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Sydney WorldPride 2023: Makeup in LGBTQ+ History

Sydney World Pride 2023 is already underway, and we are so pumped for Mardi Gras this weekend. Characterised by bold body glitter, billowing rainbow flags and striking camp fashion, Mardi Gras is a celebration of the resilience of the queer community, a space for pure self-expression and freedom to love. It is a strong, pivotal tradition that has taken decades to fight for. 


The Sydney WorldPride Mardi Gras is also a great excuse to go out there with your makeup. Flamboyant, fabulous, theatrical and loud, cosmetics have been considered a tool of resistance in LGBTQ+ communities for decades. In both popular and counter culture, makeup broke boundaries and challenged gender expression, defining the resilient queer culture that we celebrate today. Your Mardi Gras makeup will hold a lot of history. 


In anticipation of this weekend’s Sydney WorldPride Mardi Gras, we’re giving you our rundown on the history of makeup and its influence on LGBTQ+ culture.  


1970s : Glam Rock and a Growing Drag Scene


 We all know and love our Drag Queens. This exaggerated performance of gender through the use of dramatised makeup plays a massive role in Mardi Gras today. Drag had been a slowly growing artform in smaller circles by the 70s, but it was in this decade that it began to hold a significant influence on the gay liberation movement. After all, it was Drag Queens Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera who were at the centre of the Stonewall Uprisings in 1969, a series of protests in response to police raids of a gay bar. The first Pride march in 1970 commemorated one year since the riots and saw thousands demonstrate for equal rights.

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At the time Drag ball was thriving, a gay club culture defined by vibrant music, extravagant style and experimental makeup looks. It particularly attracted the transgender community, as these were spaces that transgressed cultural norms, where true authenticity was embraced. This club culture is the originator of beauty trends and music crazes like Ballroom, Vouge and Disco. 

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It was no wonder drag culture had started folding into mainstream society by the 70s. Tim Curry’s drag performance in 1975's Rocky Horror Picture Show has designated it a cult classic to this day. Glam rock icon David Bowie also drew in part from the aesthetics of queer nightlife to inspire Ziggy Stardust, his androgynous alter ego. Donning red lips and shimmer eyeshadow, Bowie was a generation-defining artist. 


1980s: Pop Stars Break Boundaries 


With an HIV/AIDS crisis on the rise, the 80s was a particularly dark time for LGBTQ+ communities. However, in popular culture, the boundaries of makeup and fashion were being broken, paving the way for more liberated attitudes around self-expression.

The 80s saw many mainstream performers cross the bounds of gender expression through their experimentation with makeup. Think pop icon Boy George, with pigmented pink blush and red lips in a harlequin aesthetic, or the pioneering Prince with his signature sharp eyeshadow look. Rock star Mick Jagger often experimented with eyeliner and glitter, while David Bowie’s silvery shadow in Labyrinth (1986) is still raved about today. Popular culture was blowing up with drag influences, and this period pushed us towards more liberating movements for greater accessibility and the normalisation of cosmetic experimentation for men.

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In 1984, salon owner Frank Angelo and fashion photographer Frank Toskan founded MAC Cosmetics. In a space traditionally reserved for women, there were now more men being embraced by the beauty industry.


1990s: Grunge Rock and RuPaul

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The ‘90s brought a wave of “grunge” fashion and music. Defined by a carefree, anti-establishment attitude,  grunge was a massive influence on the use of makeup among men in entertainment. Rock artists like Kurt Cobain and Dave Navarro were trailblazers in popularising grungy smudged eyeliner trends. This counterculture punk movement was crucial in challenging preconceived conceptions of masculinity and gender expression, and its impact would last well into the 21st century. 

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In other circles, pop culture was ready to embrace Drag explicitly. RuPaul Charles was at the helm of this change, becoming the first drag queen to act as spokesperson for a major cosmetics company with MAC Cosmetics. He would go on to create his well-loved reality competition series RuPaul's Drag Race, popularising modern drag on a more mainstream platform.


2000s: Guyliner and Digital Identities 

The turn of the century marked another decade for men in makeup, especially among those in the rock/grunge/punk scene. ‘Emo’ rock had overtaken, and massive band front-men like Pete Wentz, Gerard Way, Jared Leto, and Billie Joe Armstrong all took on signature kohl-lined lids. It’s from here that the term “guyliner” was born.

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The rise of the internet in the early naughts paved the way for more youth subcultures with websites like MySpace and Tumblr. Scene culture in particular was defined by the use of dramatic makeup and bold hair colours as a mode of self-expression. It was all about asserting your identity and rethinking what masculinity means. This was particularly known as a safe space for the queer community.


2010s: Influencers and Inclusivity 

 With social media came the opportunity to gain visibility and a platform like never before. This decade marked a pivotal shift for both the LGBTQ+ community and the makeup industry.

Youtube and Instagram paved the way for a huge online beauty community. With influencers and YouTubers sharing makeup reviews, tutorials and challenges, it gave way to massive social media stars who had the platform to represent the LGBTQ+ community. Patrick Starrr, Bretman Rock, Manny MUA, Nikkie Tutorials, Nikita Dragun, and James Charles all built unstoppable digital empires.

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without the mainstream media industry controlling the narrative, Social media popularity allowed queer creators to build their own platforms, communicate with a legion of fans and form a representation of their true, authentic selves. These big names carved a space for themselves and those alike within the beauty community. 

2020s and Beyond

For the 2020s and beyond, Gen Z will be at the forefront of a culture that is more open to sexually fluid and gender-fluid expressions of style. With the pandemic came a lot of free time to scroll TikTok, and Gen Z was as digitally connected as ever. We saw more transgressive makeup trends, greater style experimentation and changing attitudes around the concept of gender expression in youth culture. 

As we as a society grow more open to challenging gender, fashion and makeup norms, the future looks bright for the representation of LGBTQ+ culture and style. 


Whether you’re watching this year’s Sydney WorldPride 2023 Mardi Gras from TV, or dancing down Oxford Street, remember to always embrace your style and stay true to your authentic self. Beauty has come a long way in 50 years, and we can’t wait to see it go even further.


Still trying to envision your Mardi Gras makeup look?

We have a few Klara Cosmetics recommendations below to get you started!

Diamond Kiss Proof Lipstick

liquid matte lipstick

Stun with a gorgeous crystal metallic matte finish.

24 Eyeshadow Palette : Shanghai 

This shimmer eyeshadow palette gives a gorgeously soft pastel look in a 100% pigment concentration formula. 

24 Eyeshadow Palette : Marrakech 

A bold colourful eyeshadow palette for vivid makeup looks. 

Celebration Box

celebrate Sydney WorldPride in style with all-inclusive makeup gift sets. 


Need more beauty tips? Give these articles a read! 

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