The search for “eyeliner on guys” is up 282%, according to Note Cosmetics’ beauty trend data. But, calling eyeliner on guys a trend—or any makeup on men a trend—isn’t exactly correct. Men have been wearing makeup for thousands of years. It was commonplace for all genders to wear makeup to denote status and class back in ancient Egypt. Eyeliner specifically was used as a visible symbol of respect to the gods.
In the same way people wear a religious pendant today, some traced their eyes with a kohl liner to show adoration to those they worshiped. People also wore kohl eyeliner to ward off the sun in the same way we wear sunglasses now. It’s also been known to have antimicrobial properties, ward off flies, and help protect the eyes from dust and dirt. This is similar to how incense has multiple uses, including “cleansing” in places of worship.
Men Wearing Eyeliner in the 20th and 21st Century
More recently, at the turn of the 19th century, silent film entertainers like Charlie Chaplin and Rudolph Valentino used eyeliner to accentuate their eyes to make themselves more expressive on screen. Their black-rimmed eyes soon became one of the most signature parts of their looks.
And then there was David Bowie in the ’70s who—though not the only man to wear makeup that era—played a significant role in glam during that time. In the ’80s, there was Boy George. The ’90s gave us Kurt Cobain. The early aughts brought us another onslaught of men in liner, the pop-punk highlights being Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day, Pete Wentz from Fall Out Boy, and Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance.
Fast forward to the present day, men in makeup have referenced all of the aforementioned eras. It’s a little glam rock and punk rock, but more than anything, it’s commonplace. This, in part, is beause of the beauty industry becoming more inclusive. We still have a long way to go, but it wasn’t so long ago that the only people shown in beauty marketing were thin, white, cis women.
The Influence of Celebrities Wearing Eyeliner
Like it or not, the power of celebrity cannot be ignored. No matter who you are, seeing people who look like you succeed will always be powerful. When a young person sees a male-identifying person wearing a statement beauty look on a red carpet, it can change their idea of what is possible. It can reframe the notion of who they’re allowed to be. Sometimes, eyeliner on a guy is a lot more than just eyeliner.
I could rattle off many male-identifying celebrities who often wear statement makeup on and off red carpets today. The men of the K-pop supergroup BTS, for instance, have incorporated eye makeup into their everyday looks instead of just red carpet moments. The K-beauty scene often starts beauty trends that won’t make it to America for a few years, and if this prophecy holds true, men stateside will soon be rocking colorful eye looks daily.
Where We Are Today
Conversely, there is a case for real people amplifying the trend as much, or even harder, than celebrities. Whereas generations before had to learn the old-fashioned way, there is now a generation of men growing up with eyeliner tutorials at their fingertips. All of the answers are merely a search away. You can learn all of the best products and techniques in an instant, meaning the consumer is smarter than ever before.
And a smarter consumers forces the industry to meet them at their level. Thanks to influencer culture, if your product is a dud, your audience will know before it even hits the shelves. In 2021 and beyond, consumers are demanding better products to achieve their cool eye looks and don’t care about gender norms.
The Bottom Line
So, why eyes? It’s obvious if you think about it. Eyes are the focal point of your face. They’re the most expressive part of you, and in many ways, the first thing you think about when you want to start experimenting with makeup. From a smudgy black-rimmed eye to a sharp, brightly-colored wing, it’s easier than ever before to accomplish any look you want. No matter your look, reference, or muse, you’ll be taking part in a tradition that has been going on since ancient times. History has shown us countless examples of men wearing eyeliner, and it’s exciting to see male-identifying folks today are continue to use eye makeup as a tool for self-expression.