As taboo as men wearing makeup is in some circles, it is far from being a new concept. Men should be able to wear makeup without judgement and there have been periods in the past where this has been the case. From the Ancient Egyptians who adorned their waterlines with thick black kohl eyeliner to the lead-heavy white face paint of 18th Century France – masculinity and makeup have gone hand-in-hand for thousands of years. Queen Victoria attached labels of immorality and sin to makeup (especially for men) which contributed to the stigma around male makeup that has lasted up until now, but without this judgement, perhaps makeup being worn fluidly across genders would be as natural as breathing.
In 2021, men wearing makeup is embraced and accepted by a wide range of communities, but there is still a long, long way to go to break down the walls of what is deemed ‘acceptable’. A huge part of the journey to making makeup accessible and acceptable for anyone who wants to use it is looking back in time. How did we get here? And what are our attitudes to men’s makeup today?
Scroll down to see the evolution of men’s makeup from Ancient Egypt to now.
See the infographic content below.
The history of men and makeup in the western world is complex to say the least. From ancient times where male makeup was normal and actively encouraged, to the more austere Victorian period where it was frowned upon and a damaging stigma was introduced, it has been a bumpy ride to get to some level of acceptance.
Makeup and masculinity went hand-in-hand during Ancient Egyptian times. You might be familiar with images of both Egyptian men and women wearing heavy makeup. It was used to indicate wealth (especially thick eyeliner), to protect from illness or disease, and for ritualistic purposes. Egyptians from all social classes wore makeup.
Wigs were also popular during this time to shield shaved heads from the sun.
What they used
- Kohl eyeliner
- Red ochre lip + cheek stain
- Green malachite eye shadow
- Animal fats used for moisturizer and hair product
- Henna hair dye
At the start of the Roman Empire, it wasn’t acceptable for men to use makeup and society frowned upon it. Some men did go against the grain and wore makeup anyway, but they were seen as immoral and effeminate. The use of makeup became more wide spread as the Roman Empire grew, and more men started using rouge and painting their nails.
What they used
- Powder to lighten the complexion
- Light perfumes
- Rouge on cheeks
- Nail polish made from blood + pig fat
- Hair removal was acceptable
Elizabethan Era England
Powdered, pale skin was extremely popular during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Tanned skin was associated with the poverty of labourers who worked in the sun – so the more ghostly your complexion was, the better. Other forms of male makeup weren’t popular amongst the general population.
What they used
- Thick, white face powder
- Often dangerous, lead based makeup
18th Century France
Wigs were popularized by King Louis XVI, who chose extravagant hair pieces to hide his early onset baldness. He was also a fan of makeup, choosing powder whitened skin and painted on beauty marks. Makeup was a sign of aristocracy, no matter whether you were a man or a woman. Middle classes also wore makeup, but not as much as those better off than them.
What they used
- Heavy white face paint
- Red cheek rouge – which was often toxic
- Red pomade for lips
- Silk, satin or taffeta facial beauty marks, attached with glue
Makeup was basically a big no-no in Victorian times. Queen Vic didn’t approve of it and deemed it immoral. Religion also played a role in the Victorian’s condemnation of makeup. Despite this attitude, makeup wearing was acceptable for male actors (since females weren’t allowed to act.) Male grooming was firmly back ‘in’.
Queen V’s opinions on makeup affected the world at large for a while, but male makeup eventually started to see a rise in popularity with the advent of 1930s Hollywood. The act of subtle makeup wearing and male grooming became known as ‘metrosexual’ beauty.
What they used
- Hair products
- Camera makeup
1970s and 1980s
Makeup during this era wasn’t popular in most circles, but it was used in creative, stunning ways by iconic musicians on the fringe of rock’n’roll like David Bowie, Boy George and Prince. This was a key turning point in breaking down the gender barriers of makeup and it made the public start to challenge stereotypes, as well as social and political norms. Male makeup artists began cropping up during this time.
1990s and 2000s
You might remember the phrase ‘guyliner’ being thrown about in the late 90s and early 2000s as pop-punk bands ascended to fame. Stars who helped to popularize male makeup during this time include Jared Leto, Billie-Joe Armstrong and Pete Wentz. Despite being taken up by the followers of these bands and artists, these styles of makeup didn’t become popular amongst the rest of the population.
However, we did see “Metrosexuality” re-emerge during this period, with some makeup brands beginning to target men with their marketing efforts.
The dawn of the male MUA. The rising use of social media and blogging platforms made makeup artistry, techniques and looks more widely available to men. Despite this availability still not making men wearing makeup the social norm, communities began to rise up around popular beauty influencers such as James Charles and Jeffree Star.
The world has reached a new level of acceptance where in many circles (at least in Westernized societies) anyone is welcome to use makeup. Men use makeup in both natural and stand-out ways to create every day looks and enhance their natural features, and general skincare in particular has seen a huge rise in popularity.
Top male beauty influencers
These are the top male beauty influencers on Instagram right now.
- James Charles
- Wayne Goss
- Manny Gutierrez
- The Skincare Saviour
- Gabriel Zamora
- Jeffree Star
- Lewys Ball
- Patrick Starrr
- Bretman Rock
With male beauty influencers continuing to grow their audiences, and younger generations being raised in a world of greater acceptance, we can only assume that male makeup will continue to become normalized in the western world.
There’s still a long way to go, but we’re definitely on the right track.