At the 2023 Oscars, Hollywood’s Menswear Freak Flag Flew at Half-Mast

For the 95th Annual Academy Awards, on what would might reasonably have been his final evening channeling Elvis Presley, actor Austin Butler wore an ultra-slim, double-breasted tux.

“This is Saint Laurent,” the Best Actor nominee told E! red carpet host Laverne Cox, when she’d asked for the story behind his outfit. “I don’t know what story I’m telling. I just thought it was a beautiful tuxedo.”

  • HOLLYWOOD CALIFORNIA  MARCH 12 Austin Butler attends the 95th Annual Academy Awards on March 12 2023 in Hollywood...

  • HOLLYWOOD CALIFORNIA  MARCH 12 Riz Ahmed attends the 95th Annual Academy Awards on March 12 2023 in Hollywood California.

  • HOLLYWOOD CALIFORNIA  MARCH 12 Ke Huy Quan attends the 95th Annual Academy Awards on March 12 2023 in Hollywood California.

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Austin Butler in Saint Laurent

For perhaps the final time, Elvis has entered the building.

He was right, it was a beautiful tuxedo: all angles, with blunt peak lapels and whetted shoulders paired with pointy patent boots with a tall-enough block heel. But Butler, who’s spent the last four years in the mind palace of Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, has been telling a story with his red-carpet wardrobe this entire year, from the initial summertime press cycle into awards season. In keeping things both on theme and on trend, he’s opted for plenty of retro-sharp suiting by the likes of Saint Laurent, Prada, and Celine, including billowing, high-waisted trousers and sharp jackets to ’50s-esque casualwear. Clothes are emotive, and big ol’ suits were a big thing for the real Elvis Presley; he used to buy them on credit from Memphis tailor Bernard Lansky before he started making real money. While Butler never quite did The King cosplay on any carpets (though, c’mon, you know he kept the leather comeback-special jumpsuit), he certainly knew what was up.

At that point in the evening, Butler was still a Best Actor hopeful (the prize eventually went to Brendan Fraser), so he was probably pretty nervous and maybe also a little sick of being asked about his designer duds all season. But his beautiful, mostly classic tuxedo—and the way he didn’t talk about it—signified a wider pattern in Oscars menswear last night: after months of letting their freak flags fly, the leading men mostly decided to play things tastefully.

Paul Mescal in a Gucci dinner jacket tux.

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Riz Ahmed in pointy Prada.

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Since the last Oscars ceremony, which Timothée Chalamet attended shirtless, a landmark year for left-of-center celebrity menswear has passed, marked by louche suits, exaggerated silhouettes, and funky detailing rendered in many colors beyond the standard black-and-white. It arguably culminated two months ago, at the 2023 Golden Globes, when it seemed like many of the actors who also attended last night’s Academy Awards had given their stylists carte blanche to get weird with it. And while the Globes and the Oscars certainly have very different awards-show vibes, only the Irish actor Barry Keoghan (who’d scored a Best Supporting nomination for his role in The Banshees of Inisherin) stayed the course on Sunday, in a lilac-purple Louis Vuitton suit with starburst buttons that was very much in line with the edgy pastel suit wave he’s been riding all season.

But at the Oscars, classicism ruled the carpet. Fraser and Ke Huy Quan, the evening’s big actor winners, looked great in their precise Armani suits. As Dave Schilling wrote in the LA Times today, characterizing Armani’s clean lines, “it is tailoring made not to be retweeted but to be worn.” The hunky Top Gun: Maverick crew, who have previously dabbled in the menswear dark arts, went ultra-traditional. Colin Farrell and his son Henry, wearing matching Dolce & Gabbana, and John Cho, in Zegna, opted for black velvet—a bit of spice, relatively speaking.

A$AP Rocky (in ivory-and-black Gucci) and Rihanna (in custom Bottega Veneta).

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That’s not to say there weren’t a handful of cool, progressive looks, mostly brought to us by the Hollywood guys who clearly love clothes. Best Actor nominee Paul Mescal, thankfully still sporting his downtown-y fashion mullet, fixed a red rose onto his white, wide-lapeled Gucci dinner jacket. (At the Vanity Fair afterparty, he swapped out the tuxedo shirt for one of his favorite low-slung white tanks.) Best Supporting Actor nominee Brian Tyree Henry wore swaggy Dolce & Gabbana. Presenter Riz Ahmed rocked pink, fuzzy, point-collar Prada. Jonathan Majors, who sported a jaunty high-necked suit he said was inspired by Frederick Douglass, brought his trademark handheld mug on the carpet. And Lenny Kravitz, who performed the “In Memoriam” tribute, was in his usual Saint Laurent mood.

There was outright storytelling, too: Everything, Everywhere All At Once actor Harry Shum Jr. described his custom white asymmetrical smoking suit cut with a navy sash and trim, by the womenswear-first brand Adeam, as “East meets West.” Harvey Guillen, the What We Do in the Shadows star and voice actor in the Best Animated Feature-nominated Puss in Boots sequel, debuted a plus-size black-tie look by the designer Christian Siriano: a flowing, brocade take on the tuxedo. 

Harry Shum Jr. in custom Adeam.

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And though A$AP Rocky, who attended the ceremony as nominee/performer Rihanna’s date, didn’t make it to the carpet, he looked delightful as always in a white Gucci jacket, especially while cheesing next to his lady (wearing custom minty green Bottega Veneta) backstage.

Meanwhile, Pedro Pascal, another stylish guy we’ve had our eye on recently, wore an oversized Zegna that was too oversized. The break on his trousers, which Menswear Twitter deemed “tragic,” needed hemming.

Maybe, as British GQ’s Ben Smith wrote this morning regarding the ceremony’s “big Irish betrayal,” the stakes were too high: “Ah, look. We were getting a bit carried away with ourselves.” As weird as celebrity menswear has become, the Academy remains the Academy, and may never fully shake off its austere aura. In some ways, this is a good thing—the real-deal tailoring was the most positive trend at the show last night. The days of the most beautiful gowns you’ve ever seen appearing side-by-side with tuxedos that look like ill-fitting rentals are probably behind us. But as long as the Oscars stay this serious, all the other red-carpeted industry events will remain way more exciting.

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