It's getting hot in here: Menswear is defining sexy for the new decade

It's getting hot in here: Menswear is defining sexy for the new decade

Ludovic de Saint Sernin autumn/winter 2020 runway show at Paris Fashion Week, courtesy of the brand

Sexiness is no longer just a sliver of skin. Today’s men’s fashion designers are going for the whole hog. 

It’s about to get hot in here. Here being the men’s section of the store. 

Forget defaulting to unbuttoning your shirt once or twice, fashion is trying to redefine sexy for the new decade.

Across the industry, men’s fashion designers are communicating in a language that directly confronts male sexuality.

You have Thom Browne and Gucci who showed codpieces, a covering pouch attached to the crotch of men’s pants. In the 16th century, codpieces were a symbol of virility and fecundity. Of course, in the 500 years since political and royal pageantry reached fever pitch, the historical approach to gender performativity has been diluted to the limited vocabulary of t-shirts and jeans or slacks. But here they were.

Sunspel cotton tank, €50 at Matches Fashion 
Sunspel cotton tank, €50 at Matches Fashion 

You have Bottega Veneta, where there was a nipple-revealing laser-cut shirt with slacks. Alyx proposes leather pants with tank tops. Ann Demeulemeester’s paean to gothic romantic, effeminate boys dressed in intricately-cut lace cloth, coattails with lace trimming, louche tank tops and skinny tailoring, exuded sensuality.

You have master provocateur Rick Owens delivering reworked iterations of 1970s fashion in abundance, thrills of the sartorial kind. Clothes emphasise the contours of male physicality, shoulders point to the sky, legs are firmly on show. It was a kind of gender ambiguous procession that wouldn’t look out of place on the stage at a glam rock concert. Bowie lives on through one-legged jumpsuits and deep necklines.

Menswear’s new found sexiness was crystallised with the arrival of the Belgian designer Ludovic de Saint Sernin. A welcome breath of fresh air, his unabashed approach to male sexuality and homoeroticism shot some life into the stale state of menswear in recent years. His work plumbs the archives of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. It’s overtly sexy and unafraid to show skin. 

Suits are worn with torsos exposed, underwear is an option for outerwear, and rich fabrics like leather and silk-organza are commonplace. It’s daring and suggestive but the grounding principle of its offering is simplicity.

Fabrics like leather and silk-organza are becoming increasingly popular in men’s fashion. Damien Paul, Head of Menswear at MATCHESFASHION.com said, men are no longer scared to embrace what was once seen as feminine fabrications – lace, silk, even slightly see through fabrics are all now being incorporated into menswear. And importantly, are performing in terms of sales.

“Menswear has been appropriating design elements typically seen in women’s offerings or that is deemed to be feminine,” said stylist Corina Gaffey, pointing to fabrics like lace and mesh, shirts cut to the naval and bodycon styles.

She said, “One could argue menswear designers are trying to advocate for a more comprehensive notion of masculinity and do away with sartorial constraints and assumptions.” 

“Guys are flashing more flesh,” said broadcaster and entrepreneur Darren Kennedy. He cites the rise in short shorts and casual suiting without a shirt underneath as recent phenomena which support the movement.

Kennedy wonders if the trend will alienate older men who might not have the confidence or a model physique to pull off the look. He doesn’t think more uninhibited displays of skin like Rick Owens’ one-legged jumpsuits or Ann Demeulemeester’s foppish silk vest tops will necessarily translate, noting “the catwalk very rarely translates to real life but that’s the drama and theatre of runways.” 

However, Paul is less apprehensive. He said, “Honestly, all I would say is that you need to have the confidence to pull it off. And from what I can see from the buying habits of men, they are becoming far more confident and experimental in their approach to how they dress which is only a good thing. I certainly wouldn’t define any trend by body shape.

I think a simple black vest by someone like Lemaire can work really well with black trousers and leather shoes. Minimal and clean. It’s also a good way to incorporate this season's must have – a chain necklace.

In any case, Kennedy notes “there are ways of doing that are not as flamboyant.” He recommends incorporating a sheer top under a suit, or a casual suit without a shirt underneath, as well as tailored short shorts into one’s wardrobe.

Moreover, while one should avoid unbuttoning one’s shirt in the boardroom or sporting short shorts to the canteen, one’s downtime is ripe with possibility for more sensual gestures. The modest should look to Givenchy’s slick suiting with unbuttoned shirts or to Ann Demeulemeester’s brand of slim tailoring.

Equipment snake print shirt, €422 at Matches Fashion
Equipment snake print shirt, €422 at Matches Fashion

When it comes to a standout item like a tank top, Paul notes that there are multiple ways to wear them. He highlights the Belgian designers Raf Simons as a reliable source for wearable, well-made tank tops. 

For the more experimental, he recommends someone like Ludovic de Saint Sernin who “explores this through a lens where gender and sensuality are blurred brilliantly.” Gaffey, who notes a younger generation of celebrities like Harry Styles, Miles Teller, and Travis Scott have experimented with notions of masculinity through their style, said that menswear’s newfound sexiness is indicative of a wider shift in men’s fashion.

“Regardless of generation or age, men are more invested in their appearance,” said Gaffey.

Beyond showing skin, men are welcoming more changes to conventional masculine codes. Pink is the colour of the seasons. Vest tops are the new going out top. Leather trousers are the new jeans. 

The whole vocabulary of men’s fashion is transforming into a broader, more experimental landscape that allows for a lot more freedom of expression.

“Everyone needs to judge whether something will work for them themselves,” said Kennedy. “Overall, I like that men’s fashion is less restrictive and we can have more freedom. Fashion shouldn’t be prescriptive.”

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