The name Vivienne Westwood is synonymous with iconoclasm, rebellion, subversion of norms and the bold, brazen breakthrough of punk. The cult designer died on December 29, 2022 at the age of 81. Her legacy is well known—and deservedly so. (If you’re not familiar, start educating yourself here.)
But upon hearing the news of her death, my thoughts didn’t immediately turn to SEX, the infamous London boutique she opened in 1971 with Malcolm McLaren, the equally infamous manager of the Sex Pistols (who, yes, she dressed). Nor did I think about her activist work, her later collections, or her immense and undeniable influence on fashion over the past half century.
Instead, I found myself thinking about a pearl necklace emblazoned with Westwood’s Orb logo and how that one necklace exploded the trappings of traditional masculinity for young Gen Z men, leaving in their place a new and exciting approach to fashion that will (hopefully) guide them for years to come. which are coming. Because even though she is no longer with us, what Dame Vivienne Westwood means to menswear in 2023 is freedom: tradition and tailoring turned upside down, androgyny and gender decoded and broken.
Westwood first caught my eye in my adult life in 2020. It was via the thirst-quenching TikTokkers: young princes from LA with millions of followers who fervently wear pearl necklaces with the iconic Orb charm, which was first designed in 1987. It was an epidemic within a pandemic: cisgender, heterosexual teenagers and early 20-somethings. and-somethings who always presented themselves as masculine suddenly donned single pearls.
Wherever I was that year, Westwood’s pearl necklace was present. The boys combined them with gray sweatpants and white tank tops. Girls, myself included, wore them with everything from dresses to sweaters to button ups. That necklace was a symbol of familiarity that year. If people couldn’t afford the authentic ones, there were entire TikTok series on where to buy quality fakes. Everything was so cool because it was Vivienne Westwood, of course. It was even cooler because it was a step towards the slightly more gender-fluid world of fashion that the current moment encourages, that Westwood has always encouraged.
After pearl necklaces, the microtrend that it was, ceased to be at the center of every influencer’s content, Westwood’s essence remained in the air. It was as if, suddenly empowered and unafraid, the boys were working more. A pink nail painted here or there. Occasionally wore a long skirt. Androgyny was creeping into our skin, and Vivienne Westwood led the revolution.
It was impossible to miss the boys who became less rigid in their fashion, more inclined to wear necklaces after breaking the initial ice with that pearl ball chain. As Generation Z — already dictating buying cycles and major trends — became familiar with and accustomed to fashion, Westwood remained at the cutting edge of many languages. The men I know who can’t tell a bomber jacket from a racing jacket know its name, recognize its logo, and maybe even guess if a piece of tartan fabric belongs to it. From TikTok to Timothée Chalamet, it’s great that cool dudes are bucking conventional gender norms in this generation, and it’s in large part because of her.
With the rejection of taboo and tradition, you simply cannot ignore the effect that Vivienne Westwood has had on youth fashion, even now – and the effect that one pearl necklace has had on the men of Generation Z. When such a traditionally feminine signifier is suddenly embraced by boys, followed by a more androgynous silhouettes, textures, colors and designs… well, it shows us that the future of fashion is flexible and reshaping, and deviates from the rules in a very punkish way. A very Vivienne Westwood way.
Trishna Rikhy is Associate Style Editor for Esquire. Her writing has previously appeared in Vogue Runway, PAPER Magazine, V Magazine, V MAN, etc. She lives in New York, but can probably be found wherever the strongest cup of coffee is.
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