In Defense of Harry Styles


Tyler Mitchell, Vogue

Harry Styles was the first man to appear on the cover of Vogue Magazine.

Anna Pierson, Staff Writer

Styles’ Vogue cover. The December issue of the magazine sparked a broad conversation about gender expression on social media (Photographer: Tyler Mitchell).

Vogue Magazine and British singer-songwriter Harry Styles made history Nov. 13 when he became the first-ever male cover star of the magazine. The cover beautifully challenges gender stereotypes, as Styles is dressed in a periwinkle blue dress paired with a black blazer.

“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,” Styles told Vogue. “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.”

Immediately upon its release, controversy sparked media-wide, especially among prominent conservatives. Many voiced their disapproval of Styles’ clothing. 

“Bring back manly men,” wrote right-wing media commentator Candace Owens via tweet, ignorantly suggesting that Styles dressing in more feminine clothing somehow makes him less of a man.

Fellow conservative media commentator Ben Shapiro agrees with the claims made by Owens.

“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,” wrote Shapiro.

Actor Elijah Wood offered a perfect response to Owens and Shapiro. “I think you’ve missed the definition of what a man is,” Wood posted on Twitter. “Masculinity alone does not make a man, in fact, it’s got nothing to do with it.”

Yes, Harry Styles wore a dress. So what? Men don’t owe you masculinity. 

Let alone, challenging gender norms through clothing is not new to men in the music industry. Music icons including Prince and David Bowie embraced femininity and androgynous fashion.

Still, Owens continued to express her criticism on an Instagram live stream. 

“There is no society that can survive without strong men,” she said. To her, feminine clothing on men is an indication of frailty. “You have a whole lot of human history for you to look at. The role of men is to defend, it’s the role to protect.”

Okay then, let’s look at human history.

Dating all the way back to the age of hunters and gatherers, societies actually functioned with fluid gender roles. Many consider the hunting aspect to be a male-biased role, however, based on a 2020 study led by Randall Haas, an archaeologist and assistant professor of anthropology at UC Davis, the hunter-gatherer societies among the Late Pleistocene/Early Holocene populations were most likely gender-neutral. 

Later on, as the distinction between genders became more prominent, both males and females were favored to participate in big-game hunting. Not every male was a hunter, some were gatherers, and vice versa for females.

So, contrary to Owens’ claims, societies can function in ways that she may not view as “traditional.” Certain roles of men and women may sometimes differ, but men should not be confined to one while women are confined to another. 

Prohibiting men from expressing themselves through clothing because you view it as “not normal” and less “manly” fuels the toxic masculinity that is already abundant in our society today.

A person’s strength is not defined by what they wear.

Styles, dawning a traditionally more “masculine” outfit than his dress look, aimed to prove that gender identity and expression is completely fluid and flexible (Photographer: Tyler Mitchell).

If men are expected to be courageous, how does authentic self-expression make him less of a man? How does a man being comfortable in his own skin make him weak?

Feminine clothing on men is not an “attack” on anything, despite what some conservative commentators claim. In no way should it be viewed as a “threat to society” or a ploy for leftists to “push an agenda.” Men dressed in feminine clothing are not a result of “toxic females” and “fake feminism.”

Men dressed in feminine clothing are simply men wanting to embrace themselves through their style. 

“I’ll put on something that feels really flamboyant, and I don’t feel crazy wearing it,” said Styles. “I think if you get something that you feel amazing in, it’s like a superhero outfit. Clothes are there to have fun with and experiment with and play with.”