Remember when Christian Bale wore a sweep of silver eyeshadow to the ‘Velvet Goldmine’ premier?

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Written by Leah Dolan, CNN

Delving into the archives of pop culture history, “Remember When?” is a CNN Style series offering a nostalgic look at the celebrity outfits that defined their eras.

Remember when a 24-year-old Christian Bale wowed onlookers with this red carpet look featuring a shimmering sweep of silver eyeshadow that struck like lightning across his face?

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the bold makeup choice (two silvery cat-eyes with a dab of rouge on each cheek), which was a homage to what was then Bale’s new movie, “Velvet Goldmine.” Premiering at the Village East Cinemas in New York City that night, the mock-biopic followed the turbulent life of a ’70s and ’80s glam rock superstar, widely assumed to be inspired by David Bowie (who had released a titled song “Velvet Goldmine” decades earlier).

The silver make up was tied to the glam rock movie "Velvet Goldmine," premiering in New York.

The silver make up was tied to the glam rock movie “Velvet Goldmine,” premiering in New York. Credit: Steve Eichner/Archive Photos/Getty Images

While the movie left some reviewers cold, costume designer Sandy Powell’s camp aesthetics won a BAFTA and secured an Oscar nomination in 1999. And, fittingly, it was a flamboyant red carpet all round: Director Todd Haynes arrived with eyes ringed in sparkling blue kohl pencil, while The B-52s singer Fred Schneider rocked up in red slacks flecked with stars and a fuzzy feather boa.

But it is Bale’s playful full-face that has truly stood the test of time. In fact, with men’s makeup soaring in popularity, close-up shots of his sparkly eyeshadow have found new fans on social media.

“I can’t believe this is the first time I’m seeing those pictures,” writes one user under a tweet about the look that has been liked over 21,000 times. The photos have even found their way onto TikTok, where users have dedicated entire videos to fawning over Bale’s then-subversive makeup — and some even trying to recreate it on their own faces.
Images of the flamboyant look have recently recirculated on social media.

Images of the flamboyant look have recently recirculated on social media. Credit: Steve Eichner/Archive Photos/Getty Images

The internet’s zealous resurrection of Bale’s “Velvet Goldmine” look comes at a time when notions of masculinity are being challenged and remade, especially when it comes to fashion. Skirts have become perfectly acceptable garments to find hanging in the modern man’s wardrobe: Brad Pitt, Oscar Isaac and A$AP Rocky have all worn them. Glitter jumpsuits? They’re an on-stage staple for Harry Styles, who released his own brand of nail polish last year. Similarly well-documented is Machine Gun Kelly’s penchant for pink — whether it in the form of crop tops, floral suits or open satin shirts.

But to many people, Bale still represents a certain breed of machismo — in part because of his role in 2000’s “American Psycho.” In the last two years, communities on Reddit and TikTok have anointed the hyper-masculine, perfectly preened but sociopathic character, Patrick Bateman, as the poster child for “sigma males”: A male-dominated internet subculture perpetuating misogyny online. The tag “sigma” has 41 billion views on TikTok, with many videos featuring clips of either Bateman or fans reenacting scenes from the movie.

The 1998 red carpet look was a direct contract to Bale's role as uber-masculine sociopath Patrick Bateman in "American Psycho" (2000).

The 1998 red carpet look was a direct contract to Bale’s role as uber-masculine sociopath Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho” (2000). Credit: Kerry Hayes/Lions Gate/Kobal/Shutterstock

The moment seems to directly contradict his inadvertent place in incel culture, which may be why the images have been recirculating since 2020. “Replying to every Patrick Bateman obsession degenerate being homophobic/misogynistic with images of Christian Bale rocking makeup and nail paint,” one user wrote on Twitter.

He was in good company. It was the decade of male crop tops, a la Will Smith in “The Fresh Prince of Bell Air” and Mark Wahlberg. Earlier that year, David Beckham was seen off-duty at the World Cup in France wearing a printed Jean Paul Gaultier sarong. Other stars would go on to make bigger, campier fashion statements. In 1999, Brad Pitt starred on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in a form-fitting mini-dress, creating a gender-defying moment that would go down in pop culture history. But it’s about time Bale got his due, too.

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