The Irish actor Paul Mescal will attend the Academy Awards for the first time on Sunday—as a Best Actor contender no less, nominated for his portrayal of a young, searching single father in the A24 movie Aftersun. But the actor’s first memory of the Oscars, as he recently told Vanity Fair, was the red carpet fashion.
“My mom used to read Hello Magazine, these magazines, and I would always see the photographs of what people wore,” Mescal said, adding that he didn’t get into the actual awards component until he attended drama school. Over the last few years—since his breakout in Hulu’s Sally Rooney adaptation Normal People, and especially in the lead-up to this year’s ceremony—he’s been honing his own formalwear sensibilities and trying out some exciting silhouettes. Lately it’s felt as if Mescal is dressing the way lots of guys want to dress these days—or maybe that lots of guys want to dress like Paul Mescal these days. Either way, he’s been writing a pretty aspirational playbook for getting into left-of-center menswear.
With Normal People, Mescal arrived on our TV screens during the height of Covid lockdown, a vision—and a refreshingly normal one at that—in short soccer shorts and a thin silver chain necklace. (Before acting, Mescal was a minor-league player in his native Ireland’s Gaelic football league. “The short shorts that I wear, they’re actually not short shorts,” he told GQ last fall. “They’re just football shorts that I’ve worn for my entire life.”) On this recent post-Aftersun, pre-Oscars press tour, he’s been working with stylist Felicity Kay, and there have been many more opportunities to swap out his Umbro shorts for floppy Gucci suits.
“When Paul and I started working together last year we sent a lot of references back and forth,” Kay told Vogue last month. “Old Hollywood stills, vintage band artwork, pictures of shows we liked, old editorials. I quickly got a sense that Paul had great taste.” According to Kay, their approach has been to go for sharp tailoring that’s “subtly subverted. A little rough around the edges, tactile and contemporary,” like the wicked Giuliva Heritage suit (with that great ’70s-style exaggerated camp collar) he sported on Seth Meyers, or the big, aqua-blue jacket and kicky high-waisted trousers, both by Gucci, he wore to the Independent Spirit Awards this past weekend. But it’s not just about the clothes.
First, there’s Mescal’s current hair, courtesy of his hairstylist Christine Nelli: a platonically grungy ideal of the trendy fashion shag mullet that, on him, just makes him look like an in-season footballer. And which, according to his GQ My Essentials video, he maintains with a quick spritz of Sun Bum Sea Spray: “My hair styling technique is shower, stick some of this in, throw my hands through my hair and then just let it be the way that it wants to be.” (Relatable king, some might say.) Per the good folks over at British GQ, “the hairstyle has become an unlikely symbol of hot: a pearl-necklaced, white-vested, clean boy-faced but-still-slightly-wrong’un sort of hot.” And ultimately, it is fun for a serious actor to have an unserious haircut.
And underneath the louche suits, he’s been wearing lots of white ribbed tanks—which, depending on how you look at them, are either a classical (and complicated) symbol of masculinity, or a more laid-back, sexy, maybe even vulnerable alternative to a stuffy button-up shirt. Earlier this week, The Guardian published a whole story on “the myth and meaning” of Mescal’s recent ubiquitous white ribbed tanks. Through the awards-season gauntlet of the last few months, Mescal has also been starring in a West End production of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, in the same role that put Marlon Brando and his white ribbed tank top on the map back in 1951. (Interestingly enough, the director of this current adaptation specifically nixed any white tanks from this adaptation, citing a desire to move away from the “performance baggage” of Brando’s legendary portrayal.) In the Guardian, fashion writer Dal Chodha offered that the tank, especially on Mescal’s conventionally rippling torso, “proffers an idealized male body in a classic 1950s pin-up way. It says ‘masculine’ in a very direct and uncomplicated way.”
We’ve seen plenty of undershirts on and off the red carpet recently, probably for a whole host of reasons, and they can give off a bit of a hardo vibe. Even so, Mescal has gone for some straight-up softer moments, too, particular when he’s wearing pieces by the Irish designer Simone Rocha: a pearl-collared Oxford shirt on Jimmy Kimmel, a sheer embroidered jacket at the SAGs, a round-shouldered suit at the British Independent Film Awards. British GQ recently deemed Rocha, who recently expanded her womenswear label to include men’s designs, as “the incumbent Cool Guy™ brand,” which feels reflective of the overall Cool Guy vibe of Mescal’s fashion journey. “I wanted to see femininity with this contradiction of masculinity, and see masculinity as its own identity. That was the idea, really, to see how this all fits together, and feels emotional,” Rocha told GQ, and it’s true: cool menswear these days is all about contradiction. Maybe that openness, in tandem with the sorts of emotional roles Mescal takes on, is what makes his style so desirable. What looks better than confidence?