Harry Styles

Harry Styles lights up US Vogue6 min read

2020 has proven that even a global pandemic is not enough to stop the force and talents of Harry Styles; singer, actor and now the first male solo cover star for US Vogue

In Vogue’s 150-year history, men have been featured on the cover but only with a female counterpart. For example, Gigi Hadid with Zayn Malik or Kim Kardashian with Kanye West. However, Styles’ appearance on the cover was not only historical for his gender, but more for what he wore… a Gucci dress.

The reactions to Styles’ appearance on the cover of Vogue have been divisive, causing reactions from fans and commentators. The most controversy stemmed from a tweet by right-wing commentator Candace Owens.

As expected, many people countered the outrage from mainly right-wing politicians. Olivia Wilde and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez are two of the many people who came to Styles’ defence, with the congresswoman calling the cover “wonderful”.  It’s important that as a society, we reflect on the reasons why Styles’ cover has made headlines. For both the right and wrong reasons – why is the cover important and why has it caused so much controversy?

It has always perplexed me why Vogue only has female cover stars, especially since the fashion industry is evolving and has begun to explore gender fluidity and non-binary dressing.

2020 is the year of change and reflection, hence why Anna Wintour’s decision to have Styles as the first solo cover star for the Conde Nast publication was a choice long overdue. Styles is no stranger to the eccentricity the fashion industry has to offer, from his various tour outfits, his Saturday Night Live ballerina costume and his photoshoot with The Guardian for which he wore a black dress.

Is Styles a pioneer?

However, Styles is not the first person to experiment with non-conforming fashion and he won’t be the last – it is the struggle and fight from the LGBTQ+ community which has laid the groundwork for Styles to feature on the cover of Vogue in the first place. 

The decision to feature Styles in a dress, while important and historical, does not make him a pioneer for gender fluidity or dismantle society’s definition of masculinity. Styles does appeal to a younger generation of individuals, who may have missed out on the years of Prince and David Bowie – two musical legends who did not shy away from progressive fashion choices. However, figures such as Billy Porter and Jonathan Van Ness have been wearing dresses for years on red carpets and magazine shoots, yet they don’t become headlines.

The reception Styles has received for his cover is indicative of the attitudes and appraisal cisgender white men will receive compared to people of colour or people in the LGBTQ+ community. It is time to refocus our attention to various activists such as Marsha P Johnson, Laverne Cox and Billy Porter, who are from LGBTQ+ and communities of colour who have enabled and engineered this cover to happen in the first place.

Dismantling toxic masculinity one dress at a time

In the midst of many conflicting opinions, it can be easy to forget the importance of what the December edition of Vogue will do for many young people exploring their identity. Seeing a man, dressed however he desires on the cover of Vogue is not just a statement – it’s a movement. Masculinity is a social construct which has kept men in psychological and metaphorical constraints, dampening their individuality and sense of self-expression.

Right-wing commentators such as Ben Shapiro and Candace Owens add to the chaos and toxicity from pre-existing expectations of masculinity. While Owens suggests we should “bring back manly men” the normalisation of gender-fluid/non-binary dressing is exactly what men need.

What is being ‘manly’?

As a society, we have actively attempted to dismantle stereotypes surrounding women, but why do we not apply this same energy and mindset to men? Men are also hindered and damaged by the conservation of the patriarchy and by preserving these ideals of what it means to be a man, we facilitate toxic masculinity.

What makes a man manly is whatever the individual feels comfortable with. Whether that’s wearing a suit or a dress. Society should evolve past the need to differentiate what a man or woman should wear, and instead, give people the freedom to dress and identify however they wish.

There are masculinity and femininity in everything we do, and seeing Styles wearing a custom-made Gucci dress on the cover of Vogue is the best display of a man being secure in his identity that I have seen in a long time.

On a personal note, nobody would have expected the 16-year-old from Holmes Chapel to become both an international best-selling solo artist and the face of Alessandro Michele’s Gucci empire. In his former boyband days, his style was different from his bandmates, but he was mostly teased for his individuality. It would be a safer and more assured route to dress, sing and behave conventionally, but Styles proves that you no longer have to stay in your lane.

Alobos life/ Flickr – Harry Styles and his former bandmates performing in Chile.

As Styles has become more comfortable in his solo artist status, his fashion sense has reflected this newfound confidence. His distinctness as a star and coolness to get away with wearing anything and everything is the reason for his universal appeal. The Harry Styles hype is certainly alight and there’s no sign of it sizzling out.

Is Vogue ahead of its time or late to the party?

Considering the weight and importance Vogue has in the fashion world, I’m surprised the decision to have a solo male star showcasing boundary-pushing fashion has taken so long. 

However, the unveiling of the cover has amplified the divisive debates around gender politics and how a man wearing a dress is apparently representative of his masculinity. I hope that once the dust settles around this edition of Vogue, the true significance of this issue emerges, and people will begin to redefine and re-evaluate what being a man means to them. 

Despite all the excitement around his new role in Olivia Wilde’s film Don’t Worry, Darling and his three-time Grammy nominations, the 26-year-old pop icon has proven he will prioritise his engagements to actively disassemble machismo and hopes to help others do the same.

This may be the first time we see a man in a dress on the cover of a magazine, but it certainly will not be the last.

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