Guy-liner, man-scara, and weird looks on the train: What I learned while wearing men’s make-up

  • Tue,14 May 2019 11:06:58 AM

First, a disclaimer: I know nothing about make-up, male or otherwise. I’ve never considered buying it, I tune out at its mention in conversation, and the closest I’ve come to wearing it is waking up after a night out with sharpie on my face. If you’re looking for a James Charles tutorial, this ain’t it.

Indeed, there’s only one thing I do know for sure about make-up – and that’s the fact most of the men I know are about as knowledgeable as I am. At a mostly male gathering, a mention of men’s make-up elicited glazed expressions, raised eyebrows and snorts of derision.

One friend put forward the compelling argument that it was a privilege not to have to look good all the time – one that women are commonly denied – and that this was not something we should give up lightly.

Man buying cosmetics
(iStock/PA)

The very concept of ‘men’s make-up’ has attracted a certain amount of controversy. Male cosmetics brand War Paint’s range of ‘macho’ make-up was recently savaged online, partly for its hyper-masculine marketing campaign, but also for claims it’s “formulated specifically for men’s skin.” We’re not here to argue chemical minutiae, but most commentators didn’t consider it a worthwhile distinction.

So, if I did choose to wear make-up – not as an homage to RuPaul, but as a daily, run-of-the-mill occurrence – how would people react?

Initial test results were not encouraging. A female companion accompanied me on my trolley dash, and was a fount of knowledge and enthusiasm until we reached the checkout. “Er, do you mind if I wait outside while you buy it?” she queried.

I was not particularly impressed: “Are you embarrassed about a man buying make-up?” I loudly called after her, as she disappeared between the aisles. She did not turn around. The shop assistant tittered.

Make-up comparison
(Luke Rix-Standing/PA)

Regarding how men wear make-up, there seem to be two schools of thought. First, there’s make-up as a fix – a problem solver and veil for imperfections. For me this meant a few pock-marks on the forehead, a spot or two on the cheek, and some dry skin on the side of the nose. A few dabs of foundation and concealer, and I was ready for my grand debut.

Bars are usually poorly lit, and I lacked the courage to commit to a day in the office, so it was at a good old-fashioned pub trip that I sprang my new look. Spoiler alert: No-one noticed. I checked my make-up in the bathroom – as I gather is tradition – and I was simply a slightly better-looking version of myself.

Secondly, there’s make-up as an aesthetic – bright, bold, and statement. I splashed on an extra layer of foundation, and enlisted help applying eyeliner and mascara. I stopped short of bright red lipstick – frankly, it felt like overkill – but otherwise, I looked divine.

Make-up comparison
(Luke Rix-Standing/PA)

Inevitably, the eye make-up turned heads. Friends were quizzical, the barman laughed and the tube carriage stared. More than anything, it turned me into a figure of fun.

My take-away is simple – stigma against male make-up is foolish, partly because it’s 2019 and stereotypes are bad, but more because when worn to purpose, it’s invisible to the untrained eye. The concept of male make-up was laughed at, as was the more flamboyant mascara, but to mock most men’s make-up is to mock the aesthetics of something you can’t see…

The arbitrary nature of it all reminds me of that episode of Friends, when Joey is mocked for wearing make-up during his short-lived attempt at a modelling career. Even at the time the irony made me laugh. Every bloke on screen was wearing make-up – actors do.

Man being made up
(iStock/PA)

I was feeling neutral towards the whole affair, when the unthinkable happens. As we were leaving the pub, a friend confessed that he too would wear make-up from time to time, and was in fact wearing some at that very moment. “It helps if I’ve got a breakout,” he shrugged, “or if I’m particularly overtired.”

They’re out there, the male make-up wearers, walking among you and you probably don’t even realise. Next time I wake up with a spot the morning of a presentation or particularly pertinent party, I might just join them.

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