Men of colour paved the path for Harry Styles’ genderless fashion

Let’s credit the racialized men who spearheaded androgynous expression

Feminine and androgynous fashion do not start with Harry Styles.

When I saw Harry Styles on the cover of Vogue wearing a dress, I knew the moment was monumental. His editorial, though striking, was also reminiscent of androgynous looks previously spearheaded by racialized pop culture icons. 

Immediately following his Vogue cover, the media exploded with coverage of Styles’ periwinkle blue gown and what it meant for the future of gendered fashion. But in this cultural conversation, there seemed to be an erasure of men of colour who paved the path for Styles’ sartorial choices. I immediately thought of men like Jaden Smith, Prince, and Freddie Mercury. 

Styles’ cover represented something revolutionary for fans. In a sea of social media coverage, I vividly remembered Jaden Smith’s decision to model as the face of Louis Vuitton in 2016—wearing a skirt. His decision made me question the confines of masculinity, and appreciate art and fashion in a completely new light. 

Then 17-year-old Smith, son of the unforgettable Will Smith, grappled with intense backlash online at the intersection of racial and gendered expectations.

Nicolas Ghesquière, creative director of Louis Vuitton, told the New York Times in an interview that Jaden Smith “represents a generation that has assimilated the codes of true freedom, one that is free of manifestoes and questions about gender. Wearing a skirt comes as naturally to him as it would to a woman who, long ago, granted herself permission to wear a man’s trench or a tuxedo.”

Harry Styles was not the first to start conversations about freedom through fashion and genderless style, even though he is one of the most notable recent fashion icons. 

Long before both Styles and Smith, Prince completely disrupted ideas of gender in his fearless fashion choices. Sporting high heels, ruffled shirts, crop tops, and lace gloves, the singer who gave the world “When Doves Cry” also gave us unapologetically eccentric looks—worn with confidence and charisma. 

His most famous outfits were feminine, elaborate, and unprecedented—including his unforgettable pastel sequined suit topped with a pink feather boa. 

In Rami Malek’s brilliant portrayal of Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, we were reminded of Mercury’s quintessential costume looks, which also arguably paved the path for Styles to shine. Stylist Charlotte Pilcher described Mercury’s style as “very single-minded and always tight.”

Mercury’s style was, to be blunt, unheard of. He pushed every boundary imaginable, especially when he wore a plunging silver sequin jumpsuit in 1977. His dynamic looks were even more meaningful when considering the fact that he was born to Indian immigrants. He defied cultural expectations to become an international phenomenon in a very homophobic and racist world.  

Harry Styles is undoubtedly talented, dreamy, and continuing the legacy of androgynous fashion. However, it’s important to credit his racialized predecessors, who bent the rules of gender and fashion and championed individual expression regardless of the backlash. 

Instead of revering Styles as the pioneer of genderless fashion for our generation, it's important to credit his racialized predecessors—and celebrate Styles as one part of the fashion revolution.

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