How did cosmetics develop as a predominantly female accoutrement?

The history of cosmetics seems to have roots in many cultures, yet nothing seems to explain why it has been mainly women who have availed themselves of these things. I know there are some historical cases of men using make-up or various facial coloring schemes (and the present Mike Tyson?), but why would such a wide-spread cultural phenomenon have started - and continued - mainly with females - which is the way it seems.

Nature, not nurture?

I think the idea that cosmetics are primarily feminine is a very modern concept. Several ancient societies had rather elaborate warrior makeup, etc.

men went to the water to get fish. some drowned. since they could see their reflection in the water they developed a hatred for seeing their reflection.

You may have noticed men value beauty in their partners far more than women do.

To take the question back a step, how attraction works between the genders of most (all?) cultures is different.
Both genders choose healthy-looking mates, but beyond that men are more superficial and features like apparent youth and fertility are important. Whereas things like social status or apparent aptitude are more important to women.
Whether this is nature or nurture is contentious, particularly on forums like these. Personally I think largely nature, though I should stress there is no proscriptive element to this (I am not saying anything of how people should behave).

Well, but as the OP notes, there are a lot of cultures where cosmetic use by men has been routine. The Kamasutra specifies the beauty ritual of the male householder in early classical India:

(“Collyrium” or kohl is a sort of black eyeliner and “alacktaka” is a red colorant made from lac.) Ancient Egyptian men wore eyeliner and eyeshadow too.

Eighteenth-century European men wore artificial “beauty spots” and white-lead or chalk face powder/paint, just as women did.

So I think trends in cosmetic use throughout recorded history are too varied and arbitrary to allow us to draw firm conclusions about innate genetic differences between men and women in terms of sexual attraction. Such differences certainly exist, but IMO they’re too entangled with cultural practices to allow us to identify their effects distinctly.

True enough, but as I said I was taking the question back a level. I wasn’t trying to suggest a simple causal path between cosmetic use and innate differences, in either direction.

Merely that we know these differences exist, so it gives a factor why, within a given culture, women may put more effort into their appearance than men do; because it has a greater effect on their ability to attract mates than it does for men.

Ok, and unless I’m grossly mistaken, in the vast majority of these cultures, it IS the women who use cosmetics to attract mates, not the other way around. And that’s precisely my question. Are we a species that requires the females to attract mates, as opposed, say, to guppies, and many other animals, where it seems to be the other way around? And if so, what are the biological imperatives that lead to this?

But if we look at all the cultures that ever existed, is it true that women put more effort into this? As noted already, the paucity of male cosmetics in society is a very recent phenomenon.

I’m not sure that’s been shown. The OP conceded that male cosmetics have always existed, but is asking the question of why the use is significantly more common among women.

Male usage of cosmetics, however, is often for purposes other than making themselves sexually attractive, warpaint (and camouflage) being a case in point.

I wouldn’t be so sure that warpaint is necessarily devoid of sexual purpose. Sure, one major purpose may have been to frighten or intimidate foes or potential foes (e.g. weakening them emotionally to the point where they can be conquered and/or convincing them to surrender or flee instead of fighting), but I also think that there is or would be an element of attraction there. Sort of the “Hey ladies, look at me, I’m such a fierce warrior, I’d be a great husband <3.” After all, don’t romance novels of recent years seem to include a fair number of soldiers, cops, and other “fighting” heroes? What about all those folk songs about girls who love boys who are going off to war?

As an aside, also note that other “fashion” elements that are today considered primarily feminine would not have been considered such even a few centuries ago. E.g. in medieval Western Europe, males wearing skirts, frills/ruffles, and lace would either have not been considered unusual, or if they were considered unusual in some way, they would be considered as eccentric or odd rather than effeminate.

E.g. This Scottish song specifically mentions that the heroine fell in love with her laddie <3 when she saw him in the tartan of the gallant Forty Twa, i.e. wearing the uniform of the Black Watch.

Maybe the whole “Chicks dig guys in uniform” is applicable to the warpaint scenario. If warpaint is part of the uniform, or warrior image, of a culture, then maybe that makes it sexy.

I’d be inclined to say that there a number of societies today where cosmetics for women are more common than for men, but I have no idea if that was the case in the past, and I’m not seeing anything in this thread that leads me to believe it was. If men and women equally adorned themselves in the past, then we have a historical question (what changed?), rather than an evolutionary one.

This really is reaching though.
Sure, women find warriors sexy, as I implied in post #6.
That doesn’t mean that everything that soldiers do is therefore sexy by implication. Nor does it suggest that everything soldiers do is cosmetic by implication.

I’m just suggesting some possible reasons for the observation in the OP. But yeah, we should consider whether the observation is correct.

When I stated “we know these differences exist” I was referring to the difference in attraction writ relative importance of aesthetics vs status.

I’m going to accept a priori the assumption that females have tended to be the more adorned gender in most cultures through history. With that assumption, I think my question still is this: according to evolutionary biology, what would explain that?

Ugly girls never got kissed and had fewer children than their prettier sisters, or maybe even none at all. Female descendants of women who managed to find lovers would tend to either greater natural beauty and/or drive to use cosmetics to improve beauty, or perception thereof.

The problem with this theory is that there are a dern large number of guys who will do any female that has half a brain. Maybe it used to be different.

There’s an old joke about this fairly unappealing woman who is seen in public with two children. A man passes by and asks if the kids are twins. The woman says no and asks the guy if he really thinks the kids look that alike. He answers,

“No, but I’m having a hard time believing that you got laid twice.”

A recent study found that men preferred faces with less makeup than women preferred. Also, people in the study tended to think that everyone else prefers faces with more makeup.