Men’s style inspiration can be found on superhero dramas, period pieces, even comedies geared toward women.
Attention to television costume design has typically tended toward female characters, from Charlie’s Angels, to Sex and the City to Scandal. But now that men are spending more money on how they look, and men's apparel sales are outpacing women's, people are starting to pay attention to menswear on the small screen, where characters are challenging conventions and pushing boundaries.
Today, men’s style inspiration can be found on superhero dramas — the Mod-like silhouettes on FX's Legion, for example — and even comedies geared toward women, such as Girls, which features struggling actor Elijah schooling viewers on the art of making fast fashion look like Savile Row.
Below, the most stylish male characters on TV — or who will be on TV soon.
The look: Super Mod
The backstory: Creator Noah Hawley didn't want his series based on the powerful X-Men character to be rooted in any fixed time period, but costume designer Carol Case looked to the 1960s as a starting point. “When Noah and I first spoke, he said he wanted the mutants to look like a Sixties rock band, so The Kinks, The Who, etc. were a big inspiration.”
Key pieces: Mandarin collar shirts, vests, and as he becomes more comfortable with his new surroundings, graphic Ts. A soft taupe wool coat that Dan Stevens' lead sports toward the end of the first season is a favorite of Case's and she says it’s "based on a Sixties style with some twists."
Why he matters: While this series is about a superhero, it proves you don't need a cape or suit to be one.
Real-world takeaway: Mandarin collars can be badass.
The look: Retro Romeo
The backstory: It was easy to see the sartorial value in Amazon's TV remake of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel from the moment the pilot hit the digital channel last year. And, as if Matt Bomer playing a savvy movie maker in the early days of Tinseltown wasn’t enough to entice, Mad Men costume designer Janie Bryant was brought on to add another layer of allure.
Key pieces: A 1930s men's silhouette with pleated, wide legged trousers, double-breasted jackets, white shirts and graphic ties.
Why he matters: "I'm totally into the pleated pants, the wide leg, the broad shoulders … what can I say? I’m tired of the skinny suit," says the woman who pretty much made that trend happen with her work on Mad Men. "I'm ready to change the world again. Let’s do it." Although she’s yet to announce any retail partnerships with The Last Tycoon, you don't have to be a big-shot studio exec to known that they would make boffo bucks.
Real world takeaway: Pleated pants, not just for dorky dads anymore.
The look: Power clash
The backstory: Andrew Rannells, who plays Elijah, "can wear the most ridiculous things and just pull them off. Income has always been intermittent, but luckily he likes to spend on clothing," says series costume designer Jenn Rogien. Plus, he's a trendsetter who knows a good bargain. That Thom Browne-inspired suit that he wore to a play in the season three finale? That was H&M. "You would be surprised how many pieces come from Zara or Century 21," says Rogien.
Key elements: Patterns that don't traditionally go to together; funky sweaters such as the lady bug patterned one Elijah wore to a party in season four. Rogien recommends "combining more than one pattern, but keeping the colors consistent" or "combining more than one color, but keeping the prints subtle."
Why he matters: Despite Elijah’s sartorial flair, he is not a stereotype.
Real-world takeaway: Don’t be afraid to experiment with color and print, but as Rogien advises, "take one thing off before you leave the house."
The look: Hunk of State
The backstory: "I spend as much time picking a tie for President Grant as I do looking for the right shoe for [Kerry Washington’s lead character], Olivia Pope," costume designer Lyn Paolo says of the Washington, D.C. drama. "I adore dressing men and am obsessed by male accessories and, of course, tailoring." Paolo also has a special affinity for Fitz’s "Vermont country gentleman look," which she likens to an ad for Town and Country magazine.
Key elements: Paul Smith and Brooks Brothers suits accentuated with Ferragamo and Gucci shoes.
Why he matters: On a show that is as precisely stylized as Scandal, it would be distracting if the Leader of the Free World walked around in (ahem) dad jeans.
Real-world takeaway: You can broker world peace and care about designer shoes.
The look: Fearless fashion flyer
The backstory: "I love dressing Yazz, who plays Hakeem Lyon," costume designer Paolo Nieddu says of the rap artist. "He is the youngest and most decadent of the three brothers, which has a big influence on the choices I make for his wardrobe."
Key elements: Statement jackets trimmed in fringe or sequins, lace shirts, anything fashion-forward.
Why he matters: With all the glitz and camp surrounding Empire's storylines, it would be easy to depict the Fox drama’s reigning family as a fashion don’t, but Nieddu walks the line between chic and camp perfectly.
Real-world takeaway: It’s possible to spice up your wardrobe without being cartoonish.
