Menswear: pastels are the the new black

18 September 2019 - 00:00
By Nothemba Mkhondo
Getty Images
Getty Images

Pastels are nothing new. Men in gentle, ice-cream shades, however, is.

Welcome to the first season of a new decade — spring/summer 2020 runways were painted with tender pastels — not just peppered with pastel separates, we're talking top-to-toe macaron hues. Everything from suiting to streetwear has a whole new look and feel, come spring and beyond.

The allure of pastel colours is endless — they've dominated womenswear almost every spring for the past few years.

Post-millennial pink in 2017, we saw varying shades of blush and bubblegum echoing throughout the runways, and then lilac pushed through as pink's successor and to this day neither has really left. Even the autumn/winter 2019 womenswear collections earlier this year impressed pastels' enduring presence and relevance.

But the colour movement hasn't stopped there — palate-cleansing pastels have inevitably hit menswear and it's an invitingly refreshing and cool move, which is a marked change to the perpetual nonchalance of streetwear and prim and proper suiting that rule men's wardrobes.

Thom Browne.
Image: Getty Images Thom Browne.
Louis Vuitton.
Image: Getty Images Louis Vuitton.

Virgil Abloh redefined his signature streetwear aesthetic at Louis Vuitton with a new sugary colour palette. Though Abloh has never been one to shy away from colour, his latest collection, which was full pastel from start to finish and complete with fresh floral embellishments, was a breath of fresh, spring-inspired air and much-needed palate cleanser for the streetwear-inclined man's wardrobe.

Olivier Rousteing's new Balmain man wears soft satin in powder blue, bubblegum pink and washed lavender — a stark contrast to the slick monochrome wardrobe of his last season. Jacquemus gave us a macaron-tinged holiday wardrobe in the middle of the lavender fields in Provence.

Even Thom Browne took his habitually grey, experimental tailoring to the next level by topping his voluminous suiting with an ice cream-hued palette.

At Salvatore Ferragamo, Paul Smith, Ermenegildo Zegna, Dior Homme and Givenchy, designers played with the idea of pastel suiting — a welcomed addition in the ever-evolving world of traditional tailoring, which has recently been leaning on the soft and romantic side.

Officine Generale.
Image: Getty Images Officine Generale.
Salvatore Ferragamo.
Image: Getty Images Salvatore Ferragamo.

There's something about the way designers are now doing gelato-hued menswear that hits the sweet spot between demure and playful. Pastels — in menswear and womenswear — are not playing coy anymore, they've grown up.

Designers have thrown out the rule book and are now mixing and matching sorbet-inspired colours in single pieces and in whole outfits. Who says you can't wear washed-out shades of pink, yellow, blue and purple all at the same time? Virgil Abloh says that you can. But most importantly, designers are serving us proof that ice-cream shades are no longer inherently feminine — it's sorbet hues all around.


However fashionable they may seem at present, pastel hues have had sartorial appeal for a long time. Marie Antoinette donned light pastel dresses all the way back in the 18th century and in the roaring '20s F Scott Fitzgerald wrote about a "three cornered lavender hat" in The Great Gatsby and of course that inspired Daisy Buchanan's pastel-inclined wardrobe in the Baz Luhrmann remake. Fast forward to the '80s and even men dabbled in pastels — no one can forget the iconic pastel suiting in Miami Vice.

The resurgence of soft colours in menswear is somewhat a sign of the times. Globally changing definitions of masculinity have rippled into the sartorial sphere and as a result the traditional codes of menswear are being redefined. Sharp tailoring is getting softer, silhouettes more languid and layered, and the outdated line between menswear and womenswear is disappearing more and more with each season.

Not only are men's and women's runway shows combined, the clothes themselves are figuratively and literally speaking cut from the same cloth. They share fabrication, colour palettes and silhouettes. The words "feminine" and "masculine" have lost their meaning and gravitas, because really who cares anymore? All that matters is the clothing and how it makes you feel.

Image: Getty Images Balmain.
Acne Studios
Image: Getty Images Acne Studios

Fashion has an increasingly important reactive role as a mirror to the happenings in society. As times get harder, people want fashion that can move with them through the tough times — clothes that are effortless, hard-working and versatile, but most of all, clothes that make you feel good.

Enter gelato colours. Firstly, pastels hark back to the good old sugar-coated days of our collective childhood — remember the toys and the colourful sweets and marshmallows? But mostly, pastels are just inherently feel-good colours. They're refreshing and palatable, calming and soft and less assertive than bold colours. What's more comforting than being draped in soft, muted colours when the going gets tough?


What's even better is that pastels are easy to wear. They make a subtle but powerful statement so you can just throw on a touch of muted colour and go.

To wear pastels like a pro, the first thing to consider is the intensity — or lack thereof — of your shades; equally muted colours are the easiest to mix into one outfit.

For a tonal look, work different shades of the same colour into your look like Prada's pink on pink shirt and jacket combo or Salvatore Ferragamo's pale yellow boiler suit and mustard jacket pairing.

Or take it up a notch by playing with your colours in different layers a la Jacquemus. In menswear, the options are endless, all it takes is a little experimentation and a touch
of bravery.

So by the looks of it, come 2020, men will be fearlessly embracing candyfloss pink, refreshing mint and even buttercup yellow in their wardrobes, and I can't say I'm complaining. The more pretty pastels the merrier.