Harry Styles breaks barriers in controversial Vogue cover

The pop star turned fashion icon overnight by wearing traditionally feminine clothes for the popular magazine


Via Vogue Magazine

Photo taken from Vogue, photography by Tyler Mitchell.

Sophie Shram, Arts & Culture Writer

On November 13, 2020, the internet was broken once again, this time by former One Direction member, Harry Styles who not only became the first male solo artist to appear alone on the cover of Vogue Magazine, but also the first man in 127 years to appear wearing a dress. The singer-songwriter wore a stunning baby blue, frothy, lace trimmed gown paired with a black double breasted-tuxedo jacket.

Styles has always been known for having an immaculate style and taste in clothing. His fans continuously praise him for wearing gender non-conforming clothing, or typically “feminine” outfits. His attempts to break the stereotypes set around clothing is one of the many reasons his fans adore him. In an interview with Vogue discussing his fashion he stated, “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 also added that for clothing, “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.”

While Styles’ fans adored his expression of male femininity on “the world’s most influential fashion magazine” as described by the New York Times, many disagreed with his choice. Critics claimed that Styles’ appearing in a dress is an attack on masculinity. On November 28, 2020, conservative commentator, Candace Owens, mocked Styles by tweeting, “There is no society that can survive without strong men….Bring back manly men.” Fans were quick to respond and clap back with examples of iconic singers such as David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Kurt Kobain crossdressing to prove that femininity does make anyone less of a man. Even “Lord of the Rings” star Elijah Woods stated that “Masculinity alone does not make a man, in fact it’s got nothing to do with it.” 

Styles reaffirmed the contemporary idea that manliness is based on cultural trends of the time, and has nothing to do with actual manhood. Additionally, many took the opportunity to point out the internalized toxic masculinity in critiques of Styles, and to open the eyes of critics and show them the harm it can cause to young males’ or anyone’s ideas of themselves. People pointed out that freedom of expression, especially through clothing, is essential for growing adolescents to be able to figure themselves out. 

Despite the backlash and controversy, Styles’ support prevailed when Vogue’s December issue needed to be waitlisted due to its abundant demand. A source from Condé Nast, a global media company, stated, “We sold 40,000 subscriptions since launch a little over a week ago, and have already ordered a second print run.” 

Though some show contempt for the singer’s decision to don a dress, the support and admiration is clear with the sales of the magazine, and the quick actions taken defend the singer on social media. Harry Styles’ decision to appear in the gorgeous gown was an effective step taken to help normalize male femininity, and to show that clothes have no limits or gender. Despite the controversy, Styles holds firm on his stance to break the gender barriers surrounding clothing and continues to awe and inspire fans to do the same and wear what makes them feel confident.