Harry Styles made headlines after gracing the December 2020 cover of American Vogue in a dramatic, lace-trimmed dress and tuxedo blazer designed by Gucci’s Alessandro Michele. Styles is no stranger to defying gender norms when it comes to his fashion choices; from dawning a chunky string of pearls, a black organza blouse at the Met Gala to constantly pushing the envelope with his ability to incorporate elements of masculinity and femininity in
his style. His lack of conforming to the gender constraints of fashion along with his love for self-expression has landed him the history-making title of being the first solo male on the cover of the iconic fashion magazine.
In the candid interview by English fashion journalist Hamish Bowles, Styles recounts his early days as a member of One Direction, how the pandemic has allowed him to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, his growing passion for fashion and his upcoming role in Olivia Wilde’s second directorial feature Don’t Worry Darling.
Styles gushes about his love for fashion which began long before he set foot on The X Factor stage. In the editorial spread, shot by renowned photographer, Tyler Mitchell, Styles is featured wearing a number of designer pieces; from belted skirts, kilts, stylish overcoats to custom-made, hand-painted corduroy trousers. The former teen heartthrob claims his mum’s affinity for dressing him and his sister up as children and his role as Barney, the church mouse in his school play may have sparked his interest at a young age: “I was really young, and I wore tights for that. I remember it was crazy to me that I was wearing a pair of tights. And that was maybe where it all kicked off!”
He admits his longtime personal stylist Harry Lambert, was the catalyst for his experimental style post One Direction. Lambert allowed him to have fun with his fashion choices and pushing him to try new garments like flares; which have become a staple in Styles’ wardrobe. Lambert is also responsible for Styles’ viral trendsetting JW Anderson Rubik’s cube cardigan and now iconic pearl necklace for the Today show rehearsal back in February of last year.
Like many before him, androgynous, glam-rock fashion is not a foreign concept amongst some of the most well-known musicians. Freddy Mercury, Prince, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix and Mick Jagger walked so men like Harry Styles could run. They were known for sporting frilled blouses, tight coloured trousers, glittery makeup, crop tops and high heels, forever discarding the hyper-masculine look rock had come so accustomed to. Styles has mentioned taking inspiration from rock artists of the 60s and 70s to influence his music and style.
However, trans femmes of colour and drag queens have also historically been forerunners in wearing dresses and heels. The queer community has continually rejected patriarchal language and has been celebrating and fighting for gender-noncomforming fashion for years; despite the backlash and harassment they have received. Notably, actor and singer, Billy Porter, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, has had a long history of gender-nonconforming fashion; wearing dresses, heels and political-statement accessories to red carpet events.
With all that being said, many have pointed out that Styles, a cisgender man, wearing a dress on a magazine cover is anything but revolutionary. It has been done many times before, like Brad Pitt’s 1999 Rolling Stone cover.
In the dawn of TikTok boys and Timothee Chalamet, men with either feminine facial features or a desire to peruse the women’s section of fashion have become more and more mainstream. Men are becoming comfortable experimenting with their appearance, not necessarily just fashion. Any seemingly heterosexual man can wear a dress but what about Harry Styles’ cover essentially broke the internet?
Unfortunately, the cover did have its fair share of critics. While society is on the slow path of reaching ultimate acceptance and normalisation of gender-nonconformity, a few still aren’t on board. Right-wing conservative and Republican author, Candace Owens took to Twitter to publicly share her opinion on the cover. Known for being controversial and inciting hate on social media, Owens began the tweet with, “There is no
society that can survive without strong men,” followed by, “The East knows this. In the west, the steady feminization of our men at the same time that Marxism is being taught to our children is not a coincidence. It is an outright attack.” She then ended the tweet with, “Bring back manly men.”
This not only caused an uproar online; the usually silent Styles alluded to Owens’ tweet with a tongue-in-cheek Instagram post of a photo of him wearing a powder blue suit and eating a banana for Variety magazine with the caption, “Bring back manly men.”
Other celebs such as Jameela Jamil, Elijah Wood, Zach Braff and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” winners Trixie Mattel and Bob the Drag Queen quickly came to Styles’ defense; while criticising Owens and Harry Styles haters in general for their remarks.
Actress and director, Olivia Wilde has consistently been one of many to sing Styles’ praises, saying: “[I] hope that this brand of confidence as a male that Harry has—truly devoid of any traces of toxic masculinity—is indicative of his generation and therefore the future of the world. I think he is in many ways championing that, spearheading that. It’s pretty powerful and kind of extraordinary to see someone in his position redefining what it can mean to be a man with confidence.”
At the ripe age of twenty-seven, Styles already has over a decade in the industry under his belt; practically growing up in the spotlight. Throughout his ever-evolving career, he’s still managed to be one of the most unproblematic celebrities. Whether you’re a hardcore Harry Styles fangirl or know a few of his songs, you can’t help admit whatever he touches, turns to gold. At this point, him liking a tweet can even garner a national headline.
With cancel culture running rampant and the current political climate, he’s managed to go completely unscathed without a single scandal. Making him the perfect role model and face of a new era of modern men. He’s very public about acknowledging his privilege; he continues to educate himself on pertinent issues like the BLM movement. Also he has created a safe space for his fans to express themselves without judgment. The Vogue cover was just an example of Styles practicing what he preaches while being true to himself.
Ever since One Direction decided to take their indefinite hiatus in 2016, Styles has come into his own, cutting ties with the boyband image and creating an individual brand for himself. From his first solo album debut in May 2017, he’s left fans in awe with his flamboyant and transgressive fashion sense both on and off stage.
Since then, he has seemingly opened the conversation about men wearing traditionally feminine attire. He has managed to allow people to blur the line between fashion and gender. Something as trivial as painted nails should be seen as no longer defining a person’s sexual orientation. If Harry Styles can get a fruit-filled manicure to match his setlist, why can’t anyone else? Mixing masculinity and femininity, Styles has made fashion his playground of self-expression.
With more men like Styles branching out to the more feminine aesthetic, designer brands like Gucci, JW Anderson and Commes des Garcons have also adapted by creating edgier pieces that don’t seem to fit the confines of what menswear should be.
When talking about his take on fashion, Styles said: “When you take away ‘There’s clothes for men and there’s clothes for women,’ once you remove any barriers, obviously you open up the arena in which you can play. I’ll go in shops sometimes, and I just find myself looking at the women’s clothes thinking they’re amazing. It’s like anything—anytime you’re putting barriers up in your own life, you’re just limiting yourself. There’s so much joy to be had in playing with clothes.”
In recent years, the topic of representation has been sought-after in mainstream media. Here we have one of the most famous men in the world openly having discussions about his fashion choices and unabashedly wearing whatever he wants regardless of gender or sexuality. While Styles hasn’t publicly announced his sexuality, he continues to stray away from society’s ancient notion of toxic masculinity, challenging what a ‘real man’ is meant to
look like in society nowadays. He proves time and time again that men can be expressive, soft, emotional and feminine.
Styles’ song, “Treat People With Kindness,” off his second solo album has not only become a mantra for his fans but a message of the importance of “small changes end up making a big difference.” Granted, one wouldn’t call being on the cover of Vogue ‘small,’ it is however, in the right direction to society’s cultural evolution of the destruction of gender binary fashion and toxic masculinity.
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