The Glorious Now of Men in Makeup
Billy Idol the man didn’t become Billy Idol the image—all spiked hair and surly sneer—by accident. When he arrived on the London punk scene in the mid-’70s, Idol started doing his own stage makeup: a little shading to emphasize his razor-sharp cheeks and some liner to frame his piercing blue eyes. “I didn’t always blend as well as I should have,” he admits. But his DIY routine formed the basis of his soon-to-be-timeless look. “That was the fun of it, really,” Idol recalls. “The fashion and makeup, it made a statement, which was that you can control your own image. You can create yourself.”
If the English glam rockers and punks showed the way toward radical self-creation 40 years ago, we have now, finally, reached Full Male Beauty. A dialed beauty routine, whether on the level of Idol’s subtle glow-up or David Bowie’s more theatrical transformations, can be as important a part of that self-expression as clothing. “I see constant support for men wearing makeup,” says model Casil McArthur, 20. If you don’t believe him, consider this: Chanel rolled out a men’s makeup line last year. Not to mention the legions of people who have long embraced beauty products regardless of to whom they are marketed. Daniel Kaluuya became one of the 56 percent of American men who, according to one survey, wore a cosmetics product in 2018 when he showed up to last year’s Oscars with a face of Fenty Beauty foundation. By next year, it’s predicted, the male grooming market will be worth over $55 billion.
So here we are: the first-ever beauty portfolio in GQ‘s 62-year history, starring Idol, McArthur, and five other fearless men. Some, like R&B singer Ian Isiah, feel more like themselves in a little makeup. Others, like the new Terminator, Gabriel Luna, are simply stoked that the concept of masculinity is now wide open for the occasional beauty flex, that we’re freeing ourselves from outmoded ideas of how men can and can’t express—or create—themselves. “If you want to wear makeup,” says McArthur, “your gender identity shouldn’t prevent it.”
Behind The Scenes of GQ’s November Beauty Shoot
Billy Idol, 63
When forging his image, Idol looked to David Bowie and Marc Bolan and mixed their glam influences with his tough-guy attitude. “We did our makeup in a masculine way,” he says. “I don’t know quite how, but we did. We looked in some way glam and tough with makeup.”
Beauty Tip: “Find your touchstones and make your own visual vocabulary.”
How To Get the Look: “I used eggplant eyeliner instead of just straight black to give it definition and shape without being too garish. Browns, purples, dark greens, and navy blues are really fun to play with.” —Allie Smith, makeup artist
Casil McArthur, 20
McArthur’s been one of the most visible and outspoken Gen-Z trans models ever since he booked his first male makeup campaign at the age of 17. “I’m trying to show people, especially young, queer, trans fans: Nobody should be policing you,” he says.
Beauty Tip: “Mascara and lip tint. If I want to be extra, I’ll incorporate intense sparkles.”
How To Get the Look: “Glitters are tricky. It’s a little bit more of an advanced product technically because it is so messy. Try the products that are a glitter in a gel or an eyeshadow instead of a loose glitter.”—A.S.
Luka Sabbat, 21
Model, Influencer Par Excellence, Actor
The Grown-ish star has a laissez-faire grooming routine—“it’s all about the perv ‘stache”—but he also books beauty campaigns. “I love when people put makeup on me,” he says. His review of this rainbow-smear eye: “I look like a bad bitch.”
Beauty Tip: “Drink mad water.”
How To Get the Look: “This dark lip is just a black eye pencil and lip gloss. You can use a lip product, too—both are great.”—A.S.
Jackson Wang, 25
Pop Star, Model
Jackson Wang isn’t just one of the most popular K-pop stars (as one seventh of GOT7) on planet Earth. He’s also a global face of Armani Beauty and has a popping solo career with a debut album dropping this fall. He says that in beauty-obsessed Korea he’s seen the male-grooming standards change up close: “At the end of the day, I feel like it’s just art. There’s no boundary in art.”
Beauty Tip: “These days I love using Biotherm aftershave.”
How To Get the Look: “A neutral colored tinted lip balm is really comfortable to wear, and not metallic or shimmery. It’s just a really nice, neutral natural thing that’s not going to look too makeup-y.”—A.S.
Gabriel Luna, 36
In Terminator: Dark Fate, Luna picks up the legacy Arnold Schwarzenegger began 35 years ago. The painted nails for our shoot, he says, connect him to his on-screen exoskeleton: “It reminds me of a moment in Terminator 2 where Robert Patrick turns his finger into a spike, pierces through Linda’s shoulder, and tells her to call to John. I took that inspiration and went with metallic silver.”
Beauty Tip: “My wife has a vitamin C serum she swears by that she puts on my face.”
How To Get the Look: “To emphasize Gabriel’s beautiful skin, I just used basic skincare and a touch of concealer. The silver is a mishmash of silver Pat McGrath Labs silver paint and pigment products to give it that brilliance.”—A.S.
Ian Isiah, 30
Singer, Downtown N.Y.C. Fashion Icon
Isiah, who’s got a funk EP with Chromeo in the works, became a force of fashion when he helped creative-direct Hood By Air’s intensely avant-garde runway beauty program. “I’m a walking beauty store,” he says. “In my world, you have your church, your corner store, and your beauty-supply store.”
Beauty Tip: “Don’t buy cheap makeup.”
How To Get the Look: “To get this glossy, creamy effect I used a face gloss from MAKE and pour it on Ian’s eyes. But that can feel heavy—to do that in a more wearable way you can take Vaseline or a non-menthol lip balm and throw that over your eyes to get this really nice youthful dewy eye.”—A.S.
Charlie Barnett, 31
On the heels of his breakout role in Russian Doll, Barnett is at a moment in his career when anything is possible. “There are so many ways to utilize fashion and art to reflect your own personality—or how fluid that personality may be,” he says.
Beauty Tip: “Let your scars be seen.”
How To Get the Look: “Outlining your eyes really transforms them and makes them pop. It’s fun to smear things around, change the shape, break it down, and let it get a little bit more punky. But even one swipe of an eyeliner and it can make all the difference in the world.”—A.S.
A version of this story originally appeared in the November 2019 issue with the title «Face Time.»
Photographs by Donna Trope
Styled by Mobolaji Dawodu
Hair by John Blaine at jblaineco.com
Makeup by Allie Smith at Bridge
Produced by Creative Blood Agency