Earlier this month, Brad Pitt walked down the red carpet at the Berlin premiere of his upcoming movie “Bullet Train,” wearing a pendulous, chestnut-colored skirt.
Asked by a reporter why the skirt, a smirking Mr. Pitt bantered back, “Breeze”—Europe, after all, was in the throes of a punishing heat wave. But the outfit may have had another purpose: virality. (Through a representative, the actor had no comment on his outfits.)
After he wore the linen ensemble, the term “Brad Pitt skirt” hit 100, the highest possible score on Google Trends, the search engine’s measurement of interest. According to Twitter, following the Berlin red carpet, tweets mentioning Brad Pitt increased 63% compared with the week prior, as users both praised (“Cheers, Brad”) and pilloried him (“I need publicity. Let me wear a skirt”). .
And publicity is a key result. By wearing a skirt, 58-year-old Mr. Pitt successfully got the phrase “‘Bullet Train’ premiere” into publications that otherwise likely wouldn’t have covered the shoot-’em-up action film.
As a tactic, the tweet-stoking skirt was no outlier: Male movie stars are now continuously going viral for convention-contorting red-carpet outfits. “Moon Knight” star Oscar Isaac kicked up an online kerfuffle in March when he wore a pleated skirt to a European press event. On “The Gray Man” press tour earlier this month, Ryan Gosling wore a crimson Gucci jacket, white socks and a leather tie—the online commentariat couldn’t decide if he looked more like Michael Jackson or a bellhop. Shaggy-maned Chris Pine has become a menswear meme due to his recent proclivity for lacy shirts and candy-stripe pants.
While memeability may not be the sole aim for these actors, it isn’t unwelcome.
“Attention for the sake of attention is not what we are going for,” wrote Wendi and Nicole Ferreira, the sister styling team that works with Mr. Pine, over email. Still, they added, going viral is “the ultimate form of earned media and publicity.”
Mark Avery, Mr. Gosling’s stylist since 2015, likewise stressed that virality isn’t a goal, but he coped with consuming the online reactions. “I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I didn’t say that I do a little googling within the first couple of days after [Ryan] walks the carpet.” He savors even the snarkier comments: “I would much rather read about a look that I’ve styled for a client that ‘It is silly’ or ‘What are they thinking,’ than, like ‘Boring!'”
Stars “understand that they will get more coverage if they wear something worth talking about,” said Tom Fitzgerald, who since 2006 has run the dishy celeb-style site Tom and Lorenzo with his partner Lorenzo Marquez. The pair noted that when the site began, a post about a woman would get about three times as much traffic as one about a man. Today those traffic figures are about equal.
“A lot of these guys—there’s certain ones specifically—are having a moment, you see them everywhere,” said Ilaria Urbinati, a longtime celebrity stylist who works with a wide roster of Hollywood fixtures including The Rock and Donald Glover.
With social media, Ms. Urbinati has an instant feedback machine for her work. When she posts photos of her client Chris Evans in his lit-professorial sweater vests on her Instagram, the likes and emojis pour in by the hundreds. “People are commenting on his outfit…people are paying attention to the details, they’re getting excited—it’s like a whole thing,” she said.
Actors’ outfits rarely garnered this level of attention, let alone entire articles. As late as the 2000s—before fan Instagram accounts and celebrity-style blogs took hold—most men would wear a dark suit and tie to premieres. If they were plucky, they’d swap in a T-shirt or jeans. (The Instagram account @nightopenings is a time-sucking repository of this more reticent era.)
“An event like the Oscars and the Emmys? It was all those very boring tuxedos,” said Mr. Márquez. The brands were fairly predictable, as well: A lot of Giorgio Armani and Dolce & Gabbana. Blending in was the objective.
Sometime around the mid-2010s priorities shifted. Celebrity stylists entered the picture, tasked with recasting clients as sartorial risk-takers. In a paparazzi flash, Jared Leto was wearing teal blazers, Chadwick Boseman was in brocade opera coats and Billy Porter sauntered down the red carpet in a Christian Siriano gown. “Younger stars, Black stars, queer stars are out there pushing the envelopes and getting no blowback for it,” said Mr. Fitzgerald, “They’re getting praise for it.”
Hollywood elders took note. The prosaic Prada suits had to go. In their place? Linen skirts and oversize aubergine suits.
“The doors have swung open on menswear and that has provided celebs with the opportunity to make red carpet choices reflective of their unique personalities,” wrote the Ferreira sisters.
Returning to the carpet after a pandemic pause also made certain stars and stylists less risk-averse—even sartorially indulgent. “People are just having fun with what they’re wearing,” said Ms. Urbinati. “You can wear fuschia Birkenstocks on the carpet with a fuschia suit.”
Having a star wear your clothes can also be a boon for brands. Tom and Lorenzo noted that readers are hungry to know, say, the exact brand of shirt worn by Chris Evans. And as this crop of over-40 actors have remodeled themselves as fashion risk takers, they’re trotting out increasingly obscure designers—a form of red-carpet one-upmanship. “I’m always challenging myself to find brands that not everyone’s wearing,” said Ms. Urbinati.
mr. Pitt’s dangly skirt may have set a new benchmark for obscurity. It was designed by Haans Nicholas Mott, a virtually unknown, New York-based designer who is carried in no stores and operates a “referral-only” business, according to GQ. The clandestine designer has no publicly available email, website, phone number or address and the Wall Street Journal could not reach him.
Still, Tom and Lorenzo anticipate that the carpet frenzy will ebb back to subtle formalwear in due time, as the public grows exhausted of the “look-at-me” looks. “We will swing back to a more conservative red carpet,” said Mr. Fitzgerald, “but right now, it’s party time.”
Write to Jacob Gallagher at email@example.com
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