A short history of men and make-up

When you ask a man who has never worn makeup before to pick up a cosmetic weapon of choice, nine times out of ten he reaches for the eyeliner. Thus is the power of Johnny Depp and Keith Richards before him. But guyliner didn’t begin with Pirates of the Caribbean, just as the man tan was not invented on TOWIE. The history of male cosmetics is a long one, which is why we’re always surprised when we read about it as a relatively modern concept.

You can watch Charlotte’s tutorial on subtle makeup for men, too.

Johnny Depp Pirates of the Caribbean

From 3000BC…

The earliest records of men using cosmetics were in Asia – in China and Japan 3000BC, men and women used tinctures of gum arabic, gelatin and egg to stain their fingernails to signify their status in society. Flash forward a couple of thousand years and the Ancient Brit warriors were daubing their faces in blue woad and became known by the Romans as Picts – the painted ones. The Romans themselves painted their heads to disguise premature baldness (can’t imagine that was hugely convincing…), a precursor to the wigs and male beauty spots of the court of Louis XIII (who went bald at 23 so he pushed wigs as all the rage). Harlequins, Dandies and Macaronis followed.

Ancient Britain Picts

Cinematic influence

A turning point in male cosmetics was the arrival of the cinema. A side-parted Clark Gable encouraged the vanity of young males. Elvis Presley and John Travolta were rarely featured in a film without a comb and grease to fix their hair. Advertisers cottoned onto this opportunity pretty quickly and male-specific branding emerged, bolstering the male half of the cosmetics industry.

Elvis Presley Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind

Modern men and makeup

In 2017 we have men who wear make-up, men who sell make-up, men who write about make-up in blogs and magazines. Not to mention the genius of the likes of Kevyn Aucoin and Way Bandy… men and makeup certainly do seem to mix.

Making up men for editorial shoots can be a real challenge – there is a thin line between conceptual and drag – but as the lines between genders have become less distinguishable in the last couple of decades, some truly beautiful and exciting images have been created. Vogue Paris & Italia, The Face (back in the day), Arena Homme Plus and JW Anderson (who doesn’t love a skort?) have been some celebrated pioneers.

Alexander the Great was ridiculed throughout ancient literature for wearing make-up. He was undefeated in battle and ruled the largest empire of the ancient world. Go figure.

Alexander the Great

*All images sourced from Google Images