With one pearl necklace, Vivienne Westwood revolutionized men’s fashion for Gen-Z

The name Vivienne Westwood is synonymous with iconoclasm, with rebellion, with the subversion of norms and with a bold, brazen foray into punk. The iconic designer died on December 29, 2022 at the age of 81. Her legacy is well known – and deservedly so. (If you don’t know, start educating yourself here.)

But when I heard the news of her death, my thoughts didn’t immediately turn to SEX, the infamous London boutique she opened in 1971 with Malcom McLaren, the equally infamous manager of the Sex Pistols (who, yes, dressed). I didn’t even catch myself thinking about her activist work, her later collections, or her huge and undeniable influence on fashion over the past half century.

english punk rock band sex pistol

McLaren and Westwood in 1977.

Mirropix//Getty Images

Instead, I found myself thinking about the pearl necklace emblazoned with Westwood’s Orb logo and how that necklace exploded traditional masculinity for young Gen-Z men, leaving in their place a new and exciting approach to fashion that will (hopefully) guide them in the coming years. years. Because even though she is no longer with us, what Dame Vivienne Westwood means to menswear in 2023 is freedom: tradition and tailoring turned on their head, androgyny and gender decoded and broken.

vivienne westwood backstage at lfwm june 2017

Westwood in 2017.

Ian Gavan//Getty Images

The first time I became interested in Westwood in my adult life was in 2020. It was thanks to thirst-trapped TikTokkers: young LA princes with millions of followers who avidly sport pearl necklaces with the iconic Orb charm, first designed in 1987 .It was an epidemic within a pandemic: cisgender, straight teenagers, and people in their early 20s who had always presented as masculine suddenly donned single strand pearls.

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Everywhere I went that year, the Westwood pearl necklace was present. The boys paired them with gray sweatpants and white tank tops. Girls, myself included, wore them with everything from dresses to sweaters to button downs. That necklace that year was a symbol of knowledge. If people couldn’t afford the authentic ones, well, a whole TikTok series was posted about where to buy quality fakes. It was all so great because it was Vivienne Westwood, sure. It was even cooler because it was a step towards the somewhat gender-fluid fashion world that the current era supports, which Westwood has always supported.

Vivienne Westwood mini bas-relief necklace

Mini Bas Relief necklace

Vivienne Westwood mini bas-relief necklace

After the pearl necklaces that were the microtrends stopped being front and center in every influencer’s content, Westwood’s essence remained in the air. It was like the boys were suddenly empowered and fearless doing it more. A painted pinky nail here and there. Long skirt, sometimes sporty. Androgyny seeped into our skin and Vivienne Westwood led the revolution.

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It was impossible not to notice that after breaking the initial ice with that pearl chain from Orb, the boys became less rigid in their fashion and more prone to wearing necklaces. As Gen-Z – already dictating shopping cycles and major trends – became familiar with and accustomed to fashion, Westwood remained at the tip of many tongues. The men I know who couldn’t tell you the difference between a bomber jacket and a racing jacket know her name, know her logo and might even guess if she owns a piece of tartan. From TikTok to Timothée Chalamet, it’s great that cool guys in this generation are bucking conventional gender norms, largely because of her.

American actor Timothée Chalamet during a photocall for the presentation of the film Bones and Everything, at Hotel de la Ville Rome Italy, November 12, 2022 photo by marilla siciliaarchivio marilla siciliamondadori portfolio via getty images

Timothée Chalamet in a pearl collar and Vivienne Westwood sweater at the “Bones and All” photo shoot in Rome.

Mondadori portfolio

With taboos and traditions stripped back, you simply cannot ignore the effect Vivienne Westwood had on youth fashion, even now—and the effect this one pearl necklace had on Gen-Z men. When boys suddenly embrace such a traditionally feminine signifier, followed by more androgynous silhouettes, textures, colors and patterns in a suit…well, it shows us that the future of fashion is malleable and malleable and rule-breaking. in a very punk way. Very Vivienne Westwood way.

Trishna Rikhy is an associate style business editor at Esquire. Her writing has previously appeared in Vogue Runway, PAPER Magazine, V Magazine, V MAN and more. She’s based in NYC, but you can probably find her wherever the strongest cup of coffee is.

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