You know, you don’t really need makeup,” Rose Hill told me when we first met. We were at Hill’s studio in Los Gatos, Calif., where I’d come to see what a good makeup artist could do for a man (i.e., for me). Hill, who’s 60, has been doing makeup for film, television, theater, and commercial photography since she was a teenager. She’s worked on Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, every tech executive you can name, and Hugh Jackman—“my most favoritest person in the whole world,” she said as I thumbed through her portfolio.
Studying my face, Hill told me she didn’t see any obvious areas of concern. As I’d long suspected, I’ve got a good mug on my shoulders. Of course, she went on, nobody really needs makeup, not any more than one needs a fitted suit, a fancy car, or deodorant. But modern cosmetics are amazing. They remove blemishes, redness, signs of aging and fatigue, cuts or nicks from shaving, and most other indications that you’ve had a well-lived life. And they do so without looking like cosmetics. “When men think of makeup they think it’s heavy, that it’s unnatural, but we’re living in a new century,” Hill says. The most advanced cosmetics are designed to be photographed close-up with high-definition cameras, so they need to add pigment while leaving one’s pores visible. “Today’s makeup looks like skin,” Hill says. When I asked her what I’d look like with makeup, she was definitive: “You’ll just look better. It’s a big difference.”
Mostly I looked OK. But there were some obvious places where my face could be improved. My forehead has a few light blemishes, and there are a few more under my eyes. I’d just shaved, and there were some red marks across my skin, plus some nicks. I had a just-visible pimple under my left eyebrow.
Over the next hour and a half, Hill put me through a series of makeup sessions. She applied “high-definition” makeup with an airbrush, a gun that sprays a very fine mist of color at your face, so fine that the dyes blend into your skin in a way that looks and feels like you have nothing on. Later on, she applied makeup the old-fashioned way, using brushes and sponges. Another time, she made me up using cheap, drugstore-counter foundation. After each session we stopped to photograph my face. Across the range of applications, I could see the good and the bad of makeup, from just enough to too much.
The bad makeup looked worse than no makeup, but the good makeup? It looked awesome. With some quick, easy-to-apply fine-tuning, I discovered that my pretty face can get even prettier. Here’s me looking best—this is after the first application of makeup, a light layer of HD foundation applied with an airbrush.
There are very few differences between this picture and the one above. But the differences are enough—overall, with a light layer of foundation, my skin looks more even, less patchy, and less shiny. The red spots and blemishes are still visible, but they’re more subtle. I look more put together; the effect is roughly the same as if I’d combed my hair or put on a well-ironed shirt. Compared to wearing no makeup, with just a bit of color, I look like I took the time to bother about my appearance.
Which prompts the question: Why don’t I wear makeup all the time?
Men should wear makeup. I mean to say: Obviously men should wear makeup. It’s sort of crazy that we don’t, actually. Human beings have been adorning themselves since forever; evidence of the application of body paint dates back at least 50,000 years and is taken to be one of the first signs of modern human behavior. For nearly all that time, both men and women indulged in cosmetics. As recently as a few hundred years ago, it was common for upper-class men in Britain and France to wear rouge and powder. It was only around the turn of the 19th century that facial adornment for men began to go out of fashion—though at the same time, other cosmetic enhancements for men, especially hair-care products, took off. This makes little logical sense (though, granted, it’s folly to apply logic to fashion trends). If it’s seen as necessary for a modern man to comb and sculpt his hair, why isn’t he expected to make up his face, too?