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The men’s dress code on the red carpet has a new agenda: Snag the headlines by wearing anything but black tie

Male celebrities appear to be making up for lost time in 2022 by arriving at red carpet events in a dazzling range of looks and styles.Mariah Llanes/The Globe and Mail

When Tom Cruise attended the Cannes premiere of Top Gun: Maverick last May, he walked the red carpet dressed in a black tuxedo, black silk bowtie and black leather lace-ups polished to a mirror shine. It was a classic choice, but in the context of men’s wear in 2022, it was remarkable nonetheless.

Alongside co-stars Miles Teller and Greg Tarzan Davis, who turned up in a three-piece cream suit by Céline and a tangerine silk tux by Dolce & Gabbana, respectively, and Idris Elba, who wore a double-breasted Gucci tuxedo with flared trousers and a floppy bowtie straight out of the Studio 54 era to the Cannes premiere of 3,000 Years of Longing, Cruise might as well have dressed in a different century.

Or, as celebrity stylist Jeanne Yang succinctly puts it, “Peacocking is the new black.”

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After two years of cancelled premieres and social distancing, male celebrities appear to be making up for lost time in 2022 by arriving at red carpet events in a dazzling range of looks that are anything but straight-laced. Whether it’s Brad Pitt attending the premiere of Bullet Train in a brown linen skirt by Haans Nicholas Mott, Timothée Chalamet baring his shirtless torso under a Louis Vuitton blazer at this year’s Oscars, or Simu Liu wearing a hot pink Viggo London suit and white sneakers to host the Junos, male celebrities (and their stylists) are turning the red carpet into one of men’s-wear’s biggest stages, and driving trends well beyond the world of gifting suites and paparazzi.

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On the eve of the first full-scale Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) since 2019 – an event which marks the unofficial start of Hollywood’s awards season – the “Who are you wearing?” era of men’s wear appears primed to take off.

TORONTO, ONTARIO - SEPTEMBER 10: Akim Aliu attends the "Black Ice" Premiere during the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival at Roy Thomson Hall on September 10, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

The reasons for this, according to Noah Zagor, the senior men’s-wear editor for trend forecaster WGSN, are rooted in the pandemic as well as a broader, ongoing movement to redefine masculinity. “Coming out of the pandemic, men – especially men who’ve always enjoyed getting dressed – had been craving opportunities for self-expression,” Zagor says. “When businesses began to reopen and events started taking place again, the floodgates opened and these men jumped at the chance to wear their loudest and most fun pieces.”

Another key element, he says, are the themes of self-exploration and wellness that have become mainstays of social and traditional media in recent years. “One result of this was men embracing a wider spectrum of masculinity, looking to express themselves more honestly and completely,” Zagor says. “When you combine an openness to new expressions of masculinity with a desire to dress more boldly, you wind up with some of the most non-conventional red carpet dressing in recent – and not so recent – memory.”

LGBTQ celebrities like Jonathan Van Ness, Billy Porter and Lil Nas X have have played an important part in this, edging gender-fluid elements such as platform heels and flowing silhouettes into men’s-wear’s mainstream, while challenging traditional notions of red carpet masculinity.

“I feel like dress codes have been tossed aside and it has become all about expressing yourself,” concurs Yang, who dresses Jason Momoa, Simu Liu, Kumail Nanjiani and other A-list stars for red carpet appearances around the world. To Yang, however, an effective red carpet look is as much about reflecting her clients’ personalities as getting attention on social media.

“Of course, buzz is what you want, but only if it works for your client. The skirt was a perfect fit with who Brad [Pitt] is – it works when the look is in harmony with the person,” she says. “Jason and Simu have awesome personalities and confidence in what they wear, so it makes it easy to dress them.”

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In Toronto, stylist and custom tailor Mike Paul Neufville has been working with Nigerian-born Canadian-Ukrainian former NHL player Akim Aliu to create just that sort of harmonious red carpet look for this year’s TIFF. On Sept. 10, Aliu will attend the gala premiere of Black Ice, a new documentary executive produced by Drake and LeBron James that explores the role of Black hockey players in Canada.

