Hollywood Men are Having a Vibe Shift
From Sun Valley's Barry Diller to Brad Pitt, a new dress code takes hold
You don’t need me to tell you that men’s fashion has undergone a seismic change in the last few years. Evidence of the dramatic vibe shift in the way men dress is everywhere, from politics to the workplace (wherever that may be) to the red carpet.
Walk into Neiman’s or Saks and you’ll see retail real estate formerly devoted to suits and dress shirts now overrun with ever-more-pricy sneakers and endless designer takes on the zip hoodie and track pant.
The necktie, that onetime symbol of testosterone-infused power, was unofficially pronounced dead on the internet after the “class picture” at the G7 Summit last month showed leaders from the U.S., Italy, Japan, France, Germany, the U.K. and the European Union — all tieless! In truth, the necktie had been on life support since the Obama administration when he started wearing his Brooks Brothers suits without one.
And then there’s Sun Valley’s current Allen & Co. conference, where Barry Diller, Warren Buffet and Brian Grazer are suddenly resplendent in color, flexing new versions of casual wear instead of the usual fleece vests.
Obviously, the pandemic dealt a deathblow to traditional style as two years of WFH and trying to mind kids while taking a Zoom call turned us into sweatpants nation. Just as many workers don’t want to return to the office full time ever again, many men have no interest donning the suit-and-tie straightjacket in the future. (Even buttoned-up bastions J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs ditched strict dress codes a couple of years before lockdown.) During 2020, sales of neckties fell 42 percent. It’s doubtful they ever recover.
Another plot twist: the next generation increasingly points to a future where a binary system of cis “men” and “women” won’t dictate fashion preferences. Not only is the world filled now with a continuum of identities, The New York Times recently reported that gender therapy for teens is skyrocketing (about 300,000 in the U.S. identify as transgender — much higher than previously thought — according to UCLA). Whatever the overheated political rhetoric on these topics, Gen Z clearly won’t equate wearing a suit and tie as the “masculine” uniform.
The reason I bring all this up right now is that men’s fashion editors, store executives and celebrity guests just finished their bi-annual sprint of the men’s runway circuit that moves from London to Milan and finally Paris.
June’s traveling swarm viewed styles for a year from now, for Spring/Summer 2023. There was flashy Versace and Moschino back on the Milan calendar, London cult favorite JW Anderson making his pandemic-delayed debut, Italian stalwarts Giorgio Armani, Prada and Zegna, and in Paris, always more forward, lots of gender-blurring, ranging from the blinkered preppie stylings of Thom Browne to the apocalyptic vision of Rick Owens with literal fireballs overhead as well as a breezy blue runway moment from LA’s own Mike Amiri that was a big hit.
It takes a while for runway looks to trickle down, if at all. Men’s fashion is usually slower and most of the designer styles at retail in coming seasons will just be variations on a theme — but different nonetheless (no one would expect, say, a WME partner to wear Owens’ apocalyptic layered tunics and lucite platform boots but they might wear his slightly longer recycled cashmere pullover.)
Before we dive into some case studies of how this is playing out, let’s first look at just how far we’ve come.
If there is an iconic masculine style image from mythologized Tinseltown of old, it has to be the “Kings of Hollywood” photograph with Clark Gable, Van Heflin, Gary Cooper and James Stewart laughing at a joke at the bar of Romanoff’s in Beverly Hills on New Year’s Eve, 1957. Emblematic of a lost era of movie stardom as well as an exemplar of sartorial finesse, it was snapped by Slim Aarons, midcentury chronicler of Southern California’s rich and fabled.
You can still get tastes of that bygone culture today. 👇
One only has to look at the recent Met Ball (barely two months ago but seems like a lifetime and several variants ago) where Vogue sought to have male guests don white-tie, in keeping with the event’s Gilded Age-inspired theme. In the end, just a few complied in what’s left of today’s Kings of Hollywood in co-chair Ryan Reynolds, dapper in Ralph Lauren; designer Tom Ford in his own label; and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Now for three case studies in the new men’s fashion moment:
1. SEBASTIAN STAN
After the ball, if you Googled men’s red-carpet pictures, what stood out for outlets as varied as Buzzfeed, Elle and GQ, was actor Sebastian Stan, fresh off Hulu's Pam & Tommy, arriving at the Met Gala in a blinding hot-pink streetwear-inspired Valentino combo — oversize pink coat, shirt, trousers, sneakers and, of course, matching pink sneaks.
In today’s online world, the power of a defining Hollywood image has ceded to the never-ending run of “style” photos of celebrities that clog Instagram and online editions of legacy fashion magazines. And yesteryear’s idea of elegance ain’t getting the clicks. (To cite another example, look at the online clamor made by star Oscar Isaac when he wore a Thom Browne blazer and pleated skirt a few weeks earlier for London’s Moon Night premiere.)
