Harry Styles, a British singer-songwriter, was the first man to appear on the cover of Vogue by himself. However, this fact is not what has caused controversy in the media in relation to his Vogue appearance.
The controversy has arisen because he wore a dress.
Men dressing flamboyantly, and in some ways feminine, is not something new. Popular male musicians like Elton John and David Bowie have also dressed in questionable attire but this became part of their persona and act – an accepted extension of their personalities. This could be argued similarly for Harry Styles as before he has been pictured in clothing some may consider more feminine, such as his yellow suit for the 2020 Brits awards.
Across social media, images of Harry Styles in a dress quickly spread with men and women standing with him in support or standing against him in disgust. The phrase of ‘masculine men’ became associated with the images as people argued whether a man wearing a dress should be considered acceptable.
The belief that heterosexual men must be ‘masculine men’ who are heavily into sports and cars with a broad knowledge in handyman jobs reinforces all stereotypes in society. This belief would suggest that heterosexual women would have to be feminine and delicate, that gay men are always camp and that any buff female must be a lesbian. This stereotyping is incorrect as it causes people who do not fit into these boxes to feel excluded and unable to identify with who they perceive themselves to be.
Additionally, it works against the feminist movement in which people are fighting for gender equality. If stereotypes are accepted then surely women are too delicate to work in hard labour and not assertive enough to have jobs as politicians, managers, CEOs and more. This we know is not true.
If a man chooses to wear a dress it should not be ridiculed and questioned. Clothing is often used as an expression of emotion or personality, especially in the arts. Their fashion choices do not reduce them to a lesser man. Harry Styles is not less of a man for wearing a dress. In fact, it can be argued that he is more of a man because he is confident enough to wear it and parade it across the front of Vogue – the most famous fashion magazine.
Men wearing skirts or dresses is a part of history. In the Ancient world men wore togas – dresses. This was due to the simplistic design and the fairly breathable fabric. In Scotland, kilts – which are similar to skirts – are still an important part of their culture and have been for a long time. In Islamic culture men wear long thobes that have similar appearances to dresses. Again, this is due to their breathability and practicality in the heat.
A man wearing a dress should not have caused the negative response that Harry Styles had directed towards him. Although there will always be trolls on the internet, this controversy shows that stereotypes still need to be fought against so that everyone can express themselves freely.