Breaking the internet - and masculinity

By Lily Mirfin (she/her)

When Harry Styles graced the cover of US Vogue wearing a dress, Gen Z girls were shaken. But, of course, Harry Styles was the one to do this. I mean, what other musical sensation would do this? Well, if the world was a bit more open in previous decades, that could have been Elton John or David Bowie. Or even Billy Porter in 2019. The world just needed Styles to come along and throw gender stereotypes in everybody’s face.  

I work retail, and over Christmas, we were giving people their clothes in pink bags. Certain middle-aged men seemed to kick up a fuss about this. One man even said, “You don’t expect a self-respecting man to carry this bag, do you?” So, I handed him a white bag and said, “enjoy the rest of your day.” But what sort of “self-respecting man” would feel threatened to carry a pink shopping bag in a mall? Was his masculinity really so fragile that it would feel threatened by one single colour? Some men just need to realise that a certain colour associated with femininity is not going to cause any harm. Nor is wearing a skirt or a string of pearls. They’re just clothes, and it’s just a colour.  

Actor Billy Porter surprised everyone when he wore a half tuxedo, half gown to the 2019 Academy Awards designed by Christian Siriano. He was inspired by his mother and grandmother, who always dressed stylishly growing up. Porter described to Vogue US how “When you’re black, and you’re gay, one’s masculinity is in question.” But why should a simple piece of fabric stand between what is masculine and what is feminine? Or shoes, for that matter. Porter describes how wearing his costumes, which included enormously tall heels in Kinky Boots, made him “feel the most masculine I’ve ever felt in my life.” Porter summarises how silly it is that we place these strict gender roles upon clothing when these roles have changed with time.  

The clothing that Billy Porter and Harry Styles currently wear threatens fragile masculinity. True masculinity should not be threatened by one string of pearls or a pointed shoe.  

Clothing is clothing. If you feel more like yourself in a skirt or in pants, then that should be your decision. If wearing a kilt isn’t particularly ground-breaking, why is a half-tuxedo-half-gown suddenly a shock to the system?  

Harry Styles wasn’t the first music artist to wear feminine clothing. But he has a unique fan base. Artists like David Bowie or Elton John weren’t popular at a young age; Harry Styles was. He has grown up and developed with our age demographic. Gen Z is open-minded and seems to be more open to differences and questioning societal norms. Styles jumps on this open-minded approach and wears outfits untypical for one of the biggest men in music today: the lace gloves, the pearls, and the crochet. It makes me excited about how much the traditional lines of masculinity and femininity will be broken down and blended in the next few years.  

Harry Styles will continue to break the internet with his outfits until we realise that freaking out over a popular man wearing lace or pearls shouldn’t be ground-breaking. It’s amazing to see such a high flyer wearing these items, but shouldn’t we have progressed past this point already? But clearly, Harry needed to give us a reminder that we still have a way to go.