Why Is the Bar So F*cking Low for Straight Men on the Red Carpet?

There, I said it.

In between memes from Boston’s “straight pride” parade and my enduring crusade to defend the Starbucks pumpkin spice latte, my Twitter time line last weekend was inundated with snapshots of a certain Call Me by Your Name star in a certain belted black-tie ’fit.

Behold young k.d. lang wannabe Timothée Chalamet’s lewk for The King premiere at the 76th annual Venice Film Festival:

Theo Wargo/Getty Images

The suiting—a chic, slouchy Haider Ackermann number with a cinched waist that, as Paper magazine noted, effectively “shut down” Venice—is sharp and pairs well with those Peter Pan-esque lace-up boots. (We’re not going to address the color. I polled a portion of the NewNowNext editorial team, and it appears five queer people in a room isn’t enough to confidently distinguish between taupe versus mauve versus blush pink.)

There’s a larger conversation begging to be had here, though—a hulking elephant in the room that no artfully placed satin belt could contain: Why is the bar so fucking low for straight, cisgender men on the red carpet?

We know the easy answer, of course: Toxic masculinity, a.k.a. those tacit rules about how men should dress, act, and present publicly to be considered real men, is to blame. We’re told in implicit and explicit ways from a young age that an interest in fashion or style is “girly” and inappropriate for men. Those patriarchal values fester, too, surfacing in more egregious ways—like news anchors making fun of little boys for taking ballet classes, or prolific comedians joking about they’d react violently if their son chose to play with dolls.

It’s 2019. The existence of these highly gendered roles and expectations for men—rooted in, you guessed it, misogyny—shouldn’t be up for debate anymore. But if the reactions to Chalamet and other artsy cisgender, heterosexual male celebs are any indication, we haven’t come far enough in unpacking or abandoning antiquated, sexist ways of thinking.

The 23-year-old breakout star of Call Me by Your Name didn’t just shut down Venice. Gay Twitter™ lost its collective mind over Chalamet’s red carpet duds, prompting me to genuinely wonder if he was the first hetero cis man to ever, uh, wear a belt around his waist.

While we’re on the subject of men with privilege, another question comes to mind: Does being white, cisgender, heterosexual, and conventionally attractive inherently afford Chalamet more leeway—and grant him more kudos—for toying with the gendered expectations of formal attire for men?

I’d venture to say yes, and highlight the fact that women, gay and bisexual men, and people of color have turned TF out for the biggest red carpets of the year time and time again. Case in point: Billy Porter’s dramatic, showstopping look at this year’s camp-themed Met Gala, which garnered him praise, sure, but hardly “shut down” the city of New York.

Taylor Hill/FilmMagic
Billy Porter at the 2019 Met Gala.

I guess Porter proudly and overtly flipping gender norms the bird at a major fashion event is unremarkable. He’s a gay man, after all, and fashion is a traditionally “feminine” world. We don’t laud him for dressing to the nines—not when it’s a phenomenon we’ve come to expect.

And who could forget when Twilight alum (and soon-to-be Charlie’s Angels star) Kristen Stewart went barefoot in black tie attire to protest a sexist, outdated dress code for women at the Cannes Film Festival? Or when Gaga wore a literal meat dress to the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards? If the bar for straight guys on the red carpet is the floor, then the expectations for women are literally sky-high.

Was Chalamet’s look fire? Sure. He’s a stunner. But it feels like a gross magnification of how big a deal the outfit really was to herald Chalamet—and other cis het men who take relatively tame fashion risks on the red carpet—as pioneers.

A vaguely twink-y actor belting his jacket and destroying toxic masculinity in one fell swoop? If only it were that simple.

Brooklyn-based writer and editor. Probably drinking iced coffee or getting tattooed.
@_sammanzella