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The Desire to Look Good – Male Beauty as a Millennial

I stayed up late last night watching YouTube videos again. It’s happening more and more every time I’m at my apartment in Berlin. Maybe there are too many things on my mind, ideas floating in and out and a to-do list that’s torn to pieces but nowhere close to being finished. But when the nighttime comes, I try to relax. I try to shut out all the ideas and thoughts and scary feelings and I sit. Inevitably, I don’t get very far from my computer or my phone. They’re practically extensions of my body these days. But last night, on the abyss that is YouTube, I stumbled onto a video (from BuzzfeedVideo, where else…): Men’s Standards of Beauty Around the World.

Obvs I clicked the video for some eye candy. It was clearly a homoerotic piece meant to catch the attention of gay guys around the world (like every other Buzzfeed video—seriously…is the entire staff of Buzzfeed made up of gay guys?!). But in the first few seconds, I stumbled on this fact:

Male Beauty Around the World

I didn’t even finish watching the video, to be honest. I was caught by that fact and then, out of the corner of my eye, noticed in the corner of my room a pile of beauty products I’ve been seemingly collecting for the past few months.

Now, I’m probably a pretty typical consumer. I work like the rest of my generation, I make a pretty average annual income. Even if it’s as a freelancer, I like to think I lead a pretty normal life—at least as the stereotypical millennial. Yes, I probably travel about a gazillion times more than the average person—but other than that, I lead a normal life. There’s nothing extraordinary about what I’m doing (sorry to disappoint). But this fact stood at—because even though it’s Buzzfeed and we should probably take it with a grain of salt, I’ve noticed this trend. It’s probably some corporate conspiracy, but beauty products have become a part of my daily routine. And a part of my monthly shopping expenses.

It’s not particularly new, though. I’ve always had what I consider a healthy fashion obsession with underwear. My underwear doesn’t get seen by many, but since a teenager I’ve always cared that it looked good; that it was stylish or sexy. Over time, though, my underwear obsessions has increased, so much so, that now I’m regularly checking the blog for the latest and greatest. I also like to shop for new underwear when traveling—trying to find local brands that might seem a bit more exclusive or interesting to the few who I do get to show off my briefs too.

I think I like to shop as much as everyone else (meaning: I do it when I’m sad and when I have some extra cash to burn). Over the past few years, however, my shopping habits have changed. There are so many different products and options, I’m constantly overwhelmed. Like most things in my life, I’m naturally curious and almost always willing to try new things, new products. As a former advertising student, I’ve got a lot of respect for brand loyalty. I think it’s one of the most interesting parts of 20th century culture—brands were so successful at creating a connection with their consumers that people would be committed for life.

But things have changed. Committment means a lot less these days. There’s more noise (thank you social media!). I’m not naturally a pessimist, so I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m now a serial traveler, or that I’m just a millennial with the habit of being noncommittal. But brands have to fight for a lot more attention these days. And in the beauty world, which is admittedly a world I don’t know much about, I’m willing to try it all. I’m just curious.

So curious, that I’ve actually started shopping in duty free. I never really understood the point of duty free, but doing so much travel within Europe, they’re readily available and the shop assistants are always willing to answer questions and make recommendations that it’s just become an easy place to try new beauty products. I bought some eye cream the other month—it’s supposed to make me look less sleepy. I don’t know if I actually believe that, but I don’t care. I like the feeling every morning of getting ready, of making myself look good. Blame commercialism. But it is what it is.

I’m a busy guy, though (aren’t we all?). So I’ve done as my generation does and I’ve outsourced my shopping.

GlossyBox Men

The beauty box from GlossyBox

There are a number of male fashion “beauty box” suppliers. A “beauty box” is basically a curated box of beauty products, often available for sale at different price points. You can usually buy them on a subscription basis, or else one-off, and prices can be anywhere from $10-$50 per box.

In the USA, I know BirchBox is a popular one among my guy friends. In Berlin, there’s GlossyBox which I’ve ordered before. There’s also NextGayThing which does what a lot of male fashion sites do: combining fashion products with the beauty ones. I’m sure there are others, but the two that I consistently enjoy (and am able to receive here in Germany) are GlossyBox and NextGayThing. Most of these are available for both men and women, but NextGayThing focuses exclusively on gay men—they offer a gay pack which includes a pair of underwear! #win

With each of these subscription services, you typically answer a handful of questions to gauge your interest. Then there’s probably a computer computing all that data to spit out a perfectly curated collection of products that it thinks you’ll like.

Honestly, with each of these packs I’ve ordered (and I’ve had maybe five or six from a few different companies), the products are hit-or-miss. GlossyBox gave me a Versace scent that I absolutely loved, and most of the products were decent sample sizes so I could actually see what I like. But the products I’ve gotten in some of my gay packs from NextGayThing are just a bit more my style: Malin+Goetz has quickly become one of my favorite beauty brands. I first discovered it at a hotel in Stockholm (The Berns Hotel—you should know it.) and have been obsessed ever since.

Most of these subscription beauty & fashion websites offer products for both men and women, but it’s my guess that the male fashion side of things is booming business. Every ad we see, the TV shows, the movies, there’s just so much more focus on male beauty these days in everything that we consume. Maybe I notice it more because my eyes are always looking for good-looking guys. But it’s not just in the media we consume—it’s in the stores we shop.

I remember in London last year, walking through Shoreditch for just an hour, I stumbled into more men’s fashion and “lifestyle” stores than I’ve seen in any other city. A few months later, and exploring the Södermalm neighborhood of Stockholm—again, there were basic thrift shops and trendy cafés, but then there were “lifestyle” stores selling curated men’s fashion, beauty and lifestyle products. These kinds of stores are popping up all over the world. It’s like there is a concerted effort around the world to make us men look good.

And you know what? I’m not complaining.

  1. Paris Marx says:

    There’s definitely nothing wrong with men wanting to look good!

    I’ve read that the male fashion and beauty industries are exploding though, which I think is awesome. I was always annoyed when I was younger that there was so much selection for women, but so little for me. Great to see it becoming more equal, and I’m loving the increasing trend toward genderless fashion.

    I do have some strong brand loyalties though. I’m bad at making decisions (I try not to be too much of a consumerist), so I reduce my choices to make it easier. Tech? Apple. Glasses? Rayban. Shoes? Usually Converse. Clothes? Topman (I buy skinny jeans here exlcusively), ASOS, or H&M. Underwear? I was really into Calvin Klein for a while, but I got some AussieBum a few months ago and I like those.

    The way I see it, the more beauty products and fashions available for men, the more the stereotype of what a man is “supposed” to look like will be broken.

    • Adam says:

      Preach it Paris!

      Male fashion & beauty definitely seems to be a growing industry. And you’re right… I think the more men’s style changes and becomes gender-neutral, the better it’ll be for men, women, equality, blah blah blah :)

      As for the brands, you’ve pretty much named all of my favorites! I love love love Topman and ASOS. Plus H&M is just pretty much a staple brand in my closet, though I often find their selections boring. AussieBum is an underwear brand I’ve gotten into quite a bit as well – I won’t lie. I have more than a few pairs from them with varying amounts of fabric!

  2. This is a very interesting read! And I am not complaining either :)

  3. This is really a wonderful on men’s beauty. There are lack of topics on men’t beauty, but this is really a great post. Thanks!

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