The concept of sexy is almost as broad and complex as the concept of fashion. These two ideas are constantly changing as we discover new ways of thinking and new ways to relate to each other.

The halter white dress Marilyn Monroe wore in 1955 for the film The Seven Year Itch is now just one of many Halloween costumes with visual attributes that are not as original and sexy as they wore six decades ago. So what was it about this scene with a white dress that became one of the most iconic images of the 20th century? It may have been the scandal of showing so much skin in a film that excited the viewers. A celebrity, such as Marilyn Monroe, wasn’t covering herself from head to toe. She wasn’t burying her body in layers of clothes, voluminous skirts, or bulky hats and jackets, as women used to do so in the decades prior. 

Since the 1980s, models in underwear have been in fashion editorials and mainstream media. Calvin Klein campaign 1984. Image Courtesy of Vogue France. 

It is the mystery of having a little view of something that for ages, has been forbidden. This is a common denominator among what we consider “sexy clothes.”

Something similar happens with sexy clothes for men. It was also in the 1950s when a young Elvis Presley was shaking his hips and moving his legs in a way that wasn’t seen before. Female spectators went crazy, screaming and expressing admiration to the point where Presley was censored for TV performance, and was almost faced with jail time and heavy fines due to an “obscenity charge.” 

So what exactly are men’s sexy clothes? What makes men’s clothes sexy?

The 90’s were a pivotal point in sexy menswear. In the midst of conspicuous consumption and high fashion models becoming A-list stars, fashion leveraged this moment in time to send provocative messages that got the attention of the audience with the clothes, or the lack of them, that fashion models were wearing. 

Mark Wahlenberg photographed by Herb Ritts in 1992. Image Courtesy of Calvin Klein. 

The 1980’s Calvin Klein ads set a precedent for this. But it was Tom Ford who took this several steps further when he had creative direction of Gucci, and introduced hyper sexualized creative concepts.

“What I mean is that you can go to the gym and see a guy in the shower and think, Wow, great, I’d love to talk to him. Then he goes and sits down on a bench and puts on frightening shoes, a silver thumb ring and a bad suit. Being naked is the great equalizer; there are just less ways to screw up.” Tom Ford for W Magazine. 

The 90’s had a lot of hypersexualized advertisements in menswear and womenswear. Abercrombie & Fitch ad from 1998. Image Courtesy of Insider.

Historically, menswear hasn’t emphasized clothing that shows skin, or that is “provocative”. From the 19th-century frock coats and top hats to the 1950s military fit and the 1990s baggy business casual, menswear has evolved in the sense that clothing fits differently and is constructed in alternative ways. 

The concept of sexy men’s clothes is very attached to the ideas of beauty in men, which change with time frequently. In the 1980s, Calvin Klein made underwear with logo waistbands trendy. With the advertisements of Abercrombie & Fitch, there was a lot of imagery of topless muscular men with jeans showing just the elastic band of their underwear. 

Edward Fogg by Mario Testino. Gucci, Spring Summer 1997. 

Renaud Tison by Mario Testino for Gucci Underwear.

When Tom Ford was leading the creative direction of Gucci, there was a hypersexualization of menswear fashion that really pushed fashion barriers to the gender fluidness that the fashion house introduced with Alessandro Michele decades later. 

For the last couple of years, when the Logomania major trend reached its peak, logos of luxurious items played a critical role in menswear, and they became an important part of the outfit. The element of wealth can be very impactful in the overall appeal of menswear, depending on the time and occasion. 

In Succession, for instance, the attractiveness of the quiet luxury in the styling of the cast elevates the manhood of the characters. Even though the brands or designers behind the clothing are not recognizable right away, the richness of the fabrics, textures, and tailoring elevate each of the characters. 


The Cowboy. The Sergeant. The Strategist. The Superhero. The Businessman. 

1981 Cowboy boots prints ad. Image Courtesy of eBay

Henry Cavil interpreting Superman. Image Courtesy of Hindustian Times.

The archetypes of men in pop culture help to conceptualize the standards of beauty in men and how sexy men’s clothes look. It’s no surprise that every Halloween, most men’s costumes are inspired by these hypermasculine, very elevated figures that are perceived as sexy. 

The common denominator among these archetypes is that they are rescuers. They are hyper-masculine. A lot of their attractive appeal comes from their savviness and eagerness to save and protect. These are not characteristics that are often attributed to what is considered “sexy” in a woman.

