Harry Styles’ Breaks Clothing Barriers

by Chloe Caudill / Garnet & Black

 Whether you hear Harry Styles’ and think of his boy-band-era filled with prep school styled blazers and skinny jeans, or his sheer ruffled sleeved suit and single pearl earring while hosting the 2019 Met Gala, Styles’ most praised asset continues to be his style. 

Now, Styles has continued to champion fashion across the gender lines.

During a Vogue photoshoot Styles wore — wait for it — a dress! And not just an A-line dress, but a black and white ruffled dress, trimmed with black lace and, of course, tight synching.

Since the release of Vogue’s cover featuring Styles, frantic women have clutched their favorite dresses and hid them deep within the closet, hoping it would go unnoticed by male friends or significant others. 

The question everyone is debating: Why does wearing a dress take away from a man’s masculinity? 

Though neither gender has a lock on dresses, some saw this cover as stylish fun while others saw it as a feminist ploy to weaken men. 

Traditionalist women believed that dresses should be preserved for those with breasts. 

“They don’t want the gender neutrality of Switzerland, they don’t want a referendum on masculinity, they certainly don’t want men in dresses,” Vogue journalist Raven Smith wrote.

Some men took action via the internet and rallied forces. They claim that Styles’ outfits are “an outright attack” on traditional values that will lead to the annihilation of gender (for better or for worse). 

While this was not the first time Styles’ style has been thrown into the lion's den, it was considered his most fiery outing so far.

The question of gender was thrust back into the global conversation again during the 2021 Grammys when Styles wore a full leather Gucci suit, which he accessorized with none other than a light green feather boa.

(A quick historical context for all of you not smitten/up to date with your boa history. Cream-colored feather boas were worn by elegant women from the 17th century onward. )

But Styles did not just say one boa and done, there’s more!

Styles’ added a bright purple feather boa for his Red Carpet outfit. To garner more excitement for the breaking of gender barriers, Styles borrowed Cher Horowitz’s signature style: yellow plaid blazer. Paired together, swoon or gag? 

Let’s be frank here. Styles’ has style. But is his style good? 

On the surface, his outfits are the combination of six-year-olds playing dress-up. Or a representation of your refrigerator doodle masterpiece (remember when your mom told you to draw a picture for the fridge and you scribbled with four different crayons?). 

He mixes and matches funky patterns, colors and textures, giving each piece their time to shine! 

Side note: After Styles wore a boa to the Grammys, boas went out of stock. Hey now, talk about being a follower!

On their own, each garment would never even be dared to be put together. The average person would only wear an outfit fitting his specific formula after losing a bet during an all-night drinking marathon. 

Yet, somehow, Styles' funky outfits manage to look elegant while being the very definition of a  chaotic mess. His unique outfits scored him artistic brownie points from moms across the country. 

While not all of Styles' fashion choices have not been as showstopping or controversial, his recent fashion timeline consistently mixed elements deemed ‘masculine' and ‘feminine,’  challenging the gender binary that society upholds.

Where did this gender division come from?

History shows men dressed in gowns as more common than men in suits. 

In Ancient Rome, embroidered togas were worn by the wealthy to separate men in lower standings. Women were prohibited from wearing the gown-like draping altogether. 

Across the pond, in Europe and Japan, royalty wore outfits that resembled the airiness of dresses: velvet gowns and kimonos, respectively. In Fiji, men wore the sulu vakataga, a fabric wrap that tucks over at the waist and reaches midway between knee and ankle. In Tahiti, a similar style is known as a pareo. In Hawaii, it's a kikepa.

Fast forward to the 20th Century: the era of musicians as chameleons. 

You couldn’t just wear a boa and a suit because David Bowie was doing all that plus mixed matched long sleeves, glitter jumpsuits wide half apple-shaped pant sleeves (more famously known as sequined jumpsuit based on the concept of hikinuki) and his most favorite accessory: eyeshadow, and an occasional necktie and eye patch! 

