Is Harry Styles in a dress important?

Like every other human on the planet, I have become obsessed with Harry Styles. I know the die-hard fans will say that I am late to the party, but the Jack Will’s preppy, mop haired pop singer just didn’t do it for me back in the day. However, the gender-boundary-breaking solo singer really is. (I think my weekly Spotify plays of his latest album must pay for his groceries regularly.) It is not just his music that has converted me, for a start he seems like a genuinely lovely human - I’ve not heard a single bad word said about him from anyone that’s met him, and manners go a long way in my books - but it is his total redefining of what masculinity means that sealed the deal.


In 2018 I was writing my final Master’s project on the breakdown of gender binaries as the future for fashion. I was underwhelmed by the lack-lustre attempts of ‘gender neutral’ fashion on the high street. As if a grey t-shirt and some baggy jeans was groundbreaking. I was losing faith- we might have to endure another generation of a white shirt and black suit trousers as the pinnacle of masculine fashion. Where was Harry Styles when I needed him most?! (I don’t actually know his whereabouts during this time, my obsession wasn’t in full force yet and he wasn’t plastered on the pages of American Vogue just yet). Harry Styles didn’t invent men in dresses, this is certainly not the case. To direct the credit where it is rightly deserved, it is Harry Lambert that is the styling super-mind behind Styles (Lambert also didn’t invent men in dresses, just to clarify). While I was despairing in my university library over another failed Zara Gender Neutral campaign there was very little in the main stream fashion world to promote the ideals I was so desperately seeking. 


** A short break here to mention the master who was truly pushing boundaries for men’s fashion - Palomo Spain. Alejandro Gómez Palomo is the creator of the brand that is hailed as ‘changing the rules of mens fashion’, and on discovery of this brand I could have wept tears of joy (they may have also been tears of stress as my final shoot negatives were lost in the post, I was due to take my driving test and had lost all concept of what sleep was). Palomo rebelled against what was considered masculine and threw at it powerful feminine lines within his exquisite tailoring techniques. The year 2018 was a massive one for him, he was invited by the Federation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode to show his latest collection, won Spanish Vogue’s Who’s on Next prize and also presented his new acclaimed collection Wunderkammer. (I passed my driving test and against what felt like the odds, gained my Masters degree with my mental health still in tact. So, hard to tell who had a bigger 2018 really.) If I ever happen to meet Alejandro I will personally thank him for saving the future of fashion and also my Masters essay.  **


Back to Styles. 


It’s November 2020 and for the first time in American Vogue’s 128 year history there is a man appearing solo on the cover. That man is Harry Styles. 


The cover and supporting story were shot by Tyler Mitchell, who in 2018 made his own Vogue history, as the first African American to shoot the magazine cover. So two trailblazing men in one shoot, and not only that, it includes a couture Gucci dress - and its not Harry’s sister that’s wearing it. It is a really special shoot, it’s a true showcase of what men’s fashion can mean and it is done with class, coolness and does not feel contrived at all. 


Backlash was inevitable, you can’t break boundaries and not ruffle a few feathers. To Candace Owens who called for the ‘return of manly men’, I ask you - do you really want to see another muscle-tee clad, baby oil dripping and pumping iron man? Also, BORE OFF. The outdated, conservative view of what constitutes ‘manly’ is just oh so dull. These gender fluid movements are bringing energy and fun back into the world of men’s fashion, and I for one think it is necessary. 


More perfectly painted nails, more ruffles, more glitter denim jumpsuits - I want it all! And considering Styles’ status as an iconic sex symbol (my straight male friends can all admit to him being easy on the eye) it seems the world wants it too. The idea that his reach is no longer just teenage girls - even my dad can name Harry Styles from a lineup, and this is a man that once exclaimed “WHO?” when talking about Adele… - shows that he has entered the mainstream in a way that will infiltrate our lives, and not for the wrong reasons. At a time when suicide rates are at an all time high in young people, and male rates continually remain high, maybe this freedom of self expression is what we should all be striving towards. The right to dress how you want to, and for this to not be judged, is important. Clothes are a cape of confidence. Who doesn’t want a little extra sparkle on their confidence costume?


So, is Harry Styles in a dress important? It is easy to dismiss this initially as frivolous, but genuinely this is shaping the future of fashion as we know it. Seeing one of the most famous young men on the planet in a dress is a reformulation for how fashion is perceived. If this shoot allows just one more person to have courage and conviction to step out of their house in an outfit that subverts gender norms, I think it is heading in the right direction. No longer should clothes be defined by gender or sexuality, and this is a pivotal point in fashion history.


In short, I think the answer is YES. Harry Styles in a dress is important; Vogue isn’t the first time he has publicly appeared in one. Not only because of his global appeal is this poignant but we are at a turning point in redefining what ‘manly is’. If manly for you is a well-tailored Saville Row suit, sure, but also if it is a pink tutu and matching manicure that’s fine too. We should not belittle choices of expression. We should all be a bit more open, a bit kinder and, maybe, a bit more Harry Styles. 


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