Are Sexy Men Clothes Gay?

Jon Kortajarena for Tom Ford Eyewear, 2009 

A woman wearing a top with a deep neckline and short shorts (“booty shorts”) on the cover of a magazine can be seen and interpreted as sensual, exotic, and provocative. However, when and if a man wears this clothing, it is often associated with femininity. His masculinity is at stake, and the clothing selection triggers assumptions about the sexual orientation of this man. 

Another example of sexy menswear being punished and sexy womenswear being praised is the workplace because dress codes determine the standards and ideas of a specific place at a certain time. 

Women are allowed to wear skirts during the summer. These skirts may be made of lightweight fabric or knee-high. Certain kinds of transparencies, such as mesh or lace, can be acceptable in many social environments, as well as footwear like sandals and pumps with uncovered toes. These kinds of “allowances” are not the same in menswear dress codes. 

Image Courtesy of Palomo Spain.

When a man wears transparent clothes, the clothing carries a different meaning. It’s not just interpreted as “sexy men’s clothes,” but there is an assumption that the man wants to show off, that the man is feminine, and maybe even that the man is not heterosexual. The formula for “sexy menswear” is not the same as the formula for “sexy womenswear” because the way we interpret each gender is different. Therefore, we can safely conclude that sexiness in fashion carries the historical gender roles we’ve been dragging on for a very long time. 

Element of desire?

Sexy clothing for women is perceived differently than sexy clothing for men. Nicki Minaj in a hot pink swimsuit. Image Courtesy of TMZ.

When women pose in Playboy magazines or covers of Sports Illustrated, it’s very easy to characterize them based on any concept. From silly costumes like bunnies and cats to historical references like pin-ups or hippies, female models can pose in lingerie for editorials that are meant to be sexy.

It is clear that showing skin and bringing attention to the breasts and the butt are important to make these editorials sexy for the audience. 

But then again, when we want to bring this concept to menswear, things get distorted and complicated. The contrasts between male and female archetypes crash against each other.

Is sexy menswear sexist?

For years, Victoria’s Secret represented the ideals of beauty, and lingerie as an element of desire for sexy women’s attire. Image Courtesy of Victoria’s Secret.

When we go back in time to significant changes in fashion history, we talk about pushbacks from conservative movements. Many people didn’t think women should be allowed to wear skirts that showed the knee. That was simply inappropriate. 

The same thing happened with the bikini, named after the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. Louis Réard introduced the bikini in 1946. Let’s remember that before the bikini, swimsuits were essentially dresses that would cover the breasts, the torso, and the crotch all the way to the knees. Bikinis were seen as dirty and inappropriate. The classiness or social education of the woman was question marked when she wore a bikini… because “why did she have the need to show so much skin if she just wants to swim?” “Does she really need to swim?”

This mindset was adopted by fathers who had control of the wardrobes of their daughters. It was practiced by husbands who had the financial and emotional power of their wives and could decide what she was allowed to wear. The disproportional advantage of men in the workforce and in the fashion industry has created tensions between what women want to wear and the idea of what women “should” wear.

If we move fast forward to the current fashion context, men still dominate the fashion industry. According to a study that came out in October of 2022, only 14% out of the 50 major fashion companies in the world are led by a woman. This number is particularly discouraging as many more women are graduating with Bachelors in Fashion than men. Still, men seem to be in control of the fashion industry.

Marilyn Monroe for Playboy.  Image Courtesy of Playboy. 

So maybe the concept of sexy men’s fashion hasn’t been pushed very much forward as it is something that those in control of the fashion industry are not interested in doing so. However, it is also true that the consumer has a very powerful voice and power shaping the directions in which fashion moves towards. 

Maybe there is plenty of sexy men’s fashion out there. But maybe, we simply consider sexy men’s fashion not heterosexual or out of context because of the meaning and prejudices that we put onto these clothes.

Concepts like fashionable, modern, sexy, trendy, pretty are concepts that are constantly evolving as our mindset changes. Maybe we are not ready for men’s fashion to be sexy on a day-to-day because men may live with the fear of being objectified the way they objectify women when they wear sexy clothes. One question. Multiple answers.

Thank you so much for supporting, liking and sharing Political Fashion content! FYI, as an affiliate partner we earn a share of sales or other compensation from qualifying purchases if you decide to shop from some of the links on this page.