The first-ever Calvin Klein Underwear campaign, photographed by Bruce Weber for the fall of 1982, featured model and Olympic pole vaulter Tom Hintnaus leaning against a large, white (slightly phallic) sculpture in Santorini, Greece. The image is one of the most recognizable to come out of Klein’s portfolio, and it’s been a cipher for male objectification since its debut. Indeed, the standard set by Hintnaus’s Adonis abs and the campaigns it spawned, have proven more timeless than much of the men’s fashion that they advertised.
Earlier this year, Vogue Business covered the lack of male body diversity on the runways, reporting that only seven out of 77 brands across the fall 2022 menswear season featured plus-size models. This spring 2023 season, the story is more or less the same. Out of the 97 collections Vogue Runway reviewed this season, only 12 featured models outside of the set standard (though it’s difficult to call most of these models “plus” size).
It’s a habit now to ask why runway models at both women’s and men’s shows are skinny without expecting any answers. While the issue revolves around fashion’s knack for resisting change and its sluggish pace at embracing diversity, it has just as much to do with the trend cycle and what the industry chooses to fixate on season after season.
After all, the model makes the look, and the looks that designers are currently chasing rely on thinness. Take a glance at our trend report for spring 2023 menswear. The vibe du jour is bareness: shirtless suits, crop tops, no tops, lowrise everything. This stems from both the Y2K push we saw during the spring 2022 womenswear season and fashion’s current keenness for menswear reinvention through the lens of queerness. (For some reason that is lost on me, the go-to look for queerness is either bare or extremely flamboyant, but that’s another essay.)
10 Trends from the Spring 2023 Season That Define Menswear Today
On the topic of queerness, gender fludity has been trending, too. As mainstream brands have chosen to adopt fluidity as a styling (and sometimes casting) choice for their shows, they often subscribe to the widely recognized idea of fluidity, which tends to be thin and waify and more often than not white. (Think the ’90s grunge trend and the imagery associated with the rise of unisex fragrances that set a template for slender people with sharp bone structures.)
The problem then nests not only on Eurocentric beauty standards and our reluctance to walk away from them, but also on where we find inspiration and how we choose to translate it. Yes, Y2K was skinny, but does it need to be now? Yes, the ’90s depiction of androgyny was “waify,” but does it need to be now? Shouldn’t designers today find ways to expand the definition of masculine beauty? Alas, as we make old things new again, the pressure on our bodies to subscribe to an ideal is still right here, where it’s always been.