GQ subsequently crowed, “Sebastian Stan’s All-Pink Outfit Might Not Exactly Hit the Met Gala Theme But Who Cares When It Looks This Good?” GQ also crowned it, “The Met Gala’s biggest fit” (in the current parlance birthed by Instagram and TikTok, taken from “outfit”.)
“The Met Gala theme always been a bit of a love-hate thing for me, particularly for menswear,” his stylist, Michael Fisher, tells me. “It's like either you have to follow it to a ‘T,’ or you just ignore it and do whatever you want. That red carpet is a big fashion moment, much like the Oscars.”
The stylist, whose client roster includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Oscar Isaac, Michael Shannon and Bowen Yang, says with all his male clients he wants each one of them to come from a similar place of authenticity. “He has to feel good and happy and confident and not like he's a billboard.”
2. HARRY STYLES
Next on my radar as a sign of the rapidly shifting landscape for men is what’s up at Gucci lately.
Always a celebrity favorite, Gucci designer Alessandro Michele had already returned to live shows post-pandemic with his spectacular co-ed Spring ’22 presentation that turned Hollywood Boulevard into a runway last November with Gwyneth Paltrow, Macaulay Culkin, Miranda July, Jodie Turner-Smith, and best buddy and brand avatar (and sometimes suited-up twin) Jared Leto in attendance.
This time around in Milan, Michele teamed up (as you’ve probably heard) with none other than Harry Styles on a capsule collection — “drop” in the current parlance — of Gucci HA HA HA, a lineup of clothes and accessories that leaned into Michele’s ever-present ’70s vibe (the presentation was even staged at Milan’s Cavalli e Nastri vintage store where some reported it was hard to tell the new duds from the old).
Styles is a longtime Michele BFF (the HA HA HA moniker comes from both Styles’ and Michele’s first initials, and was also inspired by the smiley-face emojis they use to sign off on their emails to each other). He’s worn Gucci on the red carpet and on tour for years, appeared in a 2018 ad campaign, memorably donned a sheer black topped ensemble for the Met Gala in 2019 alongside Michele, and wore a GG dress on the much-discussed December 2020 cover of Vogue, much to the chagrin of non-binary fashion icon Billy Porter, who caused a hubbub with his remarks.
Already a top contender for song of the summer with “As It Was,” Styles, with his Gucci collection dropping in October, makes for nice synergy, debuting around the same time his much-anticipated movie My Policeman.
3. BRAD PITT
Against that backdrop, came the third volley in the recent male celebrity style onslaught, when the internet blew up a few weeks ago with the early release of the GQ August cover story featuring one of our last venerable real movie icons, Brad Pitt. Though the actor, 58, said in the accompanying cover story “Brad Pitt Opens Up His Dream World” by Ottessa Moshfegh that he’s “on the last leg” of his career, the pictures by photographer Elizaveta Porodina told otherwise in a stunning portfolio of fashion virility that fully embraced the vibe shift in men’s style.
Pitt’s GQ shoot, which included shots of him in a buttercup yellow jacket and pants by Umit Benan B+, a fringed silvery leather jacket by hot men’s label Bode and a ruffled turquoise sheer shirt by Los Angeles’ own designer of the moment, ERL, not to mention Pitt in heavy eye makeup, made a convincing case that there is no age limit on head-turning men’s fashion today, usually a province of the younger crowd, especially when they want to “break” the internet. (Interestingly, Pitt is now about the same age as Gable, Cooper and the rest were in their “Kings” white-tie glory.)
For those of us with long memories, it wasn’t actually the first time that Pitt had flirted with the outer shoals of men’s fashion, given his quintessential aggro costuming in David Fincher’s Fight Club by veteran designer Michael Kaplan (best known for the Star Wars franchise, by the way), who also styled a groundbreaking accompanying Steven Klein photoshoot in W magazine in 1999. That mix of mesh athletic tees, louche floral shirts and waxy vintage leather jackets still influences the new generation of Hollywood’s male fashion plates including Justin Bieber, Post Malone and, yes, Harry Styles.
But maybe it was even more surprising given that the last time Pitt really made breakthrough fashion news was last fall when he collaborated with the suave Roman house of Brioni on the BP Signature capsule collection, an ode to hushed luxury in brown and gray cashmere and velvet with an accompanying photo campaign. A stark contrast to Pitt’s threads on the GQ cover, the collab was said to be inspired by the beautifully tailored but classically Italian tux worn by Pitt during the 92nd Academy Awards when he won the Oscar for best-supporting actor in 2019’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood from director Quentin Tarantino.
Signing off on the GQ interview, Pitt explained his style turnabout thusly: “I’m one of those creatures that speaks through art," Pitt told the magazine. “If I’m not making, I’m dying in some way.” In that spirit, long live Brad Pitt.
FOR YOU: 4 FASHION-LITE CHOICES
Not every Hollywood exec is ready to rock lurex and a skirt. But this handful of wearables are ready to pack, on point and always appropriate for that upcoming vacation or executive retreat.
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