The look: Stealth wealth
The backstory: After nearly seven seasons of drinking and knowing things while remaining fairly well put together (given some of his circumstances), isn't it about time we change the nickname for Peter Dinklage’s character on HBO's Game of Thrones to The Pimp? "He's always been quite odd in his family … and he didn’t really have a role [with them]," Thrones costume designer Michele Clapton says of devising the look for Jaime and Cersei Lannister’s younger brother. "I wanted him to be an individual. I wanted him to have the Lannister colors, but didn’t want him to be ornate. I wanted him to have something sort of solid about him that wasn’t frivolous."
Key elements: Understated leather vests, billowy shirts, pants and boots that show money doesn’t have to mean opulence. Clapton explains that some of Tyrion’s looks came out of practicality. After all, he is known to frequent dark bars and brothels and is also smart enough not to wear anything that could get poached.
Why he matters: It was inevitable really: When is the cocky bad boy not a sex symbol? Tyrion is a little person, as he has been made well aware. But Clapton has made a point of showing that he has risen above any stereotypes — even if others haven’t. "I wanted him to be manly and attractive and have dignity and have a stance."
Real-world takeaway: Learn who you are, develop your own look and make it work for you.
The look: Technicolor-tailored
The backstory: On CBS' The Good Wife, costume designer Daniel Lawson made legions of fans realize that adhering to an office dress code doesn't have to mean drab duds. Now he's doing it again with the sequel, CBS All Access' The Good Fight. But it's not just those who wanted Julianna Margulies' body-skimming suits who should be paying attention. We now get to respect the impressive tailoring worn by Delroy Lindo's boss man, Adrian Boseman. "He's a showman and I wanted his clothes to reflect that," says Lawson.
Key elements: Colored suspenders, pocket squares, bright ties with fat knots and French cuffs. Three-piece suits (Lawson likes Paul Stuart's Phineas Cole line) allow versatility, because you can have the jacket on, the jacket off, the vest on, the vest off.
Why he matters: By dressing almost as an English dandy, Adrian Boseman "stands out in the sea of suits," Lawson says.
Real-world takeaway: A little flash goes a long way. As opposed to the Crayola box of swatches that Lawson used when dressing Mike Colter's Lemond Bishop on The Good Wife, this character reminds that sometimes less is more. "He's elegant flashy, whereas Lemond Bishop on The Good Wife was a little tacky flashy," Lawson says.
The look: Suits that mean business
The backstory: When your TV show is literally named for an item of clothing, your costumes had better represent. And, luckily for USA's high-stakes legal drama returning for its seventh season July 12, costume designer Jolie Andreatta has excelled at the task. "Back in the day, I used a lot of vintage," she recalls of how she began to build actor Patrick J. Adams’ character, Mike Ross, then a financially-struggling college dropout with a brilliant mind for the law. "I used a lot of vintage ties and some vintage suits mixed in with contemporary." As his paycheck [grew], so did his wardrobe. With Gabriel Macht’s much wealthier Harvey Specter, she started with Tom Ford suits and then began making her own, changing the lapels and putting in opera pockets.
Why they matter: This is menswear at its most aspirational. Andreatta's goal was to answer the question of where, exactly, all those perfectly-chiseled, perfectly-dressed male models pictured in glossy men’s magazines would wear such expertly-styled looks in real life. Judging by the number of real-life attorneys now asking her for shopping advice, she answered the question.
Real-world takeaway: Find a great tailor; Andreatta says you’ll (well, she’ll) notice crummy tailoring the moment the light hits it. And accessories matter. "The one thing I think is missing in the menswear world is better tie selections," she says. "Ties are that thing that anybody can get … even if they don’t have a lot of money. They can dress up their Banana Republic suit with a beautiful, beautiful tie."
The look: High-low mix
The backstory: TV writers aren’t necessarily known for their wardrobe selection, but Insecure showrunner Prentice Penny’s personal flair for fitted, patterned button-downs and bold blazers may be changing that reputation. If the snaps on his social pages don’t make this abundantly obvious, consider Upscale with Prentice Penny, his lifestyle show on TruTV that’s all about the little things everyone can do to give their lives a little pop.
Key elements: A mixture of high-end and budget-conscious items, bold colors and patterns (Penny proudly Instagrammed himself modeling a red-and-blue plaid blazer with red gingham pants). But, as his stylist, Erik Dixon, says, it’s always with an eye toward practical looks that guys anywhere can mimic.
Why he matters: He's authentic, which is key since he isn’t playing a role. "A mistake a lot of stylists make is forcing their personal style onto a client and losing sight of who they are. Your client should be the muse," Dixon says of his work on the series where the promo art features Penny in a peacock-colored suit that manages not to make him look like a leprechaun.
Real-world takeaway: Get creative but don’t forget fit. "It's always more about the fit of the garments and how the clothes make you feel," Dixon says.