Harry Styles breaks antiquated gender norms in fashion, proving people can wear what they please

David Bowie performs at Charlotte Park Center, NC in 1974.

Photos by Wikimedia Commons

David Bowie performs at Charlotte Park Center, NC in 1974.

Abby Pikett, Editor-in-Chief

For the December 2020 issue of American Vogumagazine, Harry Styles made history by appearing on the cover, alone, while wearing a blazer over the top of a dress designed by Gucci. Styles’ confidence when breaking traditional gender norms in fashion has led many of his fans and notable celebrities to praise him even more than before, while others see Styles’ photoshoot as a disgrace. 

Critics of Styles’ outfit have coined the term “bring back manly men” in an attempt to suggest that Styles is not masculine, simply because he chooses to dress the way he pleases. Although these critics want men to stay within the lines of their definitions of ‘masculine,’ it should not be up to them to decide how other people choose to live their lives, in the clothes they prefer. 

This is not the first time that Styles has dressed outside of traditional masculine fashion styles, and it certainly is not the first time that a male in the music industry has dressed this way either, but unsurprisingly, he still received hate for something as simple as wearing a dress. 

Some of Styles’ music idols from history set the stage for him and many other young men to ignore the hate and dress how they please. Some of music’s greatest artists like Prince, David Bowie, Elton John and Freddie Mercury were breaking gender norms in fashion long before Styles was even born.

Although Style’s is not the first man in the music industry to have a bold and nonconforming personal style, it is still inspiring and important for many teenagers to have a younger, more modern and relatable music idol to look up to and feel represented by.

It is unfortunate and unnerving that Styles’ haters express their discomfort with his fashion so blatantly because Styles’ serves as a figure of progress for others and society. When one puts the situation in simple terms, it is easy to tell how silly the whole fiasco is, especially compared with the rest of the events from this year. People are upset with a beloved male pop star for wearing a dress.

It is interesting to note the history of women breaking their gender norms, from as early as World War I to as recently as the 2019 Oscars. Traditionally, pants and suit styles were reserved for working class men and served as an icon of masculinity. Women in the United States began wearing pants during the world wars, as well as after for sports or leisure. Until the 1960s and 70s, women’s fashion was largely focused on skirts and dresses, but the Women’s Rights Movement solidified pants in the American woman’s wardrobe and women have been seen wearing pants at work and home ever since. 

Women today are not seen as less feminine because they choose to wear pants over a skirt, so it is illogical to say a man is less masculine if he chooses to wear a skirt over pants. Even more recently, female celebrities have started wearing tailored suits to events such as the Oscars and the Grammys. The ‘power suit’ has gained praise from fans and many agree that female celebrities look comfortable confident in a style traditionally worn by men. So while women in the spotlight gain praise for stepping outside traditional gender norms in fashion, why is it that men who do the same have historically received more messages of hate and discomfort?

It is interesting to look at the demographics of the people enraged by Styles’ outfits. Unsurprisingly, it has been mostly conservatives. When it comes to gender or race issues, historically, conservatives have been the ones to spread their disgust with such matters. For example, conservatives in North Carolina strongly endorsed the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, commonly known as House Bill 2 or HB2, in 2016. This bill openly discriminated against transgender people who simply wanted to use the bathroom that corresponded with their gender. More recently, conservatives have shown their hate towards the Black Lives Matter movement, whose purpose was to give Black Americans a voice in a country that has consistently put them down.

Now, with Styles’ outfits, Candace Owens, a conservative pundit, tweeted her opinion in response to Styles’ Vogue photoshoot and wrote, “There is no society that can survive without strong men.” This is ironic because it takes more strength for a man to dress outside of their assigned gender norms in a society where they will undeniably receive backlash from men and women like Candace Owens, than it does to sit back and feel insecure with one’s masculinity.

 Styles simply wants to wear what makes him confident without feeling insecure. The problem is not a man wearing a dress. The problem is the people who only have something hurtful to say about someone and choose to spread negativity in a world that needs kindness more than ever. Nowadays, it seems many people, no matter their political stances or moral views, choose hate over love and kindness, which is extremely disappointing. Although it is hard for people to stay silent on the things that anger them these days, it may be worth trying to speak more on the events that bring one joy. 

2020 has been a year filled with enough hate, from events such as the election, outrage against the Black Lives Matter movement and controversy over the coronavirus pandemic. It would seem that as  a start of a new year begins, it would be a good time to put down the flaming torches and end all the hatred that has been boiling over since March. If there is one piece of advice everyone can take from Harry Styles, it is to, “treat people with kindness.” 

You can check out the photo gallery for this article here.