How the Beauty Boy Makeup Movement Emerged Thanks to Adam Lambert & Other Musicians

Adam Lambert attends 2013 We Are Family Foundation Gala at Hammerstein Ballroom on Jan. 31, 2013 in New York City.
Shahar Azran/WireImage

Adam Lambert attends 2013 We Are Family Foundation Gala at Hammerstein Ballroom on Jan. 31, 2013 in New York City. 

From Little Richard in the '50s to Bruno Mars at the 2017 Grammys, musicians have led the male makeup charge for decades.

If ever there was a realm where women were firmly in the driver’s seat, it’s the world of makeup (purchased and worn mostly by women, historically). 

But that has changed, radically, this past year starting in January 2016, when Milk Makeup, available online and at Sephora and Urban Outfitters nationwide, launched a makeup-for-all product line with gender-fluid models in the ads. 

Shortly afterward, CoverGirl appointed the 17-year-old boy-beauty blogger James Charles as the first male spokesperson in the company’s 55-year history. Then Maybelline followed, announcing that social media star/makeup artist Manny Gutierrez would help launch its new mascara. And just two weeks ago, Los Angeles-based boy-beauty vlogger Gabriel Zamora announced his partnership with MAC on a lipstick launch.

“We’re seeing an increase in grooming and masculine beauty,” says Karen Grant, the global beauty industry analyst for consulting firm NPD Group. “It’s in fashion, in the way people dress. It’s early, but it’s time that beauty isn’t off-limits to men.”

The idea of guys wearing and selling makeup entered consumers’ lives quickly and boldly. But it has long existed in the world of music, and not just theatrically. Little Richard wore eyeliner, David Bowie donned blue eye shadow. Boy George, George Michael, Prince and others embraced makeup offstage.

“When Adam Lambert was on American Idol, I was so young, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, he’s wearing makeup and he’s getting so far and it’s not a detriment to his dream,’ ” Zamora tells Billboard. “With time, that allowed a lot of people to feel comfortable wearing makeup -- myself included.” Mazdack Rassi, one of the co-founders of Milk Makeup, which sells a stick matte bronzer for $24 and a gel brow pencil for $18, credits music too. “With artists like Patti Smith and David Bowie, androgyny has been a part of the culture forever,” he says. 

“Those trailblazers made makeup gender-fluid as a way of expressing their art visually.” Today, artists like Mykki Blanco regularly sport flashy lipstick and sooty eye shadow, and Kevin Barnes of Of Montreal is loyal to his doll-like circles of rouge and imperfect swathes of color on his lids. At the 2017 Grammys, Bruno Mars wore eyeliner in a homage to Prince. Mike Hadreas of Perfume Genius pairs a bare face with stained lips. “Wearing makeup isn’t a ‘thing’ for me. I just prefer to look fresh. I understand that wearing a red lip onstage can seem defiant and I mean it to be, in some ways but in essence, I just like the way it looks. The instinct is to look bomb.”

As Grant sees it, men everywhere, not just those under stage lights, are getting onboard with beauty, albeit slowly. While men account for only 2 percent of the total money spent in the category, usually buying things like shaving cream and moisturizer, there’s huge growth in areas where they never dabbled before, like color correcting, brightening and pore refining.


“These products, that aren’t quite skincare but not fully makeup, neutralize the fear factor,” says Grant. And while the beard-balm-buying dude might not be in the market for a lipstick today, it’s coming. “We’re seeing a migration that’s here to stay. As an industry, we don’t want to limit opportunities because of a false definition of who the consumer is or what they want.”

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 18 issue of Billboard.

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