Male Style Icons

What makes a style icon is a difficult question to answer. If you have to ask if someone is a style icon then they probably aren’t and by the same token, when someone is one, it’s not always easy to explain why.

Just saying that they have “that certain something” isn’t really an explanation of why it is. And let’s face it, having that “that certain X Factor” is really becoming a well-worn phrase as every wannabe in the country tries to get their 15 minutes of fame!

So, when you’re sat round the dinner table discussing your top male style icons, who would be top of your list? Who do you look to for style inspiration?

I try to take a balanced long term view because it’s sometimes all too easy to see the latest rock or pop star take the music world by storm and then have them disappear from view. When it comes to music they either need to stand the test of time or, when you look back, they need to be an individual or group that defined an era even if they only shone brightly within it for a relatively short space of time. Obviously groups like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones will always be regarded as icons but then you have individuals like Marc Bolan and Jimi Hendrix who have been really influential, even though sadly they only graced our planet for a short time.

The Beatles. Photo: BBC

When it comes to the silver screen, then it’s those men who defined a particular genre of film and are remembered for their effortless style that shines through – Cary Grant, Paul Newman, Robert Redford all spring to mind and there are many others.

A moment in history

The history of men’s fashion can be tracked via its “style icons” as these are the men who illustrate so vividly that particular moment in history.

Sadly, one sure fire way to rise to icon status is to die young and Elvis dying at 42 means that he will forever be in this category. When it comes to movie stars, Steve McQueen and James Dean also fit into this category very easily.

James Dean. Photo: Warner Brothers

Everybody is going to have a different view on what makes a style icon. Here is GQ’s take on who they consider to be the top 50 male style icons of all time. Which ones do you agree with?

Instant Celebrity

These days of instant celebrity via reality TV and one hit wonders exploding on to the scene so quickly makes it all too easy for the press to build up ‘Z’ list celebrities so rapidly. Long term though, will any of these men leave their mark on the fashion world? Are they really the sort of men who dress in a manner that says something serious about masculinity and today’s modern world?

Often, it’s those that don’t try too hard that stand out the most, as too many wannabe celebs look impeccably well-groomed to the point of obsession.

A real icon is never frightened to grow into themselves over time rather than trying to force the issue.

The Male and Female point of view

Male style doesn’t come under the microscope anywhere near as harshly as women’s fashion does but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t big business. The feedback by men and women towards fashion is different. Most ladies, even if they don’t admit it, have a fascination with the latest designs they see on the catwalk whereas men will generally pay less attention to male fashion shows. What they are more likely to do is notice what the star striker from the football team they support is wearing and use that as a style guide.

David Beckham. Photo: Getty Images

Men will notice what good looking movie stars and top sportsmen are wearing and they will try to replicate that look. Guys will take on the whole persona of a male icon they admire and rather than just seeing them as a mannequin with clothes on, they try to emulate that person the best way the can.

Which guy over the last twenty years hasn’t dreamed of being David Beckham, Brad Pitt, Hugh Jackman, or George Clooney for example?

Never out of Style

If you go back through history, male icons have that sense of style that never really goes out of fashion. For example, Cary Grant’s sophisticated and relaxed look is synonymous with the golden years of Hollywood and he always will be. David Bowie epitomised the 1970s and his icon status has not only stood the test of time but time has enhanced it even further.

Cary Grant Photo:

With the instant social media world we live in, the topic of men’s fashion does have the tendency to get blown out of all proportion and we get over run with second rate “style icons”. Although one thing is clear, when we look back at this decade twenty years from now it will take more than turning up on a red carpet wearing a designer suit to be remembered as a style icon. Only the ones that define the era we currently live in will truly be remembered.

This is why the words of Coco Chanel still ring true. “Fashion fades, only style remains the same”.

What do you think? What defines a male style icon and where do you take your inspiration from? It would be great to hear from you.