Aliu’s custom look, composed of a belted jacket and wide, billowing trousers in the same shimmering burnt umber hue, speaks to both his heritage and his identity as an athlete, he says. “In hockey, there aren’t many people that look like me, in so many different ways, and one of those ways is fashion and the way I dress,” says Aliu, who chose the copper-coloured fabric to complement his skin tone. “I’ve always prided myself on being different, and that’s where my [outfit’s] inspiration came from.”

At the TIFF gala world premiere of My Policeman, meanwhile, Harry Styles is expected to walk the red carpet in the latest in a long line of avant-garde looks featuring strings of pearls, lace-collared blouses, sequins and feather boas. While not the first musician to blur the line between stage costumes and fashion, the former One Direction frontman’s penchant for gender-fluid dressing and his close relationship with Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele have made him a hugely influential force in modern men’s wear in recent years.

“In Harry Styles’s case there is a type of rock ‘n’ roll sexiness that hasn’t been around for a while,” says Zagor, naming Mick Jagger and David Bowie as pioneers of Styles’s brand of gender-fluid fashion. “They were icons of male sexiness, and wore clothing and acted in ways that many men would consider effeminate,” he says.

Styles’s expected appearance at TIFF won’t just build buzz for his new film, but also for the October release of the Gucci “HA HA HA Collection,” a hotly-anticipated capsule of colourful tailoring, pyjamas and skirts he co-designed with Michele.

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For Federico Barassi, vice-president of men’s-wear buying for Montreal-based luxury fashion retailer SSENSE, Styles and other boundary-pushing male celebrities aren’t only broadening what’s acceptable to wear at a premiere, they’re also driving sales at retail. “Younger customers especially look to their favourite celebrities for style inspiration,” Barassi says. “We often see a surge in sales linked to a celebrity wearing a certain piece or a particular brand.”

That’s great news for Yang, who dressed Nanjiani in a traditional Pakistani sherwani for last fall’s Eternals premiere and outfitted Liu in a kimono suit by Dzojchen for the premiere of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Yang hopes that the success of looks such as these will encourage more men to broaden their fashion horizons, particularly where non-western influences are concerned.

“I would like to think that the bright colours and fun we’ve had dressing in these non-traditional silhouettes will encourage others to look beyond the western suit,” she says. Judging by this year’s red carpets, where the classic black tuxedo is looking ever more outdated among a wide range of colourful and nontraditional looks, it’s already well underway.

Red carpet investments

Nervous about making a big style statement at your next special occasion? Take inspiration from these luxury must-haves (reserved for V.I.P. budgets) that are anything but basic black. Ready to go bold? Pair with a brightly coloured suit, jacket or pants.

Cartier Tank Louis Cartier

Cartier watch -- men's fashion story - September 10 PursuitsVincent Wulveryck@Cartier/Handout

Designed in 1917 and worn by style icons from Andy Warhol to Princess Diana, Cartier’s Tank is a timeless choice for any red carpet look. Price on request

Tom Ford Alec Croc-Effect Leather Ankle Boots

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Studio 54 glam meets 2020s luxury in these decadent Italian-made boots. $2,900 at Mr. Porter

Céline Homme Blazer

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Patterned with stripes made up of individually-placed studs, this rock ‘n’ roll-inspired jacket is designed to dazzle. $7,100 at Mr. Porter

Tom Ford Slim-Fit Front Pleated Cotton Evening Shirt

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While tank tops and shirtless torsos are now fair game for red carpets, a tailored black tuxedo shirt under a statement blazer is a combination that will work for anyone. $1,310 at Harry Rosen

Ralph Lauren Purple Label Silk Bow Tie

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Neckwear is no longer obligatory on the red carpet, but a classic silk bowtie remains a reliably stylish accessory nonetheless. $200 at Harry Rosen

Mejuri Black Onyx Square Signet Ring

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Jewellery of all kinds is playing a big part in 2022′s red carpet men’s wear, from pearl necklaces to subtler pieces like this yellow gold pinkie ring. $750 at Mejuri

Prada Sunglasses

SSENSE - men's fashion story - September 10 PursuitsHandout

Shield your eyes from the bright lights of stardom (and the sun) with these modish oversized sunnies. $565 at SSENSE