War Paint

April 9, 2013
Photo: Tyen for Vogue Paris

Photo: Tyen for Vogue Paris

Do you watch Vikings? I’m totally hooked, and between the violent clashes between cultures (and the costume details), I’ve been musing about Floki’s eyeliner.


Fierce is a word that’s been used – and overused – by fashionistas when describing some of their own looks, but the drag queens bringing the word into the studio aren’t that far off the mark. “Wild or menacing in appearance“, fierce describes a way of looking that’s deliberately designed to look out of control.


Looking wild or menacing – unpredictable and possibly out of control – is a big plus on the battlefield, and warriors all over the world across time have taken advantage of the effect.


Modern society is relatively polite and peaceful – I’m not currently worried that hordes from New Jersey will come over with hatchets to rape and pillage Manhattan. And I’m happy about that.


But I miss the paint. Maybe there’s no way to wear extreme makeup in polite professional society – our aggression and greed towards each other is suppressed into firm handshakes and furtive calls to our attorneys. And maybe broad stripes of paint just make a person look too aggressive to trust.


But fashion and pop culture take advantage of this – they attack our senses and astonish us with color and sound. I’m sure that’s why I fell into a new wave rabbit hole when MTV showed up on cable in the 80’s. And it’s a huge part of why I do what I do for a living, even if the evidence mostly shows “natural makeup”.


Here’s a short gallery of battle-inspired makeup looks:



What do you think? Do you sometimes wish you could rock one of these looks at work? Is “war paint” a relic of more violent times? What’s your “combat makeup” look?


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  • MM Curator April 9, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    YES! I wish I could rock totally crazy, “fierce” makeup like this some days. My combat makeup would be old-school punk – lots of heavy black eye liner, black nail polish, and no blush to give me that bad-ass pallor. I’ m more sure of my combat look now since I just finished up a book called Compacts and Cosmetics. In her chapter on 1970s makeup, the author says, “Punk took makeup back to its warpaint roots, separating it from notions of concealment and self-improvement – and using it as a badge of tribal belonging and a declaration of war against the ‘fascist regime’: a world of conservatism and extravagant consumerism that was to return with a vengeance in the 1980s.” She also includes a quote from Siouxsie Sioux: “The makeup is armor. It’s tribal, primal. It’s still war paint.”

    Anyway, yeah, I’d be all over “aggressive” makeup (if I could wear it outside of Halloween!)

    • Meli April 9, 2013 at 7:01 pm

      I was all over post punk (we didn’t call it Goth yet) makeup as well – and Siouxsie really did bring the war paint back into pop culture, didn’t she? I left the Gothic commentary out on this one, but the makeup was as much about offense – or defense – as it was about decoration.

  • Andy April 12, 2013 at 5:23 am

    Hard to realize that Siousxie is now in her mid fifties- just shows how old we are all getting.
    For me, she was the epitomy of the Goth style.

  • Links a la Mode: The IFB Weekly Roundup | IFB April 18, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    […] Wild Beauty World: War Paint […]

  • Fraquoh & Franchomme April 18, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    Congrats on LALM!

    Fraquoh and Franchomme

  • Elisa B April 21, 2013 at 8:36 am

    I love the make-up suggestions you posted, it’s just that it’s not do-able in real life! I mean, I can’t go to work with a black stripe painted all over my face! I wish I could though… So what do I do? I usually use a lot of makeup but it looks like I don’t use much. Tha classic “nude” look which is harder to achieve than a normal makeup. So I draw my eyebrow very carefully, but when I feel in a “war” mood I draw them thicker and more defined than the other days. If I feel really aggressive I put some eyeliner on, and dark purple/bordeaux lipstick. And that’s about it! But let me tell you, I absolutely love black in makeup and I would wear black lipstick everyday if I could!

  • Adorn Girl April 21, 2013 at 9:44 am

    I think it just comes down to lifestyle if you are lucky enough to be in a creative job I remember this girl at LCF she was the librarian with the sickest silver molten eye shadow that was applied like stage makeup, so gorgeous! but if you adopted this kind of war paint as an everyday look it would have less impact in the evening

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