Prince’s aesthetic was a combustion of bright purple and green metallic jackets, gold medallion necklaces, smudged eyeliner, platform heels and the occasional mini dress. Prince's iconic outfits proved once again to be the fashion icon we deserve (and need). 

Artists during the 20th century were applauded for their ever-changing style, changing persons as often as they changed clothes and no one said anything about their masculinity. 

In the 21st Century, designers continue to fight for the bending of gender quos. Thom Browne’s Spring/Summer 2018 Menswear featured a hybrid ensemble of groom and bride. The front of the outfit displays Browne's take on a groom's tux, while the back appears as a lace wedding dress.

How are people reacting? 

“When it comes to swag, there’s no gender involved,” Atlanta-born rapper, Young Thug's choice said. 

Thug wore a periwinkle maxi skirt with overall-like features for his Album cover “No My Name is Jeffery.” 

While not all male celebrities are flaunting dresses (yet), some celebrities, both male and female, have shown their support for gender fluidity on social media. 

Actor, Jameela Jamil, from The Good Place, tweeted, “Harry Styles is plenty manly, because manly is whatever you want it to be.” 

To prove her point, Jamil’s post included images of 18th-century powerful men who wore makeup, tight garments, powdered wigs, and heels. 

While today’s fashion lookbooks have yet to include men in tight garments and powdered wigs, men’s outfits throughout history were nothing short of the funky refrigerator masterpiece. So seriously why all this fuss? If anything we should be fussing about how Harry Styles could do more, couldn’t we?

Instagam posts on Styles’ account indicate that he plans to do just that! His recent posts include photos of him in a rosy pink ballerina leotard, sequin blazers and his newest obsession: boas. 

Did Style declare War World 3? The fight for the end of archaic gender norms? The war to end all wars! 

"Clothes are there to have fun with and experiment with and play with. What's really exciting is that all of these lines are just kind of crumbling away," Styles said. "When you take away 'There's clothes for men and there's clothes for women,' once you remove any barriers, obviously you open up the arena in which you can play."

"I'll go in shops sometimes, and I just find myself looking at the women's clothes thinking they're amazing,”  Styles said. “It's like anything—anytime you're putting barriers up in your own life, you're just limiting yourself. There's so much joy to be had in playing with clothes. I've never really thought too much about what it means—it just becomes this extended part of creating something."

By speaking out, Styles has been inspiring others to embrace their individuality. 

Connor Keaney who hails from Kings Norton, Birmingham, cites Styles as his style inspiration. When Connor came out as part of the LGBTQ+ community at age 16,  he admitted that he was not very 'confident' and hid how he wanted to dress.

Connor, who is now 26, explained that he felt empowered and more 'confident' to evolve his style after seeing more and more people identify as non-binary. 

He does not believe in labeling fashion because it's just 'material. His motto is, “If I look good and I want to wear it I'll wear it.” 

For Connor, this mindset has provided him with a  “big confidence boost.”

Styles position in society as a white man who has refused to label his sexuality has allowed for the gradual normalization of men in dresses. 

“Wearing a dress shows I can be as feminist as I want. I’m a hetersexual...big deal, but if I was homosexual, it wouldn’t matter either,” Kurt Cobain said. 

My advice: Don’t get swept up in the debate of whether trousers make the man. Our souls are our judge of character not the price tag on the back of our cow print flare bottoms. 

If you're a man debating whether or not to walk into your next city trip, the question is: what would make you happy? If you want to wear a sparkly sequin dress, do it. If you don’t like the airyness of a dress, go smaller, think skirt! And if you're thinking this isn’t for me, don’t fret, no one is holding that against you. 

Wear what makes you feel most confident. Let your clothes be an extension of who you are, not who you are. 

There is no better time to experiment with your style; look at Styles’ fashion transformation timeline if you don’t believe me!