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 hetronormative 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.