Make-up can be gaudy, over-the-top, flamboyant, and despite that, or because of it, it can influence generations of pop culture. These are the five most ostentatious (and influential) statements in men’s makeup.
5. Adam Ant
Let’s talk about some disqualifiers first. These are some things that got you kicked off this list: drag, clown makeup, costumes. That means the Frankenfurters and the ICPs of this world are off the list. I disqualified David Bowie and Klaus Nomi too, because otherwise they’d just dominate the article.
KISS is out too. They aren’t pioneers of men’s makeup and they weren’t out to normalize fright masks. They were just out to rock and roll all night.
And if we allowed costume and shock makeup, then all of the members of GWAR would take top spots.
That means the Crow is out too. So, in that void, Adam Ant wins out.
Before Ant began writing pop songs, the band Adam And The Ants were the premiere act of the new romantic movement in the 80s. Ant made a career of dressing like a pirate, and for the paint on his face.
Ant easily beats out the other new romantics. Duran Duran was more known for their hair, and Boy George was less a trendsetter and more a singular entity.
The warpaint, the gelled hair, the high cheekbones, the dandyism: this all made Adam Ant into a striking and influential images of the 80s. Even Catherine Zeta-Jones used to rock the Adam Ant white stripe.
How influential was Ant’s Stand And Deliver look? Go ahead and type “New Romantic” into Google image search. Count how many times Adam Ant shows up. Count how much Duran Duran does. Now look at the other people that pop up. Do they look more like Adam Ant or like Duran Duran?
4. Dennis Rodman
In a sport that places a lot of value on traditional views of masculinity, Dennis Rodman was the Great Confuser. At his peak, career-wise, he was a tall, built, and talented power forward, with a powerful frame and charisma strong enough to get him cast in action films.
But he was also Dennis Rodman. He pushed boundaries, wore glittery eyeliner, painted his nails, covered himself in piercings and dyed his hair bright neon colours. Even Walt Frazier, another player that pushed the envelope of style, never went that far.
Before the NBA instituted the dress code that pushed player’s fashion towards slender, tailored suits and sweater vests, Rodman represented a new kind of fashion and androgyny. There was no one quite like him, and he raised the style bar pretty high for his successors.
3. Robert Smith
Well, of course we had to talk about goths. It’s a subculture based on its pancake makeup, black hair dye, and eyeshadow. I mean, come on.
It’s tough to pick just one single goth icon to stand above the rest, Who would it be? Brandon Lee in The Crow? Ville Valo? Peter Murphy? Bela Lugosi? Max Shreck? Edward Furlong in The Crow? It’s so hard to choose.
No, wait. No it’s not. It’s Robert Smith, lead singer of The Cure.
Goth subculture and goth bands in the 80s and 90s were such a mishmash of influences that it’s difficult to sort them all out. Gather a roomful of goth kids from, say, 1994, and you’ll see elements of punk, post-punk, outsider culture, new wave and metal (most often the latter, sporting, I don’t know, The Gathering or Lacuna Coil t-shirts.) But one common element is that the whole goth thing began as both a romanticization of Victorian mourning clothes, and of the German Expressionist movement at the turn of the century. Those two periods of history is where we get the “look” of the average goth.
The Expressionists created movies, art and plays that twisted reality to reflect the feelings of its characters. The pale makeup, the dark eyeshadow and the black lipstick were there to heighten the expressions of the actors, so that a person screaming became a full-on Munchian scream.
The most famous of the Expressionist films was The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which featured Conrad Veidt as Cesare, a black-clad zombie with pale makeup, dark eyeshadow, and black hair.
In a way, Veidt should have taken this spot of this list, being both ostentatious, and insanely influential in terms of his make-up and look.
But here’s the thing: Robert Smith did it better. His skin was paler than Cesare’s, his hair was taller, his eyes were darker, his capers were wimpier.
The Cure went from straight from a post-punk band to a band synonymous with “goth rock”. Smith is ground zero for people in the 80s and 90s dressing up like Hamlet and slapping on the eyeliner. Without Smith, there would be no The Crow, no Davey Havok, no Marilyn Manson, no Malice Mizer, and no Ville Valo. Companies manufacturing black eyeshadow would have gone bankrupt.
2. Dee Snider
Well, who the heck did you expect? Marc Bolan?
Snider was the frontman of Twisted Sister, a band that became one of the most well-known glam acts in music history, and whose overexposure destroyed them when the backlash hit.
I know I said I was going to disqualify clown makeup, but Jesus. Snider is what rockstars see in the mirror when they have nightmares.
He originally had intended to embody the idea of a “Twisted Sister” with the image, and his look was part of the reason the band became so well known . His snarling scowl, the fright makeup, the lipstick—these are the reasons a snarling Snider is crouching on the cover of their most famous album, Stay Hungry.
When we think of the worst excesses of glam and hair metal imagery, we think of Twisted Sister. Dee Snider embodied the logical extreme outcome of glam makeup. He looked like the lovechild of Bette Midler and Bruce Campbell after his face is stretched by the Necronomicon.
When cartoons make fun of hair-rockers, it’s not a caricature of Whitesnake you see. It’s Twisted Sister.
1. Little Richard
Little Richard would look at the past four entries in the list and laugh. Crazy hair, campy eyeliner, outrageous outfits? He’s done it all.
From his hair, to his eyeshadow to the lipstick to the pompadour, Little Richard was the point from which all rock star make-up came. He is the Abraham of androgynous rockstars. His eyeliner alone begat James Brown, Hendrix, Freddie Mercury, the Stones, Bowie, much of the British Invasion, Adam Ant, Bolan and, well, nearly everyone.
After all, 60s-era Little Richard had one of the most ostentatious, flamboyant images going. “Lot of the other performers at that time — the Cadillacs, the Coasters, the Drifters — they were wearing makeup, too,” he once said in a Rolling Stone interview, “but they didn’t have any makeup kit. They had a sponge and a little compact in their pocket. I had a kit.”
When it comes to ostentation and influence, Little Richard stands above the rest of them. It just goes to show, a little make-up can go a long way.