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Eyeliner For Men?! Pencil These Guys In.

By Rachel Beckman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 10, 2007

When Josh Lomon brought his fashion A-game to the Kelly Clarkson concert at DAR Constitution Hall this fall, he wore skinny jeans and a dramatic necktie and topped off the ensemble with a black fedora. But his friend Mary Betancourt was taken with the thick, black rings of eyeliner around his eyes, smudged just so.

"You look so . . . affected," she said.

Guyliner. The new catchphrase for boys behaving girly, joining last year's manbags (handbags), mandals (sandals), mannies (nannies) and himbos (bimbos). It's the lexical equivalent of making pink hammers for women.

Of course, the fellas have been dipping into our makeup bags for years. (Yes, we noticed, and we have one tip: It's called blending.) But eyeliner? That can take years to master, even with coaching from teen magazines and a few shots of Jaeger.

Plus: Why? You can deal with a man who gets a manicure. You can deal with a man who handicaps "Project Runway." But eyeliner? Let's explore.

The guru of guyliner is Mr. Ashlee Simpson, a.k.a. Pete Wentz, the bassist for Fall Out Boy, who created a video for People.com on how to apply the stuff properly.

"Smear it because when you're a guy, you don't really want your makeup to look perfect," he says. "Which usually isn't a problem."

Another tip: Sleep on it. "Day-old makeup is way better."

Of course, Wentz is not the first or only guyliner aficionado. David Bowie and Alice Cooper were your frontiersmen of the '70s, and then Robert Smith, of the Cure, and Prince, rocked it in the '80s. Johnny Depp's kohl-lined eyes helped make Jack Sparrow the swishy swashbuckler we love. Pop-punk bands My Chemical Romance, Panic! at the Disco and the Killers wear guyliner to emphasize their angst. Their darkness. You don't know my pain.

Dustin Schaad, a 22-year-old assistant buyer for a men's clothing store, doesn't leave his Silver Spring home without applying guyliner. He started wearing makeup in high school because "a little concealer goes a long way when you hit puberty," he says.

It almost always starts with the concealer. The skin-colored glop is the gateway drug of men's cosmetics. But don't call it makeup.

"You mean our enhancing and correcting line?" interrupts Marek Hewryk when asked about his men's makeup line, 4VOO (pronounced "for-vou").

4VOO sells $25 "enhancing eyeliner" in black and brown. The Canadian company even offers application instructions on its Web site, with a warning: "Apply only a fine line. Too much 4VOO enhancing eyeliner will make your eyes look hard, [whereas] a light line will define your eyes and enhance the color."

Beth Loffreda, an associate professor of English at the University of Wyoming who also teaches courses in gender and sexuality, thinks that guyliner is a byproduct of consumer culture. It's about repackaging women's products for men, therefore tapping into new markets. Is there that much difference between Nivea and Nivea for Men?

But Loffreda also sees guyliner as an outlet for men to experiment with gender roles.

"Women have for a long time always been able to treat our appearances as a kind of theater," she says. "There's no denying the pleasure of giving a really good hair performance. I think that men -- and especially straight men -- haven't had nearly as much access to that kind of theatricality and the pleasure of that theatricality."

At Bluemercury, an upscale beauty store in Dupont Circle, 25-year-old makeup artist Renee Smith says she sells eyeliner to men. And "it's not just punk rockers and gay guys."

When straight men shop for eyeliner, they tend to choose a subtle brown instead of black, then grab for the nearest cotton ball.

"They'll buy it, but they'll always take it off before they leave," says Smith, "then try it at home." Smith has been in the makeup business for three years and, while she's seen a steady increase in guyliner sales, she estimates she sells only one pencil to a man per week. (Liquid eyeliner -- not for the novice.) Clearly, some people are not hip to the trend. Sample response from a preppy-looking young man in a coffee shop, when asked if he wears eyeliner: Laughter and then, "Wait, is that a serious question?"

Ah, but might he dabble in shine-reduction powder? This is one of 4VOO's top sellers, which Hewryk promises will not alter skin color or give a matte effect like women get with their makeup. Of course, there's a word for that, too: "mancake," as in pancake foundation. To use it in a sentence: "Zac Efron, the 'High School Musical' heartthrob, is often accused of wearing mancake."

Actors have worn makeup on and off the set for decades, but Hewryk has a surprising explanation for why it's getting so much attention now: HDTV.

"There's a heavier tan and more powder. If you have high-definition TV? Wow. There's no mercy," he says. "You can see everything . . . every wrinkle."

Manly cosmetics demand manly names. Clinique's concealer for men is called "M Cover," and the company suggests applying it on shaving nicks. John Varvatos sells a steely gray canister of cream concealer in the three colors "light, medium and dark." (Women, however, have a choice of ivory, warm beige, honey and soft sable in the CoverGirl section at the drugstore.) Jean Paul Gaultier offers a line of "complexion enhancers," including "tinted brow and lash groomer," which some of us call "mascara."

Men can't use "mascara" because culturally, men can't borrow from women as easily as women can borrow from men. Nobody writes articles anymore when women wear cargo pants and baseball hats (did they ever?).

Straight men have historically had the most power in our culture, so to adopt their style is to redouble your power, says Loffreda. But for men to borrow from those who are supposedly "beneath them" is a far riskier proposition.

As university professor and cultural contemplator Camille Paglia once said, "A woman putting on men's clothes merely steals social power. But a man putting on women's clothes is searching for God."

Guyliner as spiritual quest? Maybe not.

"It's not changing the world," Schaad says. "It's just saying it's okay to be different."

Schaad and Lomon, who both swear by MAC eyeliner, say they're just fighting monotony.

"Here's the deal: Boys' clothes are so boring," says Lomon, 23. "In the end, you're going to wear a T-shirt or a button-down. So you have to do what you can."

And despite his appearance at the Kelly Clarkson concert, Lomon usually goes for the subtle look.

"People's first thought should be 'That looks amazing, his eyes really stand out,' " he says. "Not 'He's wearing makeup and he's a boy.' "

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