As with many things in life I often lean back to the renaissance of the underground gay culture of the 1970s. Take Hanky Code, which was at its height during this period. It was a way of indicating a very specific gender through clothing. To illustrate, a specific colored bandana (handkerchief) in the left or right back pocket indicated sexual desire.
For example, lavender on the left means you like drag queens. Black Rite means you enjoy BDSM. Left green means you were looking for a father figure. Brown…, you can find it.
Sure it might sound different, and as specific as ordering food from Nando’s online, but as a language of sexual desire it’s absolutely flawless. I think about this a lot because I suspect a lot of men would secretly love a way to signal their desires through sexy clothes. Just unbuttoning a fleece, a Berghaus jacket or another button on a shirt.
It is important to clarify that when we talk about ‘sexy clothes’ we are not translating this as an assumption that a person is automatically feeling sexy. But it is also true that in certain situations a person likes to wear clothes that not only make them feel sexy but also look sexy.
For those who wear women’s clothing, there is a very well-established rule that fits this case. Fashion brand Boho has a ‘sexy and attractive’ page on its website, ASOS displays women’s clothing (such as dresses) under the word ‘sexy’ but not menswear, while Anne Summers has a high Seen on the street. For good or bad. Sends a pretty strong social message about what is considered ‘sexy clothes’.
For those who wear men’s clothes, however, things get almost comically ambiguous. What should a man wear if he wants to feel sexy from within? A nice shirt? Short shorts? Borat-style ‘Man Kinney’? Can you imagine the smiles if a man walked into a clothing store and asked where the ‘sexy and captivating’ clothing section was? In a society firmly gripped by capitalism and consumerism, there is a mysterious void: no one knows what a man can wear to feel and look sexy. Is this a problem, beyond just ‘Ah, Didmus’?
Male models attend Milan Fashion Week (AFP)
If you could eliminate the way in which mainstream society dictates how the average man should dress, it would be ‘Don’t rock the boat, son.’ Simple, basic. Timeless and functional. These are the kind of words most associate with men’s high street fashion. Things remain the same when you ask the opinions of women who are attracted to men, who often talk about the idea of sexy menswear in small increments: clothes that fit well. Clothes that are clean. Clothes that make her feel comfortable and confident.
I’ve always found that last part a bit odd. Jordan Patterson, for example, undoubtedly looks ‘confident’ in his many tailored vests, yet most people I’ve polled would point to Colin the Caterpillar for all that sex appeal. Another frequently used word. ‘without effort’. More depressing. Where one gender is still expected to put in a lot of effort, the other is constantly given a free pass, even praised for putting in almost zero effort. It’s a thorny double standard, especially when we’re encouraging more and more men to ‘work’ on other aspects of their own lives and psychology.
On the other hand, men who ‘try too hard’ are often reprimanded by society. We’re not talking about fopes and dandies here, or men who still think that flaunting wealth through expensive clothes makes them sexy. There’s an even worse, ranked aspect to this game. The dominance of normal middle-class tropes, coupled with the gentrification of streetwear, has had the effect of cornering men into a strangely genderless corner, from which any deviance is shot down from all sides.
Take the example of the 2019 “Four Lads in Jeans” meme, where a photo of friends on a night out in Birmingham went viral after people re-captioned the photo with hurtful notions of white supremacy and racism. It was all about their appearance. He was subjected to online abuse for almost 18 months – even trolling one of his mothers. But without trying to lump all of Satan’s followers together here, I’ll just say that he looked as sexy as some rock: the muscles, the clothes, the sun tan and the clothes that, despite being super tight – were chosen by him. Showing body shapes in a way that probably made them feel hot. Is such a crime?
Some of the models participating in New York Fashion Week 2023 (AFP)
All men find out the hard way that dressing like a well-known sexy man doesn’t work. You can be topless in a cowboy hat, but you can never be Brad Pitt in Thelma and Louise. You can unbutton your shirt to the navel, but you’re no Lenny Kravitz. I knew a guy who used to dress up as Indiana Jones. It was just such a disaster.
It’s not saying much, but Christian Grey’s suited role in Fifty Shades of Gray is at least a rare example of a recent sexy man stereotype that’s at least semi-achievable for the average guy. Yet the irony is that the status of the suit. Once upon a time looking sexy in a man’s closet. It is useless. Anyone who has been to a post-pandemic wedding will know that the tradition of a ceremony surrounded by hopelessly heavy men in ill-fitting suits is definitely dying out. No one is buying suits anymore. Full stop.
Worrying about the lack of sexy men’s clothing seems a bit much, but it’s informative to see who else is thinking about this strangely ambiguous area. Andrew Tate, Joe Rogan and the aforementioned Jordan Patterson, for example, have all tackled this topic before in online content. Going back a few years, the book The Game – which introduced the dreaded toxic pickup technique of ‘negging’ – tried to fill the void with the practice of ‘pay-cooking’, i.e. attracting a sexual partner. Dressing flamboyantly. In short, the enemy system is smart enough to tease out and exploit men’s (quite understandable) weaknesses around their attractiveness and appearance.
It’s a shame because I really believe that socially accepted ‘sexy boy clothes’ can have many benefits in alleviating this problem. Sexual fulfillment starts with honesty, yet being honest, open and transparent about sexual desire can be a lifelong task for some men.
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I think clothes that hint at a sexual state of mind help encourage greater openness in a wider sense. I would also hope that these clothes can empower men to avoid more toxic or physical ways of expressing their sexuality. And in a very optimistic, almost romantic sense I think there’s a generation of sleepers who are genuinely very nice men who clearly want to dress up in super-sexy clothes and be lovingly objectified by a partner but have no No idea how.
Actually, I have an extreme answer here, if you’re interested, guys. I started seeing it in the growing scene of sex-positive clubs in London. These are fun, safe spaces where people of many different sexualities respect consent and come to play most nights with more sexual intent than you might expect. And from there, a synthetic aesthetic has emerged among a group of male-identifiers.
Faced with the challenge of looking sexy for a sexy party, more and more men are wearing traditionally feminine sexy clothes. Fishnet, lingerie, lace, bikini. Not in the name of cross-dressing, fetishism or drag – purely because, well, those skimpies are sexy, let you dance with your bum and, frankly, what the heck. For many people, myself included, these are just sexy clothes for any gender to wear and have a good time in. It’s not ideal but what else is? After nearly 100,000 years of humans wearing clothes, this is the strange place my people and I have arrived at: squeezed into lingerie, a little flattened, yet genuinely having a pretty good time.