FASHION: Saltburn’s Barry Keoghan and Jacob Elordi. The Iron Claw’s Harris Dickinson. The Holdovers’s Dominic Sessa. These are the latest famous faces that have earned the label “babygirl”, joining the likes of Harry Styles, Oscar Isaac and Jeremy Strong’s fictitious Kendall Roy. A slew of K-pop stars, including BTS’s RM and Stray Kids’s Felix, have also earned the moniker, as has racing driver Lewis Hamilton.
2023 was the year “babygirl” solidified its place in our vernacular, dominating social media platforms, especially TikTok and Twitter. But what are babygirl men, and what does their rise say about the future of fashion?
“Babygirl is a designation that’s given out when we find this person not just hot, but interesting; worthwhile,” says writer and pop culture consultant Evan Ross Katz (who is also firmly entrenched in the fashion world). “It’s a word that gets ascribed to a guy who is adorable and of whom there’s a general sentiment of acceptance in culture,” Katz says. “It’s someone that we’ve more or less universally decided to love.”
Babygirl men are also typically comfortable enough with their masculinity to bend the rules around gender when dressing. Pedro Pascal, Timothée Chalamet and Keoghan have rocked up to recent awards shows in women’s runway looks. In Vogue Runway’s year-end poll, gender-bending menswear was dubbed the industry’s favourite 2023 trend. In the last year or so, Elordi was rarely seen without a designer handbag. Brands quickly clocked on: the Saltburn star was spotted with a yellow Louis Vuitton Monogram Speedy, a Bottega Veneta Andiamo bag and a Celine logo Messenger Bag, among others.
“They’re leading men in movies that we’re all gushing over, and seeing them in their street style moments, having fun with fashion — not just on the red carpet — is satisfying to me as a stylist,” says Britt Theodora, whose clients include Pete Davidson and Celine Song. She’s noticed more gifting from women’s and gender-neutral brands for men lately, plus more male client requests for handbags.
Theodora likens it to when guys say they like seeing their girlfriends in their oversized tees and hoodies. “It’s kind of the same thing,” she says. “All of these Hollywood heartthrobs in these little tops, carrying these little bags.”
“It’s interesting to see traditionally feminine accessories taken out of context,” agrees publicist and brand consultant David Siwicki.
A$AP Rocky, Kid Cudi and Harry Styles were among those paving the way for babygirl men, embracing dresses and skirts back in 2021 and some even earlier. It reflects a wider societal shift, Katz says. “We’ve eliminated, in some senses, the idea that to take an interest in fashion somehow makes you effeminate or gay — or that it says something about who you are as a person.” Now, to be interested in fashion is “cool”.
Fashion commentator Romane Delvallee agrees: “Fashion often reflects what’s happening in society, and the exploration of gender and personal identity is on the rise,” she says. “Both men and women seem to want to explore this and find something empowering in it.”
Social media is a key driver. “TikTok, fan cams and edits really have shifted our perceptions, influences and ideas regarding men’s fashion and how it’s not just about suits anymore,” says stylist and fashion historian Kim Russell. “Stans are so good at their job and shifting the mainstream group mentality. You have regular hetero-cis men open to the idea of carrying a handbag. That’s really powerful. It’s constantly on our feeds being reposted and positively encouraged.” Now, she says, women are being influenced by menswear like never before — and vice versa.
Retailers are taking note — and buying accordingly. “The Row’s Margaux bag is a bestseller within menswear, yet officially belongs to the women’s collections,” says Mytheresa’s head of menswear buying Sophie Jordan. “We actively review the women’s bags collections on selected brands, such as Bottega Veneta, Loewe and The Row, to add relevant styles directly into our men’s buys.”
From the step-and-repeat to the street
Fashion may reflect what’s happening in society, but it is also a marketing vehicle. Leading men — and their stylists — are increasingly leveraging fashion to gain coverage and be discussed on and off the carpet, says fashion and pop culture commentator Megan Ford. Delvalee points to the Barbie promotional trail. (Think of the social media frenzy Margot Robbie generated with her Barbie-inspired looks.) “The more unique and original the styling, the more attention it gets from the numerous fashion accounts out there. Like me.”
Red carpets are where we see direct plays on womenswear pieces (courtesy of the likes of Chalamet and Pascal), but it’s on the streets that babygirl men are more likely to drive purchases. Shots of stars like Elordi at the airport and gas station lead consumers to believe these are personal style decisions (even if orchestrated by savvy stylists), Katz says. These moments teach consumers that someone like Elordi isn’t just engaging with fashion on a step-and-repeat but in everyday life. “That signal is huge,” Katz says. “It translates to a level of realness that I do think trickles down to and impacts consumers.”
Theodora, however, thinks this year’s awards season’s carpets will have a bigger impact than ever. “I’m really excited and interested to see the influence on what people wear this season,” she says, noting that the current height of TikTok and Instagram, combined with the proper return of press at awards shows, will make for a pivotal moment. “We’re going to see a major uptick in popularity of being inspired by red carpet photos again.”
Given the number of leading men already tapping womenswear looks for their carpet appearances, this bodes well for brands branching out.
Here to stay?
In an age of fleeting trends, one might wonder whether this crossover will continue or if men will go back to their standard suits by next season.
The consensus is that this is more of a paradigm shift than a blip. Gender-fluid dressing isn’t new and has been on the up in recent years. It goes the other way, too. “I’ve been such an advocate for women wearing suits for men’s collections,” Theodora says, recalling a brand-side rejection of a female client wearing menswear suiting to the VMAs just five years ago. “It’s very, very different now,” she says. (See Greta Lee in Loewe men’s SS24 at Sunday’s Critics Choice Awards.)
Babygirl men’s embrace of womenswear is just a fragment of that wider shift. “Men’s fashion has been so boring in the entertainment world for too long, I’d be happy with a major shift,” Russell says.
Whether or not this will remain the prerogative of babygirl men is another story. “I wonder, how long does this stick around?” Katz says. “When these images were first popping up, it was like, oh, I wouldn’t expect someone like Jacob Elordi to be carrying these bags and such,” he says. “Now that it is the expectation, I wonder whether we then have to crown a new babygirl or whatever it is that people are responding to about this seemingly square peg, round hole of it all.”
The ongoing resonance of babygirl men — and their ability to sell to women — will depend on the next generation of male movie stars and their intrigue level, Katz says. “It depends on: do sticky stars emerge? And are they the kind of stars that people have a fascination with every aspect of what they do?”