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#softmasculinity spring — this season’s biggest menswear trend

L-R Erdem, Paul & Joe, Erdem, Bode, and Bad Bunny. Instagram snaps: Leo Mandella and Sam Salter  (ES)
L-R Erdem, Paul & Joe, Erdem, Bode, and Bad Bunny. Instagram snaps: Leo Mandella and Sam Salter (ES)

As blossoms bloomed in 2023, so too did a fresh shoot of menswear: boys across London ditched black puffer jackets in favour of those colour-coordinating with the cherry trees.

From my spot on a sunny Hampstead Heath this weekend I spotted a medley of men who had swapped Hawaiian shirts in favour of linen embroidered ones, knitted polos and sky blue pullovers. It confirmed a trend I’d noticed bubbling up: enter #softmasculinity spring. To look your best, it’s time to lean into the feminine and walk the gender stereotype tightrope (even if it’s just a little).

Leo Mandella wears a jacket from ERL (Leo Mandella / @gullyguyleo)
Leo Mandella wears a jacket from ERL (Leo Mandella / @gullyguyleo)

“Soft masculinity means taking a typically masculine piece, whether it be fabric, shape or cut and slightly pushing the boundary with it,” says dancer and influencer Sam Salter, who is a leader in the look on Instagram.

“Whether that be a more playful cut, a pastel colour, brighter shirts, trying out interesting embroidery or adding some lovely jewellery to elevate the look,” he says. Salter certainly looked the part wearing floaty linen pyjamas by SMR Days in Ibiza this spring, and also recommends looking to Percival (which has a Linen La Vida Lido SS23 capsule), Budapest-based Nanushka, Perte D’ego, the Indian label who create intricate bowling shirts and co-ord sets (and helped kit out Theo James in the White Lotus), and NYC’s Bode, who make whimsical designs using antique fabrics, victorian quilts, grain sacks and bed linens.

Sam Salter wears Perte D’ego (Sam Salter / @samsalter)
Sam Salter wears Perte D’ego (Sam Salter / @samsalter)

These are just a handful of brands joining a gang of designers in showing more dainty men’s collections across the fashion capitals. In London, for spring/summer 2023, there was no drought: we had S.S Daley, known for his public-school meets Oscar Wilde aesthetic, presenting cream knit polos with blue boxing hares and flower headdresses; Erdem made wispy silk shirts with matching yellow and purple silk neckerchiefs; and Paul & Joe’s offering was awash with linen shirts with wisteria style embroideries, smart patterned flares and and light blue cardigans embellished with florals and cats.

Floral accents at Paul & Joe SS23 (Paul & Joe SS23)
Floral accents at Paul & Joe SS23 (Paul & Joe SS23)

This is not to say the look has been restricted to official schedules. In fact, some of the best examples can be found far from it. Pikol, for one, is the independent London brand only selling one-of-a-kind shirts repurposed from vintage tablecloths, which capture the sophisticated essence of #softmasculinity spring.

“Societal notions of masculinity and expression have shifted in recent years, and I think that’s reflected in the clothes that people are wearing,” says founder Dan Branston, whose output is punctuated by elegant, antique embroidery. “Most of the vintage tablecloths or tea towels are pre-1960’s and are carefully hand-embroidered. My mum and I source the material from antique markets all over the place.” Each new batch is released in a drop — the next comes May 26, at 6pm.

“Back in the studio, I cut tablecloths into shapes, arranging the embroidery in certain parts of the shirt – collars, cuffs and front edges. Most of the tablecloths need to be matched with material to make up the sleeves and back, so I use vintage linen from France,” he says.

Of course, 2023 is not the first time menswear has flirted with a stereotypically feminine touch. Without rewinding to the pre-Regency era days of foppish velvet knee-length coats and rich embroidered hems, recent history has played host to expressive fabrics and fancies. For this reason Dino Bonačić, a fashion writer and self-professed clothing hoarder, suggests shopping this look second hand. “Look vintage!” he says. “There are so many incredible pieces you can find on eBay or in charity shops that can allow anyone to have the thrilling experience of wearing something a bit blousey without much financial repercussions.” Look for 70s style men’s shirts and wide pleat chinos — but don’t be afraid to hunt through the women’s rail of Oxfam, too.

“This all comes as a result of gender identity becoming less about looks and more about feelings. As each generation leaps forward, the stern lines between what is perceived masculine and what is perceived as feminine are slowly fading,” Bonačić continues.

Bad Bunny wears Jacquemus to the 2023 Met Gala (Getty Images)
Bad Bunny wears Jacquemus to the 2023 Met Gala (Getty Images)

As ever, the red carpet has been a power-player in engineering the rise. “The interest has been growing for a long time,” says Leo Mandella, a model who shares snaps of his pink painted spring nails and punchy-patterned, button-up shirts to 705K followers on Instagram. “I think it’s due to celebrities who have such an influence on the culture, like Jaden Smith, Tyler the Creator and A$AP Rocky wearing dresses and gowns, painting their nails and just genuinely showing that in 2023 there is no limitation on what any gender can do and wear.” Add to that list Timothée Chalamet in a backless top at Venice Film Festival and Bad Bunny in his cut-out Jacquemus suit at the Met Gala this year, and you start to get the picture.

That ripple is finally making its way from A-list affairs and into the department stores. Today, London’s top end buyers are noticing peaking interest. Damien Paul, head of menswear at Matches Fashion, talks of the ever-growing “extension of the men’s customer, becoming more open to trying new styles, fabrics, and shapes across a broader spectrum than they would have previously — sheer silks, cotton voiles terry cloth, crochet and laces are good examples of fabrications to experiment with,” he says. As for his suggestions: “brands such as Our Legacy, Sasquatchfabrix and Needles really conquer this, but look to Albus Lumen for more directional fashion shirting with sheer silks.”

So whether you shop high street, independent or uber-luxe this spring — make sure whatever you go for is a little less harsh round the edges.

The core pieces to buy now:

Jacquemus

 (Jacquemus)
(Jacquemus)

Le t-shirt Soleil, £151, farfetch.com

Sandro

 (Sandro)
(Sandro)

Crochet knit sweater, £329, sandro-paris.com

Sasquatchfabrix

 (Sasquatchfabrix / Matches Fashion)
(Sasquatchfabrix / Matches Fashion)

Geometric-jacquard bootcut track pants, £265, matchesfashion.com

Nanuksha

 (Nanushka)
(Nanushka)

Jari shirt, £195, nanushka.com

Percival

 (Percival)
(Percival)

Cul de sac overshirt, £159, percivalclo.com

Dior by ERL

 (Dior by ERL)
(Dior by ERL)

Sweatshirt, £1,200, dior.com

Massimo Dutti

 (Massimo Dutti)
(Massimo Dutti)

Cable knit polo shirt, £49.95, massimodutti.com