carried on for years in Western society, leading to women being the beauty industry’s target consumer. As a result, men looking to do so have not been given as many opportunities to care for their appearances through cosmetic products. This is in part due to the social mindset that, because we associate makeup with women as an impact of products being made for women and the Great Masculine Renunciation, men who wear makeup are considered too feminine.
Musical artists in history have made progress in changing this idea of masculinity by wearing makeup. For example, the singer Prince was known for his use of makeup and bold outfits starting in the 1970s. He wore heavy black eyeliner and clothes such as frilly tops, sequins, lace gloves, and heels. Prince proved that one’s gender should not restrict them from wearing makeup or dressing a certain way, which supports the concept that men should have a space in the beauty industry and leads to the reconsideration of the idea of masculinity.
David Bowie also experimented with cosmetics during his singing career, beginning in 1969. He was famous for the multiple eras of appearances that he used to mark different times throughout his career. As the character Ziggy Stardust from his 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Bowie dyed his hair a deep flame color, used products to style his hair into a mullet, and painted his forehead with futuristic glitter makeup circles. With Bowie’s 1973 album Aladdin Sane, he kept the Ziggy Stardust mullet but painted a lightning bolt across his face. The album Pin Ups, which came out later that year in 1973, was an era of dark eyeliner, mascara, and heavy blush.
Singer Harry Styles also wears what he pleases without conforming to gender norms. He is known for being a modern fashion icon, including his variety of makeup looks. Styles has been photographed wearing bold eyeshadow, mascara, eyeliner, contour, and lipstick. He also consistently wears clothing that people perceive as feminine, such as purses, pearl necklaces, and lace.
Multiple male singers have launched cosmetic companies, contributing to the growing presence of the male gender in the modern beauty industry. In November 2021, Harry Styles released Pleasing, a cosmetic brand that carries unisex nail polish, facial serums, and lip and eye products and encourages gender-neutral beauty with both male and female models. In December 2021, rapper Machine Gun Kelly released UN/DN LAQR, a nail polish brand that features bold and genderless colors to celebrate the changing norms around gendered fashion and beauty practices. These male-owned cosmetic brands have furthered the accelerating presence of the male gender in the beauty industry.
Through their cosmetic and fashion choices, Prince, David Bowie, and Harry Styles have expressed their own creativity and individuality, while also furthering the social movement of destigmatizing variations of masculinity. Their actions have resulted in the rapid expansion of the space for men in the beauty industry through male-owned cosmetic lines. Social media is a crucial tool for the spread of the idea that makeup is a way to feel like and present one’s best self, without regard for one’s gender. Already having undergone many progressive changes, the cosmetic industry is projected to only advance from here.