Harry Styles’ ‘Vogue’ cover isn’t a threat to masculinity

Men can be manly in a dress

Styles in a dress.
If you opened Instagram on Nov. 13, you likely saw images of Harry Styles shared across your friends’ stories. 
Styles appeared in American Vogue as the first ever solo-appearing male celebrity to be on the cover of the magazine. On the cover, Styles is photographed wearing a powder blue Dolce & Gabbana dress with a black blazer thrown over top. 
Throughout the pages of his editorial, Styles reflects on his own sense of style and his fashion transformation since his years in One Direction. His words are accompanied by photos of him dressed in variety of suits and dresses.  
The infamous Vogue dress is far from his first diversion from traditional men’s fashion—Styles has made a variety of bold fashion statements in the past. His appearance at the 2019 Met Gala when he donned a sheer, frilly blouse accompanied with loose trousers, a pair of heeled black boots, and a single pearl earring is particularly memorable. A large part of Styles’ acclaim is credited to his bold fashion choices. However, while several individuals admire Styles for the fluidity of his personal style, some prominent conservative figures have met Styles’ most recent fashion statement with harsh backlash.
The day after Styles’ cover went viral, Candace Owens, a prominent American conservative political commentator, tweeted out condemning Styles’ Vogue shoot. She cited the “steady feminization of our men” as an attack on masculinity and advocated for Western culture to “bring back manly men.” Ben Shapiro, another conservative commentator, supported Owens’ statement, tweeting: “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.”
Styles has famously avoided putting himself in a box and conforming to certain labels. From adamantly refusing to define his sexuality to exploring gender-fluidity through fashion, it’s clear that Styles isn’t trying to project a certain standard for men to adhere to—he’s simply expressing his identity as he sees fit. 
Styles isn’t the first male celebrity to embrace more flamboyant styles in a public setting; David Bowie would often wear makeup and campy jumpsuits in public, and Prince donned frilly shirts during performances and embraced androgynous fashion. More recently, we’ve seen men at major fashion events such as the Met Gala donning styles that are typically characterized as being more feminine. For these men, their stylistic choices are not a reflection of the supposed compromised masculinity to which Owens and Shapiro mention, but an expression of confidence, an eagerness to explore, and a willingness to make a fashionable spectacle.  
Though Styles has made a spectacle with his Vogue cover, it shouldn’t be considered a negative spectacle. The attention the cover has attracted has called for a celebration of males in the mainstream, public eye that embrace the fact that men can wear dresses and still be masculine. 
At the end of the day, we should consider Harry Styles’ fashion choices to be what they are: an artist further developing and expressing his identity as he wants to. While commentators like Owens and Shapiro may see self-expression as an attack on masculinity, it’s important not to misrepresent represent fashion as anything other than what it is: self-expression. 

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