Rare is the red carpet where a single look summarizes the entire event. But gaze upon Lakeith Stanfield, with freshly auburn hair, in a Saint Laurent jumpsuit with a plunging v-neck and a pointy white collared shirt. It was super ’70s, with Stanfield’s belted waist and broad shoulders and dagger-point collar. But it was also titillatingly fluid. Kinda racy. Very sexy. He looked hot, weird, and charismatic. Up for Best Supporting Actor for his work in Judas and the Black Messiah, he looked like an artist. He also just looked awesome. It was like a treatise on the greater state of men’s style: this is what’s going on here, now.
If past genderfluid styles have been gauntlet-throwing statements of glamour, like Billy Porter’s velvet tuxedo gown in 2019, Stanfield’s was subtler, which is a nice reading of the room, but it was also a more provocative use of fashion. “I wanted to express who he is as a person: someone who is equally thoughtful as he is playful,” his stylist, Julie Ragolia, explained in a text message. Saint Laurent designer Anthony Vaccarello’s Spring 2021 women’s collection “stayed with me,” she said, and they decided to adapt a piece from it, a lean jumpsuit that recalls the eponymous designer’s fondness for safari jackets, for Stanfield: “In thinking of a way to balance the formality of such a show, this special nomination for LaKeith, and the seriousness of the times we are all living in, coming to such a look just felt thoughtful, while still being celebratory.” Ragolia also noted that the look was made with sustainable materials.
It was also a nice new chapter in the fashion history books, like an easter egg for the growing body of amateur social media fashion historians watching at home. Genderfluid style derived from women’s shapes is the way of the moment. But it’s not quite as new as it can often seem: Yves Saint Laurent’s most famous look, his famous “Le Smoking” look, was a men’s tuxedo adapted for the women’s runway. Stanfield’s look was like a reverse Le Smoking—sampling from the sampled. He sold the tuxedo back to men as a tool of feminine empowerment. Or, maybe even better, as a garment shot through with a feminine kind of sex appeal: “go ahead and look, baby,” his outfit seems to say.
But even without that little bit of history, the sexy mandate was clear. Before I recognized the women’s look, I thought Stanfield sort of looked like a combination of Brad Pitt and his date, Gwyneth Paltrow, circa 1996: Pitt’s sleazy unbuttoned look smashed up with Paltrow’s tossed-on white chiffon tank dress. Stanfield clearly doesn’t have an actor’s insecurity, at least when it comes to fashion. The menswear revolution happening on runways, in the music industry, and in men’s wardrobes has been slow to come to the red carpet. But Stanfield assures us that at least a few among its ranks have clocked what’s going on.
This was, sort of, what was asked for. The Academy Awards sent out a strange missive earlier this week informing attendees of a bizarro dress code: “We’re aiming for a fusion of Inspirational and Aspirational,” it read. “In actual words, Formal is totally cool if you want to go there, but casual is really not.” (Odd capitalization is the Academy’s own.) I wouldn’t trust Hollywood’s idea of “Inspirational and Aspirational” at the moment, no matter the capitalization, but a few other men displayed an admirable grasp of the state of the world and Hollywood’s place in it. Steven Yeun, in a Gucci tuxedo with a teardrop bow tie, looked extraordinarily elegant and appropriate—in other words, perfect. He’s been working with Jayne Goheen, the creative director who also designs for Stussy, who texted me, “Steven, this whole press tour and awards season, has been sensitive to and respectful of the climate we’re in, so it was just an effort in restraint and staying as classic and discreet as possible while trying to make it still unique and special in a way.” It hit just the right note—a true gentleman’s understanding of dressing for the occasion.
Also notable: Leslie Odom, Jr. in a soft gold Brioni double-breasted suit that managed not to look like armor, but soft, almost modestly majestic. Sound of Metal editor Mikkel E.G. Nielson in a wide-legged suit, marking a jolting end to the skintight, overly-tailored red carpet trouser. (The Amiri effect!)
On Twitter, many fashion commentators hemmed and hawed that men were outdressing the women. This was thanks, in part, to a weak couture season, which affects these things more than you might think. But it’s also simply easier to get dressed as a man right now. Or, at least, it’s more fun.