Saturday, 14 December 2013

Where We're At With Make-Up for Men (editorial)

  • Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs launch their make-up for men ranges
  • Despite advancing attitudes, make-up for men is still viewed by some as 'feminine' or 'gay'
  • 'Metrosexuality' is used by some to explain their make-up use
  • We warn of a danger bigger than individual ignorance

There are all kinds of wonderful things at the Tom Ford counter this winter. Still dizzy on the launch of Plum Japonais, I thought his magical touch had nowhere left to go, and I didn’t mind, because, wow, what a fragrance! And then he launched his make-up range for men. 
If anybody can launch a make-up range for men, Ford can. He’s like the Penny Crayon of the fashion world. Manufactured by cosmetics giant Estee Lauder Companies, the pairing provides a heady mix of Ford’s style and sophistication and Estee Lauder’s experience and expertise in cosmetics manufacturing. 
 Image © larshallstrom -

This is, perhaps, a surprising u-turn for Estee Lauder, after they launched, and then scrapped, their make-up ranges for men under their brands Clinique and Lab Series.

Featuring concealers and bronzers and mind-boggling price  tags, I can see Ford’s range appealing to a certain niche. 

But it’s not just Ford’s game: Marc Jacobs launched his own male make-up range earlier in the year. But is make-up for men really ready to win big business?

Every year or so, it seems, there is another big news release about another big name making another big launch. Remember Gaultier’s make-up for men range? 

Actually, probably not. 

Part of the success (or failure) of make-up for men relies in its appeal to everyday men. Whilst male celebrities can sport make-up and nobody would question it, the average man in the street might not get away with it without a raised eyebrow from at least one onlooker. Big names like Ford might be better placed to take the risk of launching such a range, though one wonders whether it’s success will be in the volume of products sold or  alternatively in the chatter it creates. 

Outside of Selfridges’ beauty hall, in the countryside, the villages and the smaller cities, excluding the most progressive, you’re unlikely to find male make-up on the shelves of everyday stores. Big name manufacturers aren’t lining up to produce mascaras, lipsticks, concealers, and other products for men. And why should they, if it doesn’t make them money? 

Will we ever be at a point where men discuss their make-up products over a drink in the pub or dinner, or share tips on the train? Perhaps. Such conversation does exist, of course, though elusive. Hall, Gough and Seymour (2012), writing in The Journal of Mens Studies, examined the way in which men discuss their use of make-up products. They did this by drawing on a selection of replies from a YouTube video filmed by a young man discussing his skincare and make-up ritual. The video was created by a make-up user, but not a make-up professional or industry insider. 

The video was interesting to the researchers, not least for its initial description ending with the words “btw, I’m metro, not gay”, in an apparent attempt to counteract categorisation charges of homosexuality.  

To further demonstrate this, he writes “Before you ask, the reason i wear makeup is because of  acne and some scaring and also redness”, a common assertion amongst certain groups of men discussing their make-up routine, because by using this kind of language they are positioning their use of make-up as a purely functional thing and not born from a desire to feminise or beautify, two classically non-masculine pursuits.

Replies varied. At the time the study was completed there were more than 350 of them, including one respondent who suggested that to “[add] a bit more contouring such as bringing out the tops of your cheek bones… would make it a more masculine look”, in a potential reference to a classic ideal of male beauty in which bone structure is strong and pronounced. 

Another respondent suggested “you should try mineral makeup! its good and u just never! NEVER can tell that you are wearing make-up”, suggesting that of primary importance in male make-up is that it desecrate and undetectable: perhaps through a desire to look better, but without facing a charge of being overly feminine. 

One respondent finished his appraisal of the wonders of male make-up with the disclaimer “girls love it_actually”, perhaps, in doing so, asserting his heterosexuality. 

The authors claim that this shows use of make-up by straight men is felt by some to be non-normative because it is sometimes associated with girls or gay men. They posit that the use of make-up by men is not through a decline of the conventional masculine identity, but, rather, reworking it into a more image-conscious society. This kind of reworking takes time, and ultimately, should the use of make-up by men continue to increase, charges of homosexuality and femininity will be less likely (Hall, Gough and Seymour, 2012)

As these things go, the perceived link between make-up and femininity appears to be somewhat culturally-specific, because not all cultures view men who wear make-up as effeminate. One of the largest markets of male skincare is South Korea, a country where a two-year military conscription is mandatory, and social conservatism is commonplace (International Business Times, 2012). 

What I hope to see is a time when men wearing make-up is seen as normal, because if make-up makes a man feel better, or he’s feeling creative, then he should be able to wear it: Perhaps in the same way he might, for example, wear cologne. We’d move away from assumptions that link make-up use to homosexuality and vague categorisations of the somewhat infuriating term, metrosexuality.

Metrosexuality, a term first used by columnist Mark Simpson in 2003, describes a category of man who in his own words, is:

“a young man with money to spend, living in or within easy reach of a metropolis—because that’s where all the best shops, clubs, gyms and hairdressers are. He might be officially gay, straight or bisexual, but this is utterly immaterial because he has clearly taken himself as his own love object and pleasure as his sexual preference.”
In some ways, then, by the creator of the original YouTube video asserting that he is metrosexual rather than homosexual, he’s trading one label from another—and making a choice about which one society will view as less unpopular. 

It is a shame, in my opinion, that we ought to subscribe to the term ‘metrosexual’ at all to explain behaviour that, really, shouldn’t need explanation. Perhaps I daydream too much. 

Make-up manufacturers, it seems, have a hard task ahead in convincing men to purchase make-up, despite the ongoing groundwork that is in place. For a product to be truly successful, there has to be a need for it. Does anyone really need make-up, one might ask. The answer is probably no. For some men it might be as alien as persuading them that they need to shave their arm pits. 

Ford might pull it off because of his unique positioning: Tom Ford, the brand, is luxurious and mega-expensive, even by the standards of women’s premium skincare. It is incredibly desirable and sumptuously excessive. No man needs Tom Ford cosmetics, but many want them. They bring with them status and prestige. They are the kinds of products that might be brought and used just so that others can see them buying and using them. 

Outside of the world of premium cosmetics, desire loses out to need. One tends to only buy products if one thinks one needs them—at least, on the whole. Advertisers are quite adept at creating a need for something. But this brings with it an ethical dilemma: The advertisers have to make someone unhappy enough about how they look in order that they feel they need to purchase their products. For a man who hasn’t considered wearing concealer, what would make him buy it? Would he have to be shown flaws he never knew he had? Most likely. And that’s the worry.

If we’re to move into an era where make-up for men is booming because we feel so bad about ourselves we think we need it, then that’s a sad place to be in. Unfortunately, many women already have this pressure upon them from the media and beauty industry as a whole, after generations of torrential product peddling. If only we could do away with that side of the industry, and keep the part that’s fun, fosters self-expression and creativity. If only there was a way to do that. 

Whether Jacobs and Ford can make their ranges a worthwhile business proposition in the current climate, and in the West, only time will tell. I’ll be buying, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel a twinge of apprehension about where the industry is heading. 


International Business, T. (2012, September 18). The Korean Men Makeup Fad: South Korea Is Largest Market For Men’s Skincare In The World. International Business Times.
Harrison, C. (2008). Real men do wear mascara: advertising discourse and masculine identity. Critical Discourse Studies, 5(1), 55-74.
Simpson, M. (2002). Meet the metrosexual. Retrieved November 3, 2013,  from

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