First published by The Hoopla, 22 January 2015
When I was 17 I kept kissing a boy who wore mascara. Whenever we saw each other at someone’s house or out a nightclub, we’d end up in a corner in a clinch and a kiss.
It wasn’t just his long dark lashes I found appealing: there was his tall mohawk, and the ripped black jeans and sleeveless punk T-shirts he wore. With his broad shoulders and hands adorned with nail polish, he was the most exotic man I’d ever met. And even though he was only 19 or so, he already had a deep timbre to his voice and a throaty chuckle.
Seeing all the pictures of the touring Eddie Izzard in the Australian media recently – all black, black lashes and glossy lacquered nails – has reminded me of just how much I can really quite fancy a bit of make-up on a man.
Not that I would ever go the full Barry Humphries: I’m not suggesting I fancy Edna Everage (Humphries himself is a pretty sexy man – but that’s more to do with him being a funny man. And funny equals brainy equals sexy, which is another story).
I’m not really enamoured by Izzard when he’s in his fully frocked-up state either. But there’s something about a man who’s not afraid to play with a bit of face powder and lip gloss that can make me swoon.
A long time ago I was involved with a boy who played guitar in a band: he too had a throaty, sexy voice, and a prominent adam’s apple. But he also wore bracelets, and he’d sometimes cross his legs like a girl, toss his shoulder-length hair and wave his finely boned hands around like a gay man.
It’s the same kind of feline sexual energy that I imagine attracted Paula Yates, and one or two other famously beautiful women, to Michael Hutchence. Robert Downey Jr. has it too.
For young girls exploring the other sex for the first time, men wearing make-up, or men with a noticeable feminine streak, can provide a familiar bridge with which to access a world that otherwise can seem completely foreign. And for some men, a hint of something feminine – some jewelry, a bit of eyeshadow – can only serve to highlight their essential manliness.
But let’s be clear – not any man can carry it off. I’m not recommending Bill Shorten or Barrie Cassidy should rush out and buy a bit of lippy. But a Daniel Johns or a Kurt Cobain? Yes, yes.
Part of the appeal is the mystery. Are they straight? Are they gay? Are they interested in girls and boys (Oh! Maybe that makes you even more interesting!).
The first men I pinned up on my bedroom wall all wore make-up : the pretty boys of Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and Adam from Adam and the Ants. Boy George and Marilyn.
Marc Bolan and David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust incarnation carved a pretty path for these later men to follow.
It says something about the art school backgrounds of many of those British bands that they adopted the made-up look to a much more adroitly sophisticated degree than their American counterparts. In the US, far away from the fashion laboratory that was London’s streets, the rock star make-up tended more towards grotesquery and pantomime. Think of the Halloween-style faces of the men from Kiss, or of Alice Cooper or Dee Snider, or later, Marilyn Manson. Much cooler, much more rock star, is the English Keith Richards in a bit of eye liner.
Compared to the shirtless, toned-chest look of many of today’s young men, or the bushranger swagger of the lumbersexual, the tribes of new romantics and goths and punks of the 80s and early 90s seem infinitely more playful and experimental. Much more fun.
I for one am thankful there are still a handful of men who are still flying the flag for men in make-up: Russell Brand and his stick of eyeliner, Tim Minchin and his please-love-me lashes of mascara.
Welcome to Australia Eddie Izzard.
Hey listen, there’s this really great nightclub I know…