Opinion: In defense of Harry Styles wearing a dress

Meghan Dincler | Online Editor

 2020 came with a historic edition of the fashion magazine Vogue: the first edition with a man as the sole focus of the cover. 

That man was British singer and actor Harry Styles, posed on the front of the magazine with ring-clad hands blowing up a light blue balloon, looking stunning as ever in a ruffled blue-gray dress and black suit jacket.

Yes, you read that right. A man, wearing a dress on the cover of Vogue. 

If you’ve somehow never heard of Harry Styles, here’s an overview of his career. He was a singer in the boy band One Direction up until they announced their “18-month” hiatus in late 2015. In 2017 he released his first solo album, titled simply Harry Styles. Finally, in December of 2019, he released his second album Fine Line, which has won multiple awards since its release.

Now, if you’ve been following Styles since he emerged as a solo artist, you’d know that he’s no stranger to dressing differently. He’s become known for sporting suits with abstract colors and patterns, and with the release of Fine Line he was seen playing with fashion even more, employing clothing that was traditionally designed for women. All of this culminates into the almost inevitable controversy that started with his Vogue photoshoot. 

The phrase “bring back manly men” is one that sparks nothing but rage in my mind, as this was thrown at him originally by author and political activist Candace Owens, and then seconded by people all over the internet who felt that a man’s worth was determined by what he wore. Somehow, a single photoshoot led to a debate involving almost everyone who is even remotely connected to Styles, one with two sides: those who agree with Owens and traditional gender stereotypes, and those who agree with Styles in setting a new idea for what defines a “man.”

Styles eloquently addressed fashion and gender norms near the end of his feature. His interview can be summed up in one phrase: clothes have no gender. Just because a man decides to wear a dress doesn’t mean he is any less of a “man,” it simply means that he thought that it looked nice and it made him feel confident. Women are frequently seen experimenting with fashion – just think of all the times you’ve seen a woman wearing a suit – so why can’t men do the same thing? 

Many people are under the false assumption that the traditional patriarchy only affects women. And while it does deeply affect women and their station in society, there are so many ideas that cause issues for men as well. The idea that men can’t show emotion, or that they can’t wear traditionally feminine clothes or do traditionally feminine things all create this unhealthy idea of masculinity that does nothing but put people into a box, and force people to bury important parts of themselves.

By experimenting with… well, style, in such a public light, Styles is trying to set a precedent for future generations: one of confidence as well as vulnerability. In rejecting patriarchal masculinity, he’s able to be unabashedly himself. He shows that you can be both masculine and feminine- or just one or even neither- so long as you’re being true to yourself and doing what makes you feel comfortable and confident. And once you do that, it doesn’t matter what society might think.