My menswear style icons have historically been people I strive to emulate visually. Some past—and now cringe-inducing—examples include Ryan Gosling in Drive and Jared Leto as Jordan Catalano in My So-Called Life. Both staunchly straight personas with heteronormative aesthetics. Of which I am not.
Increasingly, however, there are plenty of queer and/or gender-fluid aesthetics to draw inspiration from on the red carpet: Lil Nas X, Troye Sivan, Dan Levy, and Harry Styles, to name a few. Men who are reshaping the public’s ideas of what a man can and should be, either intentionally or inadvertently. One of my absolute favorites seemed to come into his own this year: Conan Gray.
Helming from Central Texas, the 24-year-old singer-songwriter has explored softer and breathtakingly romantic visions of fashion throughout the year. He first caught my eye when he attended the Met Gala in what I can only describe as a discothèque spin on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Valentino-designed look featured a snow-white chiffon cape, an embellished sheer top decorated with metallic ornaments, a wide-legged pair of glitzy sequined trousers, and sky-high platforms. With his free-flowing curls and soft features, Gray looked almost like a high-fashion cherub. But what I loved even more was how he carried the look with supreme confidence and self-assuredness. Speaking to Hamish Bowles on the red carpet, Gray pitched his look as, “something ethereal, something theatrical.” The entire scene felt like a radically modern vision of masculinity in 2022.
Gray has had a bevy of other certifiably fun, bold, and inspiring outfits this year. He donned Valentino’s signature pink during a springtime performance at Coachella. The monochromatic get-up featured a frilly, sheer silk dress worn over expertly tailored trousers—a deft marriage of feminine and masculine codes. Other on-stage ensembles from the star included Western-tinged embroidered vests worn over a sinewy bare torso, plaid micro skirts, and a lace-heavy Moschino two-piece suit. Gray, who was born in 1998, and his style feels like a truer and more grounded representation of Gen-Z fashion than, say, more popular and maximalist examples like Euphoria. It highlights that fashion for a lot of young shoppers today is not about shock-value or attention but unrestrained exploration, which can in turn inspire others.
I must admit: At the start of the year, I was cheering on menswear’s growing embrace of skirts from the sidelines. I loved it, but it never felt like something I could or include in my specific version of queer masculinity. But then I saw Gray perform while wearing a Chopova Lowena skirt, paired with a cropped sweater-vest and Doc Marten loafers. The look felt like an enthralling vision of gender-bending punk. He was wearing the garment, not the other way around.
His exploration of style codes and aesthetics is, quite simply, infectious. It reminds me of how fun and expressionistic fashion can be. Now, I am spending a lot of time (and financial planning) thinking about securing a Chopova skirt of my very own. And this time, the emulation feels like it won’t be too far of a stretch.
CreditLead image: Arnaldo Anaya-Lucca for Vogue Man Hong Kong's September 2022 Issue