Image of Harry Styles via Vogue (
Former One Direction member and now pop soloist Harry Styles appeared on the cover of US Vogue’s December 2020 issue, making him the first man ever to land the cover of Vogue. Taken by photographer Tyler Mitchell (who also shot Beyonce’s Vogue cover), the photo featured Styles in a baby blue Gucci gown. The images were well-received by the singer’s fans, who applauded him for his historic shoot and his choice of attire.
Harry’s Style History
Blurring the gender binary through fashion is something Harry’s fans have come to know him for. Since leaving One Direction, Styles has distanced himself sartorially from the sweatshirts and graphic tees underpinning his boyband days. Over the past few years, he and his stylist, Harry Lambert, have opted for knit sweaters, ruffled collars, pearls, and heavily printed suits. His bold fashion moves have been noticed by the likes of Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele, who has hired Styles for his androgynous haute couture campaigns and dressed him in a sheer black top for the Met Gala in 2019.
With the regularity that Harry Styles breaks gender norms in fashion, we were surprised his Vogue cover could cause such a stir. However, the backlash for the dress came in swift from conservatives Candace Owens and Ben Shapiro. In a tweet, Candace Owens accused Harry Styles of attacking masculinity. She argued that “the steady feminization of our men” paired with Marxist ideology “being taught to our children” will be the downfall of western civilization, ending on the sentiment that we need to “bring back manly men.” The reactionary tweet demonstrates a fear of the dissolution of gender and class boundaries. Marcie Bianco for NBC News explains, “conservatives, consciously or not, view traditional boundaries as fundamental not only to society’s permanence but also to their very own understanding of their individual selves.” Harry Styles, in a dress on the cover of Vogue, shows gender norms for what they are: arbitrary and non-binding.
Ben Shapiro supported Candace Owens, stating that “this is perfectly obvious. Anyone who pretends that it is not a referendum on masculinity for men to don floofy dresses is treating you as a full-on idiot.” Shapiro replied to himself with a down thread of tweets about how “the left” has a plan to “feminize masculinity” and how “masculinity and femininity exist” on account of gender roles that uphold society.
Other public figures were quick to come to Styles’s defense, like author Molly Knight, who fired back at Shapiro, saying, “this is a fashion shoot, Ben. It’s art. We are saying Harry can wear whatever the hell he wants. This is only a masculinity emergency for those deeply fragile in their own masculinity.” The progressive congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also defended Styles, saying that his cover “looks wonderful” on her Instagram stories and that “the masculine and feminine elements are balanced beautifully.” AOC went on to comment, “some people are mad at it bc some folks are very sensitive to examining and exploring gender roles in society…perhaps for some people it provokes some anger or insecurity around masculinity/femininity/etc. If it does, then maybe that’s part of the point. Sit with that reaction and think about it, examine it, explore it, engage it, and grow with it.”
Not as Political as it Seems?
So is a man in a dress an attack on masculinity? We don’t see how. Plenty of artists have played with gender norms through fashion before, from Prince to Jaden Smith to Lil Nas X. To act like Harry Styles is doing anything more than posing as the first man on the cover of Vogue is to give him a misguided amount of cultural cachet.
Fenella Hitchcock, a teacher at the London College of Fashion, pointed out in an interview with Dazed that, despite the controversy, Harry Styles’s Vogue cover “is not new or radical. It just reflects the shifts in conversations surrounding masculinity that have been happening for a while.” She pointed out that, if anything, it’s groundbreaking only for Vogue, who has been “quite slow to respond to a shift that’s already happened towards less rigid approaches to categorizing fashion.” Furthermore, his cover is “an issue in terms of who gets to have these transgressive moments. We have cis white men who are celebrated for doing the very things that queer people do in day-to-day life all the time.” Hitchcock believes that the cover is more “flattening” than revolutionary because “some people might think this is what queerness is all about—a man in a dress—when it’s so much more complex than that.”
So, is Harry Styles the pinnacle of style for gender-bending fashion? Possibly to his stans and young fanbase. For those with more of a background in gender non-conforming fashion, the pinnacle could be anyone from Lenny Kravitz to David Bowie to Ru Paul. As for Harry Styles’s take on his fashion choices, he believes that “clothes are there to have fun with and experiment with and play with.”
We agree. Dress however you want, regardless of sartorial gender mores.