In October of 2016, Covergirl chose James Charles, a beauty influencer, to be the cosmetic company’s first male brand ambassador. The YouTuber’s striking features and makeup brush artistry were too good to pass up. In December of 2020, British pop icon Harry Styles became the first man to grace the cover of US Vogue. His outfit? An arresting combo of a flowing baby-blue dress and a pitch-black tuxedo jacket.
While these and other bold challenges to men’s beauty standards have received everything from fuming outrage to gushing applause, they’ve sent a unified message. Men are taking back their long-held renunciation, and the beauty industry is in the process of reclaiming masculinity in its fullest expression.
YouTube, Instagram, and other social media platforms are seeing a surge of male cosmetics and beauty influencers. Established brands like Shiseido, Chanel, Mac, and Tom Ford have all pushed makeup product lines explicitly targeting men. Beauty businesses are increasingly offering male-driven services, and some new entrants, like David Yi's Good Light, are providing products that cater to a gender-fluid audience. Even the rise of male grooming brands like Manscaped, while drawing on the image of the “alpha male,” signal that even the most “traditional” segments of our society are not immune to the cultural shift now underway.
In reality, there is nothing new about any of these trends. If anything, what we’re seeing is a resurgence in the classical vision of men — a vision that includes the delicate, the refined, and the beautiful. While recent history may have ingrained conditioned discomfort at the thought of a man wearing makeup, a broader view of our culture reveals that the unease is what’s new, not the style.