I love Thom Browne. He’s a style icon, yes, but he’s also my style icon, an older gay man trapped in – and evolving – the boy-in-shorts archetype.
And the shorts, in many ways, are the source of his power. We forget this since he has become synonymous with the tailored, short-panted man: he defined a neo-niche in menswear (and beyond). His shorts are why we love him because they’re fun and cute and kinda sexy. He easily appeals to men like me and others who want to undo formality in formal ways. The man without the masculine, really.
I was reminded of this by a little Washington Post feature written by GOAT fashion journalist Robin Givhan. The story outlines how the Browne aesthetic has become a bankable Millennial favorite that has been “knocked off at every price point” and has “offered men a different way of thinking about tailoring.” As Givhan declares, “he’s made the business suit the epitome of edgy style.” She’s right.
He’s also made it so gay. The school boy never grew up, us same sex Peter Pans aging in short pants and oxford shirts. It’s fashionable joy – and that, whether everyone sees it directly or not, is the appeal. Givhan explains, particularly in relationship to his recently being acquired by the Zegna Group.
What Browne offers is tailoring and formality and whimsy. His clothes are rooted in the American classics of the 1950s but with modern fabrics. He embraces the idea of fashion, not as a way to be weird or unnerving but as a way to make his clothes contemporary rather than vintage. And the humor he brings to his clothes is charming rather than sarcastic, light-hearted rather than biting. He balances rigor with impishness.
“Rigor with impishness” indeed. He acknowledges that life is fun and that we need to be serious, yes, but we needn’t be sad. We can be silly and severe simultaneously! We can have fun while doing work, while being out of our homes, adulting with lightness. The suit can become a playground.
He did that with shorts. That’s why I wear them, adding myself to the growing list of gay men and leg loving boy-adults whose bareness bring a little joy to a room. And why wouldn’t they? A man in shorts is the most approachable man in the world. He has let a bit of masculinity go – and everyone is all the better for it.