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How revolutionary can we really call Harry Styles’ Vogue shoot?

Last week, one such picture of a fabulously ruffled, baby blue Gucci gown ricocheted across Harry Styles’ mammoth fan base. The dress and the Vogue shot formed together an instant classic, reminiscent of J.Lo in Versace, Lady Di’s revenge dress, or Monroe’s Seven Year Itch. But notice something different this time, the dress in the spotlight was adorned by a man.

Styles’ play with cross-dressing is his most nonconformist yet. Vogue’s shoot seems to advocate a call for androgynous clothing that goes beyond the current trend for women. Men’s fashion is not getting left behind – at least not in the fashion world. 

This isn’t exactly without its revolutionary limits, for Harry Styles is of course a cis-gendered, white man with a supportive fan base and connections at Vogue which is again a huge corporate-like magazine. Is this Harry’s fault? Absolutely not. There is however the need to acknowledge the fact that people who fight man stereotypes in their day-to-day lives by wearing dresses or taking on other androgynous dressing styles are fueling a revolution. 

What is not revolutionary in this case happens to be evolutionary. We have witnessed Harry go from a boy-next-door with his polo and chinos-clad teenager to co-hosting the Met Gala wearing a black flowy nipple freeing, mysteriously ruffled and detailed blouse with (sky)high-waisted trousers, heeled shoes and hanging pearl drop earrings. Oh, Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore. 

Thrown into the spotlight at the age of 16 and being in a boyband where the focus is to appeal to an audience of mostly young girls, the pressure to look a certain way lingers in the likes of an unspoken contract. While Harry seems to be very much eternally grateful for his boyband years, he does occasionally address in interviews the pressure to not “mess up” and certain taboos that could damage the boyband image. 

The boy band years – The early 2010’s! From hair feathers to the Harlem shake, what a time to be alive. Harry’s fashion in the early years was very suburban boy chic – if that’s a thing. His signature look was a pair of baggy jeans or chinos, a classic polo, and some sort of blazer. There was also a brief period of purple UGGs, which surely haunts him now. We then progress to when he turned 19 and got some help from puberty and stylists. The hair got bigger, the jeans got tighter, tattoos appear, and we greet the Chelsea boot. Styles mostly sported relatively conventional men’s fashion staples – iterations of a white t-shirt and flannels.

Then came the shoulder length hair and with it, fedoras! The man not only rocked shoulder length hair but also entered a new sphere of fashion. Including embroidered tunics and re-structured blazers, Styles’ jewelry and statement rings came into its own. There’s a whole Pinterest board dedicated to Harry’s ring-clad hands, because that is just how we are nowadays.

Presently, Harry has become something of an unofficial Gucci model. The brand has held a significant sway ever since “that floral Gucci suit”. For those living under a rock, this suit was his pièce de resistance. Black and white, floral pattern with flared trousers and shiny but flowy slicked back long hair, the result was breaking stereotypes and memes. On came more blouses, embracing colours and flared trousers, bold floral prints, and polished slightly heeled shoes. 

The launch of the first solo self-titled album was followed by a tour that saw incredibly customized Gucci suits one after the other. The fits were dreamy, colourful and very much androgynous. Harry looked up to the likes of Bowie, Prince and Jagger who were power-performers and challenged stereotypes themselves. Harry released a set of polaroids where he sports a dress for the first time ‘publicly’. Fans cheered him on as he sported a kilt in Glasgow, and this was his boldest fashion choice yet for his live performances. The man then goes on to co-chairing the Met Gala with a ground-breaking theme that allows for fun and experimentation, “Notes on Camp”. He sported the famous flared trousers look, as well as extremely high heeled shoes. 

We now stand at the recent Vogue cover which shows us just how far he has come with accepting himself, how comfortable he is with experimenting so publicly. Harry’s slogan has always been, “Treat People With Kindness” and this is what he advocates for. It goes beyond a man wearing a dress on a fashion magazine: its about making yourself an idol and using your power to highlight the need to make cross dressing normal for all men. In the interview he says, “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.” That message carries reassurance for someone experiencing something similar and the power that holds is simply beautiful. 

Image: Ernesth Garcia via Flickr