Harry Styles’ ‘Vogue’ Cover May Be Historic, but It Isn’t Radical
For his history-making “Vogue” issue, Harry Styles—the magazine’s first ever solo male cover star—wore a baby blue Gucci dress and said he believes “you can never be overdressed.”
Harry Styles, the singer formerly of One Direction fame, has become the first-ever solo male cover star of Vogue. (Other famous men like Justin Bieber, Richard Gere, and Styles’ old bandmate Zayn Malik have posed for the glossy, but always alongside women.)
He looks wonderful. The cover, shot by photographer Tyler Mitchell, features Styles in a baby blue Victorian-style Gucci ballgown. In accompanying images, he also wore a Comme des Garçons kilt and Harris Reed petticoat.
“You can never be overdressed. There’s no such thing,” Styles told Hamish Bowles, Vogue’s European editor-at-large and author of the profile. He cites his fashion influences as “showmen” like Prince, David Bowie, Elvis, Freddie Mercury, and Elton John.
Styles spoke in the article about shopping in the women’s section of clothing stores. His personal stylist, Harry Lambert, added that the singer owns “a new army of mini purses.” Alessandro Michele, the creative director of Gucci and a friend of Styles, called the singer a “revolutionary” who is “really in touch with his feminine side.”
Of course, the sight of a famous man in a dress is hardly new and not transgressive, at least when it comes to the world of high fashion. Vogue knows this, and cited moments where male musicians ever-so-gently tiptoed across gender binary lines—Mick Jagger in a white romantic dress while singing in Hyde Park in 1969, Kurt Cobain in a printed dress on the cover of The Face magazine.
It is also not uncommon to see gender-binary blurring dressing in the high fashion world. The French designer Jean Paul Gaultier shocked his runway audiences when he debuted a skirt for men, but that was in 1985. Since then, Vivienne Westwood, Marc Jacobs, Giorgio Armani, Kenzo, and Rei Kawakubo have released their own designs.
“What’s really exciting is that all of these lines are just kind of crumbling away,” Styles said. “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... 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.”
Of course, as a white cisgender man, Styles has the privilege of not having to “think too much about what it means” to put on a dress. However thirst-inducing these photos may be—and, if you ask stan Twitter, the answer is, very—Styles is still an extremely conventional choice for Vogue’s first man. (The glossy, which has been the subject of a few exposés this summer about its lack of inclusion, has lagged when it comes to promoting authentic diversity.)
Indeed, most of the men Styles listed as influences were gay, bisexual, or at least promoted visual expressions of queerness at a time when it was genuinely edgy to do so. Styles no doubt knows this but refrained from saying anything meaningful about sexuality or gender identity other than, basically: I like to play dress up.
This is reminiscent of the time a Guardian reporter asked Styles about his sexuality, and he answered, “It’s: who cares? Does that make sense? It’s just: who cares?” Answer: the many jurisdictions around the world where being LGBTQ is outlawed or subject to harshly enforced stigmatization.
In this country “religious freedom” is currently being used in courts, including the Supreme Court, and state legislatures as a weapon against LGBTQ people and their civil rights. It would be great to hear celebrities talk about things like this in high-profile interviews as freely as they borrow from the LGBTQ dressing-up box, and opine that sexuality is not a big deal to them.
Styles has supported the community in his own visual ways: waving the rainbow flag at concerts, helping a fan come out to her mother, and saying things on stage like, “I mean, we’re all a little bit gay, aren’t we?” He has talked at length about his attempts to make his tours inclusive, telling Rolling Stone, “I want to make people feel comfortable being whatever they want to be. Maybe at a show, you can have a moment of knowing that you’re not alone.”
His fans generally see him as an ally and do not seem to mind his hesitancy to speak directly about sexuality. “That doesn’t feel like politics to me,” he said during a French interview. “Stuff like equality feels much more fundamental.” True, but it is not enjoyed universally, hence the need for continued LGBTQ activism.
In the Guardian interview, Styles addressed his fluid aesthetics. “Am I sprinkling in nuggets of sexual ambiguity to try and be more interesting? No,” he said. “In terms of how I wanna dress, and what the album sleeve’s gonna be, I tend to make decisions in terms of collaborators I want to work with. I want things to look a certain way. Not because it makes me look gay, or it makes me look straight, or it makes me look bisexual, but because I think it looks cool. And more than that, I dunno, I just think sexuality’s something that’s fun.” If only the law and policymakers agreed.
When asked by the Guardian about his own sexuality, Styles declined to comment and basically said, it is none of your business. “What I would say, about the whole being-asked-about-my-sexuality thing—this is a job where you might get asked… You respect that someone’s gonna ask. And you hope that they respect they might not get an answer.”
Vogue does not ask him such things, or about his wider political views, yet Styles is propped up by the magazine as an avatar of cultural revolution.
Anyway, the images are gorgeous. It looks like everyone had a great time making the cover. Good on Styles for having some fun with his dressing after a quarantine where he admitted to wearing “sweatpants, constantly.” And congratulations to him for being the first solo man on the cover of Vogue. He is just not, by a long shot, the first man to proudly wear a dress—or to have something to say about it.