This tweet of 4 male actors on the red carpet celebrated their ‘feminine’ clothing as a ‘protest against toxic masculinity.’ But to what extent is this the case? Are they just glamorising conventionally attractive white men doing the bare minimum? Amy Milner shares her opinion.
Men’s fashion, of course, is a pretty hot topic right now. Globalisation and the internet have given rise to experimentation in style like never before. And yet, progress in men’s red carpet fashion remains as slow and unadventurous as ever. Due to this, anything out of the ordinary garners quite a bit of attention from the media and the public compared to women’s fashion. Generation Z’s expanding social awareness, combined with our increasing knowledge of fashion and the wonders of the internet, mean that people are now looking beyond the aesthetic of an outfit towards what it might represent. So, it begs the question; are floral suits a ‘destruction’ of toxic masculinity? To address this, first I will outline some of the reasons why the celebrities might not have even been thinking of this notion. I will then go on to briefly discuss whether or not fashion has any meaningful contribution in terms of social change.
Firstly, celebrities are usually not in complete control of their red carpet outfits, and have stylists who choose what they wear in order to fit with the image their label or upcoming film wants them to portray. Some celebs have contracts with designer brands so have very little choice as to what they wear, like Dolce and Gabbana’s staple floral suits which they’ve been doing for the past 20 seasons or so. Take a look at Darren Criss with D&G, or Harry Styles with Gucci. While we’re on the topic of Harry Styles, singers especially like to emulate the fashion of their musical inspirations. Harry Styles has often been compared to Mick Jagger in terms of his fashion with his flashy and relaxed suits. Notably, he’s also a Gucci man, so the florals may be his team’s way of pushing the brand. (Image source)
Also, men’s fashion is slowly becoming more popular and normalised. More people are interested in men’s fashion, so the fact that it is branching out from plain boring suits is to be expected. Without branching out and evolving, fashion brands run out of concepts to sell and their customers will become bored (looking at you Dolce and Gabbana…)
Fashion is inevitably linked to personal expression, and that comes with exploring sexuality and gender identity. Most notably from last year was perhaps Ezra Miller’s red carpet and editorial outfits. It seemed from reading his interviews that he became much more confident in his personal identity as a non-binary actor, and that may be reflected in his style choices. Other examples that OP gave were Brendon Urie, Cody Fern, Troye Sivan, Harry Shum Jr, Billy Porter, Robert Sheehan, Timothée Chalamet, and of course, Freddie Mercury. It is notable that many of the examples that OP gave in her tweet have either played LGBT characters, or identify in some way as LGBT. For this reason, their choice to wear more feminine clothing might be both a personal choice to express themselves, or to create an image to fit their current project. Either way, it doesn’t necessarily mean that their outfits were chosen ‘for the sake of going against toxic masculinity’…Though, please let me make it clear that the reason for their clothing choice should not be attributed solely to their sexuality, gender identity, or project roles. Being LGBT certainly does not exempt them from being victims (or even reinforcers!) of harmful masculine stereotypes!
Furthermore, though some progress has been made in recent decades, men from many backgrounds are still underrepresented at the red carpet. Unfortunately, men of colour or those who are don’t have conventionally attractive looks or bodies don’t receive as many high-paying opportunities. There are also statistically more white, attractive male celebrities than men of any other background, especially on the red carpet. White and attractive men are more likely to be given freedom with their fashion, due to having a larger budget for tailoring and more designers offering to dress them. Because of this, there may simply not be much choice for non-white, more average-looking men to wear adventurous outfits, not because they are afraid of looking feminine.
Finally, different cultures have different views on the concept of masculinity. Over the years, colourful and flamboyant clothing has always been seen as more masculine and ‘camp’ in the West. For example, European men tend not to shy away from stereotypically feminine colours like pink, as much as their American peers.
It could be argued that – although not ideal – glamorisation is still a positive step forward to the loosening up of the rules in both fashion and gender roles. Although many will still focus on conventionally attractive male celebrities first and foremost, it is at least a positive thing that they are being applauded for branching out, rather than mocked. There will always be nasty comments on people’s fashion when it steps outside the boundaries, but for the moment it seems like the positive comments outnumber the negative. It suggests that femininity is being seen as a more positive thing than before, beyond the sexual sense.
Overall, I disagree with the notion that floral suits on their own can ‘destroy toxic masculinity’. I appreciate fashion because it is interesting to analyse both its aesthetics, and what it represents. Although fashion is important, what will really make a difference is in the way men treat each other, treat women, and are treated by society as a whole. A person’s words and actions are far more important when it comes to positive role models in the media.
– Amy Milner