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The Rise, Fall and Enduring Legacy of the RompHim

The RompHim went viral in 2017 as a one-piece for bros. Since then, it’s become ‘peak gay fashion’ — but it’s still as controversial as ever

Nick Andersen waited until they’d arrived back in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to pop the question to his boyfriend, Luke Massa. The couple had spent the Fourth of July weekend at the same pastoral Vermont house where, four years ago, they first said “I love you.” 

The serendipity wasn’t lost on Andersen, a podcast producer. At a coffee shop on their way home, Andersen proposed with a makeshift rainbow ring made of colorful paper clips, and Massa accepted. The next day, Andersen made an engagement announcement on Twitter, sharing a photo of Massa embracing him at sunset on their last night in Vermont. 

Massa is dressed in an oxford and jeans. Andersen is wearing a RompHim. 

The engagement photo garnered a bevy of congratulatory responses; however, a few people took note of Andersen’s male romper. One responded, “I would be horrified if I was wearing one and someone proposed to me. I would have to say no and hope they asked again when I was wearing something more classic.”

“Well good thing 1) I proposed to him and 2) I wasn’t wearing the RompHim when I did,” Andersen quipped back. “Thanks for your well-wishes, though!”

Now, a little over a week later, Andersen tells MEL he couldn’t care less how “classic” his engagement announcement is: “Marriage has never been a huge aspiration of mine, so if wearing a RompHim in the engagement announcement is a way to one-up expectations or have a little more fun with it. I’m fine with that.” 

The RompHim as a whole has received endless scrutiny since it first launched in 2017. It was a go-to summer trend for men, while also equally satirized for its wild prints and weird emphasis on masculinity. The brand’s tagline at the time: “Is it a romper designed for men? Sure. But it’s also pretty damn comfortable, and it may be the start of a fashion revolution.”

It also caught a lot of heat for its gender-specific marketing:

Today, the RompHim has largely lost its novelty. Crop tops and tiny sunglasses have taken over as trendy menswear must-haves. But the RompHim still elicits fierce opinions. 

“I have NEVER seen anyone pull it off,” says Edward, a 23-year-old from Chicago. Julia, a 22-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin, says, “I almost dated a guy solely because he had the confidence to rock a RompHim.” Christina, a 22-year-old from New York, won’t date anyone who wears a RompHim “simply because of the fragile masculinity that required it to be called a RompHIM.” Joey Michel, a 23-year-old medical student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, thinks the male romper is actually “gender-bending a traditionally feminine style.” 

This all has me wondering: Who the hell is bold enough to still wear a RompHim in 2019?

First Comes the Gays

“It’s really just the gays and the cast of Summer House,” says Alexander Mason Hankin, an art columnist for Philadelphia Style Magazine. Indeed, the male stars of Bravo’s reality show about a group of affluent New Yorkers summering on Long Island have been known to rock rompers.

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RIP to the Summer…You’ll definitely be missed⁣ Like a 4am Paige and Carl pantry kiss ⁣ ⁣ Over the last couple weeks….we had tons of guests⁣ Beauty Queens, British men, and some guy with a vest…⁣ ⁣ DJ Cookie Crisp….made sure the beats were always hot⁣ He made us margaritas, BBCs, and WAY too many Jello shots⁣ ⁣ The only twins we saw this summer….were Lindsay’s floating about⁣ While we shared tons of memories extremely blacked-out⁣ ⁣ Danielle, my mom would love you… Paige brought tons of clothes⁣ I made out with 3 girls, but then again, who knows?⁣ ⁣ Hannah’s finger/Carls penis…were both in a splint⁣ No matter how many times Paige rejected Carl….he couldn’t take a hint⁣ ⁣ The only thing I got hard this summer.. was definitely my abs⁣ We spent tons of money and ran up too many bar tabs⁣ ⁣ So hold up your glasses to Summer lets toast⁣ And raise hell today with the ones we love the most!⁣ ⁣ #summerhouse @bravotv ?: @twkeyes ?: @romperjack ?: @quayaustralia

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Hankin recently wore his floral RompHim — purchased in 2017 at the height of the RompHim’s viral success — to a party in Southampton, New York. “It’s just a silly thing to wear,” he says. “They are still cute for summer parties.” 

Part of the appeal is this unconventionality. “When you wear one, you gain a sort of ‘I don’t care what you think’ type of confidence,” Michel says.

Anecdotally, I can confirm that gay men are still all about the romper. At 2019’s NYC Pride Parade, I spotted six men on a fire escape all in different rompers. 

The wild prints, the exposed legs and the easy-access zipper all make the RompHim the perfect statement piece for Pride. My friend Michael, himself a New York gay known to occasionally rock a romper, puts it more simply: “It’s so peak gay fashion. Not for straights.”

The Branding Was a Turnoff. So Was the Fit. 

Even among gay men, a community in which the brand found a devoted audience, RompHim can’t escape its unendingly male-exclusive name. 

“I’m a fan of rompers, but not cheeky brand names and pushing the gender-binary agenda,” says my roommate Joseph.

It doesn’t help that even some male-romper devotees find the design simply doesn’t fit their body well. Hankin, who is six feet tall, says his RompHim makes him look shorter and heavier. “If you’re trim and fit, it works,” he says. “If you’re not, it does not look cute.” 

Rival companies like RomperJack and Zesties have made their own male-oriented patterned rompers, while fast-fashion brands like ASOS and Urban Outfitters simply put out rompers with no cutesy strings attached.

But no matter how good the design, some potential customers are turned off because they don’t want to be “the RompHim guy.” 

“It’s a novelty clothing item, not something you want to be known for,” says Kyle, a straight 22-year-old from Lake Zurich, Illinois. My cousin Grant was even less generous when asked if he’d ever date a guy who wears a RompHim: “Only if I’m looking to date a boy named Chad who wore a costume suit to his prom.” 

A New Model of Masculinity

However, RompHims have found a home outside of the male fashion market. Phoebe March, a 23-year-old who identifies as non-binary, says male rompers offer a better fit than female-marketed one-pieces: “RompHim feels like it has more room to breathe and is designed in a way that isn’t about flaunting assets.”

Michelle Daly is a brand ambassador for RompHim. She wears only men’s clothing and considers RompHims fashionable. She’ll even get hers tailored because the crotch sits too low. 

Daly understands that the brand has a history of being marketed as for men only. As a lesbian, she gets why the queer community would be frustrated with gendered clothing. “The queer community really wants to break down barriers by un-gendering fashion, but the whole world isn’t queer and most people live in a binary world,” she says, noting that if the company were set on excluding women or non-binary folks, they’d never have brought her on as an ambassador.

Back in Cambridge, Nick Andersen and Luke Massa are the early stages of wedding planning. Will there be rompers in attendance? “Oh, absolutely not,” he says. Still, Andersen has worn his RompHim on several other special occasions, including when he performed in Boston’s 2017 Moth GrandSLAM. While he was on the subway there, he says, he saw the man standing in front of him text a friend: “Hey, you know that RompHim you were considering? Don’t.” 

As he has for the past two years, Andersen laughed off the slight. Being known as the RompHim Guy is all right with him: “It’s a silly brand and probably overpriced, but it’s served me well.”