Style with Styles

With Harry Styles’ controversial cover on the fashion magazine Vogue, many have criticized his feminine clothing and masculinity. Barkan discusses what composes “gender” within the modern day and these erroneous criticisms.

Graphic by Emmi Wu ’23/Staff

Harry Styles was only a teenager when he skyrocketed to fame as a part of the boy band sensation One Direction. When the band officially broke up in 2017, Styles sprung into his solo career with his debut album Harry Styles in 2017. He followed this album with the release of Fine Line in 2019, a wild success. Apart from his music, a central part of Styles’s career is fashion. He employs pearls, ties, sweaters, and lace and slowly changes the idea of fashion as we know it.

His attention-drawing fashion sense is one of the main reasons he recently became the first man to solo on the cover of American Vogue. Though the cover already set a new precedent for men starring on Vogue, it also depicted Styles in what many found unbelievable; a dress. Styles’s cover received tons of support on social media. Everyone from fellow celebrities like Kathy Griffin, Jameela Jamil, Olivia Wilde, to congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have voiced their support for the pop star. Though Styles is hardly the first male in music or pop culture to wear traditionally feminine attire, his photoshoot created a lot of discussion on social media. The former One Direction star wearing a gown on the cover of a magazine rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Critics claimed Styles seems “unmanly,” and insulted men aspiring to be more feminine. Leading these attacks were conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro and conservative author Candace Owens. Shapiro fired, “there is no society that can live without manly men… it’s an outright attack. Bring back manly men.” #BringBackManlyMen was a hashtag used across social media platforms. It was originally started by Owens in her series of tweets, posts, and videos expressing her own disgust with Styles and the turn of the culture. Styles even posted a cheeky photo of him in a frilly suit with the same hashtag. Owens and Shapiro received support from people all around the world agreeing that it was high time for “manly men” to be back in fashion.

Being “manly” has nothing to with the clothes you wear, the culture you’re invested in or the art you make. Being “manly” is subjective, as everyone has their own interpretation of what a man is, and society has a very heavy influence over our interpretations of gender. It is therefore vital that we as a society change the way we perceive manliness and masculinity. The idea that gender is a social construct is thrown around a lot today and it is that type of mindset that is at the crux of this debate. We all need to ask ourselves if gender is even important in this day and age? To me, gender is a long outgrown, overemphasized thing in today’s culture. In order to move forward and grow out of these old fashioned ideas of gender, we need people like Styles and magazines such as Vogue who are challenging gender-norms and bringing up important conversations. These conversations bring to light huge problems such as toxic masculinity and more importantly, how and why to fight it. Toxic masculinity discourages emotional vulnerability in boys and men and praises strength and even violence. It is one of the reasons why so many people can’t accept, much less celebrate, gender fluidity. This culture not only leads to serious mental problems for young boys, but also can be cited as the cause for many cases of domestic abuse of women and spreads the idea of women’s inferiority. This societal change is long overdue and we each have an obligation to change the way we perceive others and grow out of these old, overused concepts of gender. Our existence thrives off of self-expression and it is essential that we don’t let a single piece of clothing define who a person is.

Being a man should come with the same expectations as any other gender. Being kind, being respectful, being aware, and being human makes a man, not an article of clothing. The fact that we need to have this debate is disgusting, but not surprising. As a society, we have to let go of our preconceived notions of what a man is. We need to reinvent our perception of gender as whole. What Styles is doing is brave, bold, and revolutionary and is becoming an important part of his career. But more importantly, it is showing kids all across the world that there is a future for us where every single person can express themselves no matter their gender.