Leslie Odom Jr. in a Berluti suit, all the colours of the rainbow. Daniel Kaluuya in purple Louis Vuitton pyjamas. Kingsley Ben-Adir in a Dior polo neck and suit jacket, with a martial arts-style belt. Tahar Rahim in a Vuitton suit the colour of a Hockney swimming pool.
From the SAG Awards to the BAFTAs, men at this year’s Zoom-friendly award ceremonies have been ditching the tuxes. In their place? A more experimental take on what dressing up looks like.
All eyes are now on the Oscars, which takes place this weekend. With organisers insisting “there will not be an option to Zoom in for the show”, it’s expected that there will be a return to a semblance of a red carpet, if only for the 200 or so nominees present at the event. But it could still be the men leading the fashion. In 2021, the Old Hollywood gowns and waterfall hair traditionally worn by actresses – and dominating red carpet galleries – feel out of step.
There have been rumbles of this menswear revolution for a while. Billy Porter wore a ballgown to the Oscars in 2019 and followed it up with a very viral hat with revolving fringe at the Grammys a year later. Lil Nas X — even before Montero — was pushing aesthetics, with a hot pink cowboy outfit and a silver sequin suit worthy of Little Richard on the red carpet. Timothée Chalamet’s outfits have included a harness, a sofa-ish floral suit and a Prada tracksuit. And then there’s Harry Styles. Working with stylist Harry Lambert, feather boas and frilly blouses now come as standard.
But if the structures of menswear (suit for smart, shorts for sport) had been creaking for a while, they are toppling in the pandemic era. After all, it’s hard to read what’s appropriate when you could be sitting on your sofa for an award ceremony.
“There are no norms. Home is work, work is home, so there’s much more sense of freedom,” says Andrew Groves, Director of the Menswear Archive at Westminster University. “It’s a complete schism [that] is more [significant] for men than women, because everything a man wears comes from uniform, which is about function and role.” A tux without context doesn’t work. These stars are enjoying working out what does.
“The idea of ‘traditional’ is a dated term,” says Zadrian Smith, who with Sarah Edmiston, styles Kingsley Ben-Adir, as well as Max Harwood and Bukky Bakray. “When I hear that term now it kind of makes me cringe.” Ben-Adir prioritises comfort when choosing what he wears and, as age-old formalities fall by the wayside, this is now finally permitted. Edmiston praises the BAFTAs suit as part of this. “It’s an amazing combination of tuxedo references and lounge suit references,” she says. “I think that’s a really difficult combination and only someone like Kim Jones [Dior Men’s Artistic Director] could nail that completely.”
Red carpet fashion might not be immediately associated with the seismic change that came with the rise of Black Lives Matter in 2020, but there’s a ripple effect that has had an impact on what men are wearing. Working with Ben-Adir, one of the most high-profile actors of colour currently, Smith and Edmiston gravitate towards the aesthetics of designers and brands that are supportive of anti-racism, and say other stylists do the same.
“We had to consider the fact that he was playing one of the most prominent African-American civil rights leaders, Malcolm X [in A Night in Miami], so that comes fully loaded,” says Smith. “A lot of the brands who had reached out to us had not done the work… We’ll jump on the phone and say, ‘thanks for reaching out, this is why you’re not going to be dressing Kingsley.’ These are big brands and for them to have someone tell them ‘no, thank you’ is a bit of a shock.”
For brands, having their clothes worn by stars is still a valuable endorsement. Kris Van Assche, made Odom Jr.’s SAG suit as the Creative Director of Berluti (they parted ways this month). He says it works best if the alliance feels genuine. The reaction was “quite major”, but “these kinds of reactions only happen when everything feels ‘right’, from the look, of course, but also the person wearing it, if it feels honest, fun, not a disguise.”
Without a red carpet, images of stars no longer have to be shot by paparazzi against an ad hoarding – they can have their own photoshoot. This is a growing genre of Instagram post, popping up in feeds after ceremonies. See Josh O’Connor, for the SAG Awards, walking in a wooden set wearing Loewe, Odom Jr. in Versace, with matching coloured backdrops for the BAFTAs, or Eli Goree (also in One Night in Miami) in a bright red suit and matching shoes in an elegant garden.
“We get to present the look like you would in an editorial image,” says Goree’s stylist, Warren Alfie Baker. “So you fine tune the pose or photography style along with amping up the fashion.” This control is perhaps partly why his men are taking more risks. “I do think clients seem to be somewhat braver in their choices,” says Baker.
Ladj Ly, the director of Les Miserables, who wore a Dior blouson jacket and polo neck for his BAFTA nomination, agrees. “It allowed me to wear a much cooler look while at home. There’s less pressure.” In fact, he is effusive about his outfit. “I had a crush on the blouson!” he says. “The quality, colour and fabric were sumptuous.”
All of these men, it has to be remembered, didn’t start out wearing tuxedos on the red carpet. They grew up in an era when streetwear was on the rise and shopping (once classed as a feminine activity) was legitimised for men – as a hypebeast, anyway. Now, nearly 30 years since Supreme first opened their shutters in 1994, a generation of men are accustomed to paying attention to aesthetics. Van Assche even thinks that moments like Odom Jr in the rainbow suit will have an impact on “the slightly more classical, mature client”, but that “the young generation doesn’t really need examples anymore. They’re very opinionated and don’t need to be told what to wear.”
Smith points to how fashion has become part of both hip-hop and basketball. “These sectors, that were normally hypermasculine, have been infiltrated by fashion in a way we have never seen before,” he says. “Now, I’ll be in the airport and I’ll see the butchest guy with a pearl necklace on, and I’ll be like, ‘can I flirt with you? Can I not flirt with you? What’s going on here? I’m confused.’”
Edmiston is optimistic about the future of menswear – on the red carpet, and the streets. “This new generation coming up, they’re compassionate, they’re informed, they’re hyper-tolerant. There’s a sense of celebration of genderless dressing and true authentic tapping in to what that means to them,” she says. “When we can all go back to public spaces, the people watching will be better than it has ever been.”