As an antidote to straightlaced fashion and toxic masculinity, the himbo might be just the new style archetype the world needs.
Ripped abs? Check. Cheeky grin? Check. Spray tan, personalized underwear, double denim? Check, check, and check. Life in plastic is definitely fantastic for Ryan Gosling as Ken, as seen in the first promo shots for the Greta Gerwig-directed Barbie, out next year. With Gosling’s Kenergy on full display, one thing is clear: the himbo is back, and this time, he’s fashion’s delightfully dim darling, too.
As always, pop culture and designers create in symbiosis, and the runways were quick to embrace the himbo aesthetic. What started on the hit reality show Love Island as a joyful celebration of “less is more” – tiny shorts, unbuttoned shirts, skin-tight T-shirts – has upscaled to happy-go-lucky looks at Loewe, JW Anderson, and Y/Project. Gone were the moody, lanky rakes circa 10 years ago; their surly expressions and whiter shade of pale spaghetti arms (what Karl Lagerfeld once memorably called “ugly skinny boys”) making way for color, fun, and joy – the golden retrievers of fashion, bounding down the runway. A hunky goof, dressed in neon, with a non-ironic bum bag to match. Perhaps he is even rollerblading? The himbo is anything but uptight – and he has the style to match. “The return of the himbo is big for people who are into expressing themselves in terms of clothes,” notes Saudi stylist Faisal Alghazzawi, “and for those who aren’t afraid of putting their personalities out there and playing with colors and different patterns.”
What is a himbo? A portmanteau of “him” and “bimbo,” the word was coined in 1988 by film critic Rita Kempley in reference to the new breed of screen hunks that were all brawn and not a lot of brain. “Their chest measurements rival Dolly Parton’s. Their brains would embarrass a squid. They’re bombshells with a Y chromosome,” she wrote. But unlike the Schwarzeneggers and Stallones she was referring to, the 21st-century himbo has evolved into something sweeter, more palatable, and less violently gung-ho. Himbos are good vibes only.
On screen, the two-dimensional heartthrob – originated by Keanu Reeves as Johnny Utah (the himbo-est of names) in Point Break (1991) and Brad Pitt in Thelma & Louise that same year, and perfected by Channing Tatum from Magic Mike (2012) onwards – is often played as a foil to the wise-cracking female lead. Witness Jon Hamm hamming it up with Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids (2011), or Tatum and Sandra Bullock in The Lost City (2022). Joey in Friends, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, Manchester City footballer Jack Grealish… Kind, gorgeous dimwits, and himbos one and all.
In real life, the himbo is beloved by both men and women. Crucially, a himbo doesn’t know or care that he is one – there is no gazing into that six-packed navel, no space for self-reflection in that perfectly coiffed head. Fashion adores the hunk with a heart, and not just for his ripped body. That’s because himbos are not tediously self-conscious or vain. They are not trying to impress anyone with their studied nonchalance, their tortured genius, their “devil’s advocate” style of conversation. They don’t read anything longer than a hashtag and they aren’t narcissists. They are here to have fun and to take everyone with them. And thanks to their toned physiques, they can rock Prada’s SS22 mini skorts and Fendi’s half-suit crop tops. This is not a man to crack open Kierkegaard, but boy, can he crack a smile.
Himbos, like their style, offer one overarching emotion: relief. They and their giant belt buckles are a huge exhale personified. The stress that’s been coiled up these past few years is finally being released in the most lighthearted way. Jonathan Anderson sent men down his JW Anderson SS23 menswear runway in low-slung jeans and naked torsos, following on FW22’s cropped sweaters and shiny tank tops embellished with the word “sexy.” For Loewe SS23, his models showcased barely-there tighty-whities and floral printed leggings, building on the previous season’s bodyhugging vests, nipple-grazing see-through crop tops, low-cut tops, and tiny denim shorts. It’s a leitmotif the designer has been building on for a few seasons now, “a message of electrifying hope and optimism,” as he described his SS22 menswear show, which was filled with neon booties and cutout sweaters.
The himbo has a rich history in high fashion. Donatella Versace is famously fond of the aesthetic for her shows, saying, “I see those guys as dynamic, and full of energy. I like energy. A guy who weighs 40kg has no energy!” To style the himbo look without going full Love Island, you need to have your tongue firmly in your cheek, and a protein shake in your hand. The look is adventurous and freeing – think bright sliders, Adidas X Wales Bonner vests, denim shorts. Matching golf shirts and shorts in unexpectedly vivid colors. A dash of pink and a jolt of yellow. Perhaps a playsuit; a tie-dye Croc, even. “I don’t think you can really go over the top with it,” Alghazzawi, who also references Harry Styles as a himbo style inspiration, says. “It just depends on the colorway, the contrast, and the mix of the patterns.”
As a personification of masculinity, the himbo is a breath of fresh air. He’s comfortable and carefree, nipples to the wind. The himbo is not plagued by original thought – but nor is he in need of therapy like his brooding brethren. He is the embodiment of modern masculinity without the threatening toxicity associated with it. He’s not a mansplaining nerd or a disrespectful jock and he doesn’t dress like one either. He’s waving short-shorts, not red flags. While it would be unfair to dismiss himbos as vacuous eye candy, what they may lack in bookish intellect, they make up for in emotional intelligence, affability, and kindness – not to mention, the sartorial bravura to wear a skort.
Originally published in the Fall/Winter 2022 issue of Vogue Man Arabia
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