The Evolution of Men’s Makeup

Attitudes to men’s makeup today are a far cry from what they were just 10 or 20 years ago. While for some the idea is still relatively taboo, for others it is becoming the go-to-choice. Oddly, men wearing makeup was no big deal in the time of the Ancient Egyptians, who were partial to a little eyeliner.

In 18th century France it was seen as highly masculine to wear a heavy face of white paint. However, in Victorian England, there was a connection made between morality and makeup wearing, especially for men, and this led to a healthy stigma that lasts until today.

Let us look in some detail at this historic evolution of men and makeup and find a way back to a more fluid understanding of expressing gender.

Ancient Egypt

Both men and women wore makeup in Ancient Egypt, as well as members of all social classes. The heavier the makeup the wealthier you were, especially thick eyeliner. It was thought that the makeup protected individuals from illness and disease and was worn as part of rituals.
The Egyptian males’ makeup bag would be filled with a kohl eyeliner, red ochre lip and cheek stain, green malachite eye shadow and henna hair dye (though it was usual for men to shave heads and wear wigs when out in the sun). To moisturise skin and hair, the Egyptians would use animal fats.

Ancient Rome

Is there anything more masculine that a Roman Centurion? Apparently not, as it was seen as unacceptable for men to wear makeup. As through time, some men chose to go against societies grain and wear it anyway. However, it was seen as immoral and effeminate. Yet, as the empire grew more and more men wore rouge and painted their nails. What was always accepted was the removal of hair for a smooth look, as well as some light perfumes.

Elizabethan England/ 18th century France

Pale skin was all the rage during the reign of Elizabeth 1.
The same whiteness of face was embraced by the French. The wearing of wigs was also a trend, made popular by King Louis XVI who would hide his baldness with ostentatious hair. Add to this the heavily painted on beauty mark, whether man or woman, and you had the look of the French aristocrat.

Victorians to today

Religion and a tendency towards the overly moral made makeup a no-go for men during Victoria’s reign. This attitude created a taboo around the world that could only be countered by male actor’s – whether it is men who took to the stage as women in Victorian England, or the heavily made-up superstars of 1930s Hollywood. Indeed, in the 1930s, makeup wearing, and grooming became known as metrosexual. All that slicked back oiled hair and smooth skin made men very pretty at the time.
Through the ages it has been the musicians and the actors that have bucked the trend for male makeup. But today, there is a growing fluidity in gender that makes it possible for men to be beauty influencers.

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