Young people are very accepting of personal freedom when it comes to men wearing makeup and traditionally feminine clothing. But they are still feeling that pressure to conform from traditional institutions and work places where they currently have no influence. As a result they’re looking to their favourite brands to create more exposure to the shifting gender landscape.

Insight Painted Face

According to research by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, more students than ever are identifying as non-binary. In 2018 the number of students in the UK who declared their gender as “other” on university forms more than doubled from 2017. More than 800 students declined to categorise themselves under the traditional terms of “man” or “woman” compared to just 395 in the previous year.

“I do think it’s a growing sphere…”

Whether a student conforms to gender roles or not, it seems fewer have a problem with the idea of gender fluidity. Our understanding of gender is evolving. As this consciousness seeps into the mainstream we will likely see more behaviour change such as Southwest Airlines, from June 2019, offering “unspecified” and “undisclosed” as well as the conventional choices when selecting gender on airline tickets.

We are in the age of change where the way things ‘have always been done’ is being challenged daily. Obvious gender marketing is, for most products, seen as dated by most young people. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the beauty and skincare space, which has always been the domain of women. Some of the hottest young stars on the scene are now young male content providers who are mixing it up and wearing their painted faces with pride. Patrick Starr (MAC makeup guru), James Charles (the face of Covergirl) and Alexis Stone (who can turn himself into any celebrity out there just with makeup!) are just a few of the names on everyone’s follow lists.

“Since being at uni I’ve never really seen anyone react negatively to it.”

In a time where young celebrities like Jayden Smith are regularly seen in a skirt and nail varnish, we asked whether changing values of masculinity makes is it less risky for the average male student to engage with skin care and makeup. After all, watching makeovers on Queer Eye is different from being faced with your mates comparing mascaras over a pint! Is this still the territory of minimalist masculine branded products (Bulldog) that allow young men to try it out without compromising on their masculinity? Or are male students open to using the products and pallets their girlfriends and female friends use?

“It depends what you mean by male makeup... some days I can just put a bit of concealer under my eyes and I’m ready to go, baby!”

Unsurprisingly, 62% of our liberal minded student audience agreed with the statement ‘It is OK for men to wear any skin care, makeup or clothing they want, any time they want’. Women over-indexed significantly (73% F vs. 48% M) here, demonstrating yet again their openness when it comes to progress. When it comes to age, however, there’s a clear upward ‘acceptance trajectory’. 18 year olds were 11% more likely than 20 years olds and 15% more likely than 22+ to agree with the above statement, showing that young people are becoming more tolerant of our personal differences.

“It makes me feel really happy and excited that people are pushing these boundaries… there shouldn’t have been boundaries in the first place… but we can’t be unhappy about seeing progress in these areas.”

“Sometimes wearing makeup to work causes a bit of conflict.”

This is a group who value individuality and freedom of expression. But they understand that they are also constrained by what society considers ‘normal’ and there is a tension here when it comes to the workplace. Only 19% of students agreed with the statement ‘It is OK for men to wear any skin care, makeup or clothing they want, except in professional environments’. So what more than 80% are saying is that although they agree with personal freedom, they don’t think this privilege extends to the workplace where currently they have no influence or power.

But for the most part the overall attitude is one of tolerance and acceptance. Most of these students are only guessing at what the working world holds for them. But the time they reach it, they will most likely feel differently. This is the future.

“Some of the boys that were in the football club or whatever, would just wear a bit of foundation if they felt like they wanted to wear a bit that day.”

At the other extreme, only 4% of students felt men should never wear makeup, use skin care or wear traditionally feminine clothing. Predictably men (7%) felt more strongly about this than women (0%) as did students in Scotland, Wales and the West Midlands.

“It’s like anything, once you experience it and see people doing it, it becomes normalised.”

Why are female students leading the charge here? One theory is that women have more exposure to men in makeup thanks to the rise of male vloggers like Manny Mua as the face of their favourite brands such as Maybelline. Maybe watching men in these traditionally female roles makes women feel more secure and less prone to comparison? Maybe men don’t take themselves as seriously as women tend to on make-up tutorials? Maybe women think ‘if he can do it, so can I’? Or maybe, and we know this is most likely, women are more accepting of gender fluidity in all its forms than men.

“Generally females who are quite liberal and from the UK know a lot of men who wear makeup...and they’re perfectly fine with it.”

Still, this is a relatively small number and we can see mainstream fashion and makeup already driving genderless products into the market. Chanel has released its first makeup line for men, Boy de Chanel, with the line ‘beauty is about style, it knows no gender’. And Giorgio Armani released a range of tinted lip balms “for him/for her” as part of its 2016 makeup collection.

We also asked about men wearing traditionally female clothing and found that almost all students found this acceptable. This is an attitude we have seen championed across the fashion industry: By designers like Hood by Air, Vaquera and Gypsy Sport, who have included gender-neutral clothing in their shows. By traditional brands like Burberry and Gucci casting female models in their menswear shows. By queer models like Richie Shazam killing it at NYFW and celebrating their refusal to follow the rules.

*“The fact that they are doing it is inspirational” *

The lessons here aren’t just for make-up brands. They are for any brand that has a strong gender bias in its products. It’s time to look at whether you’re being too narrow with who’s representing your brand. Students of today want to see progress in this space and that doesn’t have to be a big political statement, it can be just moving the needle on your products or marketing to make everyone feel welcome.

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