When I was asked to write an article debating whether men should wear make-up I have to admit I raised a distinctly un-plucked eyebrow. Like most guys, I’d never given a second thought to the hours (and money) spent preening, reading beauty tips and purchasing make-up that most girls engage in, let alone considered joining in myself. The pressure to be a flawless, entrancing goddess is a well-established part of women’s lives, obvious after the briefest glance through a magazine or a few minutes’ viewing of a makeover show. Could it be only a matter of time before we men are subject to the same pressures and expectations as women?
Strolling through the hallowed halls of cosmetic beauty in Frasers with this question still fresh in my mind, I began to appreciate the strength of the pressure placed upon women to look immaculate. As the frozen images of glamorous supermodels pierced me with their smoky eyes and pouted at me with perfectly painted lips, I suddenly felt that turning up in this world with razor rash and tired eyes was totally unacceptable. Time to do something about it…
Approaching the YSL counter, I braced myself and managed to stammer out my question: “Do you sell make-up for men?” A glamorous sales assistant about the same age as my mum looked at me over her half moon glasses, clearly unsure how to react. My face flushed. My palms grew sweaty. I felt like I had just asked for some under-the-counter bootlegged substance. So, I was to be disappointed: no make-up for me here.
Suddenly, there came a glimmer of hope — the world of Jean Paul Gaultier was calling to me and there it was, the Holy Grail: a cabinet full of make-up for men. I was approached by a friendly sales assistant who explained that the range was very successful with a variety of male customers, from teenage boys wanting to cover up pimples, to businessmen using a touch of concealer on the under-eye bags that are the result of too much overtime at the office, to metrosexual men loading up on “guyliner” and “manscara” before dancing the night away with some femme fatale — just like Russell Brand and Robbie Williams, then! I could understand why they had so many customers as, despite my initial reservations, the sales assistant made me feel instantly comfortable and at ease.
A lot of thought has been put into the marketing of these products to make them acceptable to a male audience. The packaging design is simple and monochromatic with an emphasis on the branding “Monsieur” rather than the name of each product. These are described as “subtle”, “natural” and “masculine”, and as allowing men to highlight their best features and banish any blemishes without the risk of turning into Lily Savage. It was a cabinet full of promises of masculine beauty, from energising eye creams and mattifiers, to concealers and brow groomers.
However, you don’t have to look to a flamboyant French fashion house to see evidence of changing attitudes. You’ll find make-up for men even in high street retailers such as Superdrug. The company has seen an explosion in the male grooming market over the last five years and in summer 2008 launched “TAXI”, a make-up range aimed specifically at men. Peter Kelly, the creator of the range, explained: “We’ve developed essentials that a guy would perhaps otherwise borrow from his other half. It’s about subtle make-up rather than wanting to create the drag queen look.” The range is priced accessibly at around £5: perfect for the uncertain first-time buyer.
We have already seen an overhaul in attitudes towards male beauty and what it means to be a man. Most men wear moisturiser, aren’t ashamed to admit to putting time and thought into clothes shopping, and some even — gasp! — wear fake tan. It may come as a surprise to learn that the male grooming sector is already worth an incredible £700m in the UK alone and is forecasted to grow to be worth £820m by the end of the year.
So what is stopping the majority of men from wearing make-up? The idea is still surrounded by prejudices and preconceptions: the immediate concern that comes to mind is that men might be worried about being seen to be gay, or crossdressing, or in some way deviating from society’s masculine norm. The beautician at Jean Paul Gaultier told me that in fact, most men are simply scared of being found out and thought of as vain. Apparently, attitudes towards high-maintenance male grooming are much more open-minded in the world’s fashion capitals such as London, Paris and New York. Is Glasgow ready for these products — and can they really create a subtle, masculine look? There was only one way to find out: I had to get my slap on.
I decided the moment to go glam was before a night of debauchery at the ABC. I’m not talking extreme here: just a spot of under-eye concealer, a flash of clear manscara and a touch of shading with the guyliner. Stepping back and admiring my false face in the mirror I’ll admit to having second thoughts. Was I was about to commit social suicide and be outed as a vain make-up wearer? Sneaking guiltily out of the bathroom, I bumped into my flatmate’s girlfriend. After a few minutes of small talk she complimented me on my healthy glow. Convinced it must be due to my eating more fruit and vegetables, she said she’d be hinting to her boyfriend to follow suit. Result!
In the bar, a few drinks later, I did feel more confident knowing that my spots (or “blemishes”, as the cosmetic companies would have it) were covered up for an evening, and I even darted my newly intensified eyes at some passing ladies, although I’ll let you into a litle secret — it didn’t work.
Next morning, a little worse for wear, I examined the photographic evidence of the previous night’s mayhem. I was relieved to see that there were no signs of panda eyes, smudges — or blemishes. I have to be honest, though, I couldn’t see any real evidence of an epic transformation, and being hidden away in an ABC toilet cubicle for half the night re-applying make-up and running the risk of poking my eye out with an eyeliner pencil all seemed a bit like too much hard work. The concealer, however, is definitely great when it comes to covering up pimples and under-eye shadows. I think I’ll be stashing it in a drawer — just for emergencies!
Make-up for men certainly has the potential to be a great selling product; one that may soon no longer be a niche product if current trends continue. It offers men a subtle cover-up that can, I discovered, still look masculine and natural. But its increasing popularity raises questions about the media ideals of beauty which are already very familiar to women. These days, for better or for worse, men feel the pressure to be well-groomed and good-looking nearly as much as women do. We are all bombarded by digitally-enhanced images of flashy smiles, flawless skin, pouty lips and general physical perfection that’s surely impossible for all but a lucky few to ever achieve, even with make-up. Meanwhile, society’s views on cosmetics and masculinity are in a period of flux, and perhaps it’s simply up to every man to decide whether he’s confident and comfortable enough to join this new trend — or whether it’s just another pressure created by major corporations to make more money out of more people’s insecurities, and one trend you’ll certainly be avoiding.