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Image / Agenda / Image Writes

For Paul Mescal, the thigh is the limit


By Sarah Finnan
13th Oct 2022
For Paul Mescal, the thigh is the limit

Connell’s chain, GAA shorts and all-leather ensembles; Paul Mescal’s fashion evolution has been anything but predictable – and with the internet’s obsession only growing by the day, it’s clear that he plans on keeping us all on our toes.

I’m sure we’ve all seen those photos of Paul Mescal by now. You know, the ones of him wearing a leather trench coat and matching thigh high boots? Yep, thought that might ring a bell.

Gracing Interview Magazine’s Instagram feed on Tuesday this week, the editorial certainly did what it set out to and has already been the topic of many a group chat around Ireland. It was one of the first things Team IMAGE discussed in the office yesterday and some quick market research on my own social media returned many a hot take – most of them positive, all of them thirsty.

Mescal essentially achieved what Kim K endeavoured to with her ‘break the internet shoot’; replacing champagne coupes with leather boots, and bare bums with just a sliver of exposed skin… sexy, yet demure all at once. The caption? A quote from Paul. “I’ve got a pretty extensive short shorts wardrobe,” it reads, undoubtedly alluding to his considerable collection of O’Neill’s gear.

Mescal’s status as international man of style was decided long before this shoot, however. Demand for silver chains soared during lockdown, fuelled by the public’s unbridled lust for Connell Waldron (or perhaps the man who played him).

First identifiable as “yer man in the Denny’s sausages ad”, and later as “yer man with the silver chain”, Mescal has been synonymous with many things over the course of his career thus far, though none as inherently Irish as his beloved GAA shorts… you might say his greatest triumph was making them fashionable again. Two years ago, Gucci came out with their own take on the sportswear classic, and O’Neill’s sales surged by 20% as a result of his outfit choices. Such is his power.

Not long after that, the actor was publicly linked to American singer Phoebe Bridgers for the first time, and thus began his indie phase characterised by a rotating wardrobe of vintage band tees, a new mullet and some rather impressive (is that the word?) facial hair. The Phoebe Effect™ endeared him to a whole new demographic of fans, as did recent rumours that they plan on buying an old farmhouse in West Cork. We’re still waiting on the Architectural Digest house tour, which is inevitably to follow.

Back to the Interview shoot though. While my initial reaction to the editorial was slay the house down boots, conversations around the styling are nuanced. Many have raised concerns over queerbaiting – a complex and convoluted term that can briefly be defined as a tactic used to attract queer audiences, a way for celebrities to capitalise on the mystery surrounding their sexuality for the sake of publicity. Society has perpetuated heteronormativity for so long, that even implicit queerness is considered a talking point.

Harry Styles has also been accused of queerbaiting, as has TikTok star Noah Beck, both of whom appeared on the cover of magazines donning stereotypically “unmasculine” attire – Styles in a dress and Beck in heavy eyeliner, fishnets and heels.

This begs the question of whether clothing should be gendered in the first place; clothes are just clothes, after all, it’s societal perception that deems them ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’. From feather boas to lace ballgowns, Styles has been bending the rules with his fashion choices since he launched his solo career in 2016. David Bowie, Prince and Boy George did the same back in their day. Now, it’s Paul Mescal serving looks and while one contingent has criticised it, the other has praised him for his openness to experimenting.

As one Twitter user rightly pointed out, the narrative around queerbaiting has “reached a confusing place”. “On the one hand, we say don’t worry [about] labels, and on the other hand, if an artist presents even remotely ‘queer’ we interrogate them [about] their sexuality?” It’s a double-edged sword. All I’ll say is; Harry Styles walked so Paul Mescal could run (or strut) in his leather thigh highs.