Androgyny is once again in fashion, and just in time: the long arm of gender equality has extended its reach past the boardrooms and into our bathrooms (and medicine cabinets). American consumers spent over $5 billion on men’s grooming products last year, over half of which went into skin care and cosmetics, according to the market data firm Euromonitor International (in 1997, by way of comparison, they spent $2.4 billion). By becoming attuned to the beauty industry, men are now openly availing themselves of the same opportunities afforded to women.
And it makes sense: if the whole mating game and song and dance (and so, to a large degree, human existence) is about power and seduction, why wouldn’t men employ tools that would stealthily make them appear to be more attractive, healthier, and generally successful? (Just be careful of your word choice: when it comes to the “rougher” sex, it appears that the use of the word “grooming”—which brings to mind the virility and polish of racehorses—is preferred industrywide over “makeup.”) One might wonder what’s taken them so long to join ranks; after all, blemishes don’t care whether you have a Y chromosome.
If the industry is any indication—with the plethora of recent detail-fixated men’s grooming blogs like the product-obsessed Manface or Skin Care for Men, Birchbox’s recent subdivision into gender, and an ever-increasing availability of ways to trick out your facial hair for the selvage-denim set—style matters. And style begins with the body and does not include acne, under-eye circles, and overall pallor (barring, perhaps, the most recent Saint Laurent ad campaign).
“The world has come to a different place now when it comes to men taking care of themselves, I think men spend more time looking in the mirror than women do,” the MAC makeup artist John S. purrs in a recent men’s cosmetics instructional video on MAC’s website. Online vendors of men’s cosmetics (Mënaji, 4Voo, and Kenmen) have all reported annual surges in sales, while tony department-store brands like Jean Paul Gaultier, Yves Saint Laurent, and Clinique all produce men’s cosmetics. Boutique companies like the British Illamasqua and the New York–based Enter Pronoun aggressively market to both sexes and offer androgynously packaged products to match. Enter Pronoun’s creator, Natalia Ramirez, touts her product’s ability to cover everything from “pimples to bruises to 5 o’clock shadow to tattoos.”
And then there are those gauzy bastions of testosterone: actors and models. “Actors don’t want people to know that they have makeup on,” groomer Natalia Bruschi (who gussies up the hair and faces of clients such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Affleck, and Daniel Craig for press junkets, red-carpet events and photo shoots) noted during a phone call in early May. Bruschi, who began her career working predominantly with women, cites La Mer’s men’s essentials as a skin-care mainstay in her kit (to suggest robust health where there might be evidence only of hangover). A light touch for the red carpet rounds out to tinted moisturizer (La Mer or Laura Mercier), concealer (Clé de Peau or MAC), mattifying powders, blotting film, and occasionally a quick swath of matte bronzer (Chanel or an airbrushing with Temptu). Most guys on the street, she notes, can get away with just spot-concealing and bronzer. “Men don’t really need foundation,” she explained, “they just need a bit of color if they’re pale, a little bronzer for a healthy glow.” As she’s progressed in the industry over the past 14 years, “it’s all become a lot more sophisticated,” she says. “More and more of my clients are very conscious about how natural a product is, whether or not it contains parabens. Actors are very health-conscious. They’re very conscious of what goes on and in their skin.” There have been cosmetic concessions to modernity, she added. “HD doesn’t help.”
If the mating game is about power and seduction, then why would men refuse to employ tools that would make them appear to be more attractive, healthier, and generally successful?
For men who are engaging with makeup, success relies on subtlety. An interview with Harry Brant for IntoTheGloss.com in early March (where I was, at the time, an associate editor) focused on the extensive cosmetic routine of the teenage son of Stephanie Seymour and Peter Brant. He noted: “If you have bad skin, why would you want to let it hang out?” Commenters praised his confidence, but added that they would be uncomfortable with a male partner who wore more makeup than they did. “Concealer for spots...I would be cool with,” one wrote, “but I reserve the right to be half as superficial about certain things men are superficial about. Foundation/ lip liner/ blush = dealbreaker.” In April makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury posted a how-to video on her blog aimed at helping men achieve a “groomed, healthy look.” Her recommendations? A comprehensive skin-care routine, whitening eye drops, lip balm, concealer, and a bronzing gel. “Men wearing makeup is no longer taboo,” Tilbury said, and noted that among other men in history who have worn makeup (including the ancient Egyptians and Romans, the court of Louis XIII, the members of Kiss, David Bowie, Keith Richards, Johnny Depp), Alexander the Great, who was “ridiculed throughout ancient literature for wearing make-up ... was undefeated in battle and ruled the largest empire of the ancient world. Go figure.”