How Harry Styles became the face of gender-neutral fashion

In becoming the first solo man to grace the cover of US Vogue – and in a dress – the singer has cemented his place at the vanguard of the movement

Harry Styles was unveiled as the first solo male cover star of US Vogue last week – and in a dress to boot. He wore a custom-made, lace-trimmed Gucci ballgown dressed with a tuxedo jacket.

Nine men have featured on the cover previously, but always as part of a couple. They include Kanye West, Justin Bieber and Styles’ former bandmate Zayn Malik. The cover of the December issue was photographed by Tyler Mitchell, who in 2018 became the first black photographer to shoot a US Vogue cover, featuring Beyoncé.

Styles – who was also photographed for the magazine in a Comme des Garçons kilt, a Wales Bonner knitted skirt and a Victorian-era crinoline – is a trailblazer of gender-neutral dressing, as championed by labels such as Art School, No Sesso and Harris Reed – a collaborator of Styles’.

Styles on the cover of US Vogue’s December issue.
Styles on the cover of US Vogue’s December issue. Photograph: Tyler Mitchell

In an accompanying interview, the singer said the “lines” of what you should wear based on your gender were crumbling away. “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,” he said. “I’ll go in shops sometimes, and I just find myself looking at the women’s clothes thinking they’re amazing. It’s like anything – anytime you’re putting barriers up in your own life, you’re just limiting yourself.”

Styles also spoke about his love of fashion. “There’s so much joy to be had in playing with clothes,” he said. “I’ve never really thought too much about what it means – it just becomes this extended part of creating something.”

The singer, who was named the most influential celebrity dresser of 2020 by the shopping platform Lyst, has challenged norms in the past by wearing a pearl earring to the 2019 Met Gala and stack heels on the red carpet, as well as by displaying manicured nails.

Styles is the first man to grace the cover of Vogue solo in it’s 127 year history.
Styles is the first man to grace the cover of Vogue solo in it’s 127 year history. Photograph: Tyler Mitchell

“Generation Z has rejected the societal restraints previously put upon them and demanded we look beyond the binary,” says Christina Zervanos, the head of PR at the gender-neutral clothing shop The Phluid Project. “Twenty-seven per cent of teens identity as gender non-conformist, while 81% of generation Z believe a person shouldn’t be defined by their gender … 56% of generation Z shop outside their assigned gender.”

Styles’ Vogue cover has caused controversy among right wing pundits in the US, with the conservative author Candace Owens tweeting: “bring back manly men.”

“We are in a time of unlearning and relearning,” says Zervanos. “This requires empathy and patience. We need to invest in inclusion – in our personal and professional lives alike.”


Priya Elan

The GuardianTramp

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