The Soft Boy Aesthetic Is Challenging Traditional Masculinity

After decades-long displays of toxic masculinity, a more sensitive fashion movement in the realm of menswear is underway.

Credit: GQ

As Bob Dylan famously decreed in 1964, “The times, they are a’-changin”. And as the times change, so too, do the styles. The military rigidity of menswear past and conventional suiting of former seasons are being wistfully cast aside in favour of new utility and panache.

Amidst a pandemic that has devastated the entire world, shapes and prior forms have been stripped of every restriction and formality on the runway. Designers have stepped back, taking a long look at traditional menswear and upped the ante. Presentations are becoming more dynamic, favouring a relaxed silhouette and gentler palette. It’s a lyrical take on menswear, which acts as a hint to reconsider the wearer.

The emerging soft boy aesthetic encompasses qualities of a more feminine form, replacing stereotypical male styles with a more fragile variety of masculinity.

An Off-Key Approach

Casablanca | Credit: GQ

Increasingly androgynous undercurrents have brought forward a wider variety of fabrications, colours and shapes for men’s (and more progressive women’s) collections over recent years.

Casablanca has caught our eye with its jolly-yet-wearable silk shirts and its off-key approach to high-summer tailoring. Casablanca’s founder, Charaf Tajer, is also Pigalle’s cofounder and former consultant for Off-White’s Virgil Abloh. Casablanca is an homage to the designer’s dual French and Moroccan ancestry (he spent his youth in the former) – and the brand’s easy-to-wear, charismatic collections deftly straddle the space between counterculture and fine tailoring.

Pigalle explained to GQ,

“My designs come to life through our uniquely vivacious colour palette, accented with fresh tennis whites and pops of pastel. Casablanca’s leisurewear-inspired silhouettes are refined but relaxed and presented in silks, cashmeres, plush terry cloth and bespoke cottons and made specifically to achieve the highest quality using unique fabrics. The brand seeks to influence beauty in menswear.”

Celebrity Soft Boys?

BTS | Credit: L’officiel USA

The soft boy style is also gaining popularity on TikTok. Many of the styles associated with soft boys can be traced back to the K-pop boyband aesthetic – an experimental style that plays with more androgynous modes of expression.

Vogue explains,

“The list of A-list softboys goes on and on. Harry Styles, in his glittering suits, is a softboy, asking his fans to treat people with kindness. Donald Glover, in a shaggy beard and velvet blazer, is a softboy. Drake, in his many turtlenecks, is a softboy. Ryan Gosling, in a plaid sweater and matching suit, softboy. Wes Anderson, in his rubbed-out corduroy suit holding a puppy, softboy, softboy, softboy!”

Holiday Gelatos

A multitude of designer runways now feature soft boy equivalents– Kim Jones’ tenure at Dior Men and Alessandro Michele’s direction for Gucci’s male collections have put forward designs that skirt the boundaries between masculine and feminine. Fendi’s SS22 menswear collection championed the male midriff, short-shorts and sorbet shades.

“In a moment where our freedom has seemed to have limits, I think it’s also the moment to push it,”

Venturini Fendi told Vogue,

“So I really wanted to give a sense of freedom to this man. I think it’s the time to break boundaries.”

An eye-flick over the most recent spring 2022 men’s presentations from Ermenegildo Zegna and Dior will provide you with a gelato-holiday, sensory overload. This pop-inspired, soft boy p.o.v is the ultimate answer to a more lively and romantic style of men’s fashion.

Personal Style

Credit: WWD

Jil Sander Creative Directors Lucie and Luke Meier delivered a sleek, elegant, and entertaining collection for Men’s Spring 2022, addressing the concept of personal style.

“It’s about the person, rather than the uniform,”

said Luke Meier, discussing the men’s spring 2022 collection he codesigned with his wife Lucie.

Source: WWD

The collection expresses a more casual tone for the label, falling neatly in line with the times. Jil Sanders expertly combines stylistic elements with utility and streetwear, experimenting with colours, forms, and patterns throughout the collection. Suits in pastel tones are cut in precise, yet casual shapes and avant-garde colour-blocked vests make a playful appearance. Some of the quirkier details include silk shirts with a furry, tactile texture and bejewelled accents.

Moving forward, designers are whole-heartedly urging males to explore a less strict understanding of male attire, to embrace more progressive values via this new aesthetic. Fashion has never been more flexible, and the soft boy style is a true example of this. This is the future of menswear, gelato shades and all.

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