Harry Styles: Breaking The Gender Binary


The 26 year old singer-songwriter grazes the cover of Vogue in a ball gown, sparking conversations about masculinity.

Singer, songwriter, composer, and actor, Harry Styles, has made history once again, and it isn’t for one of his best-selling albums. The English 26 year old became the first solo man to flaunt on the cover of Vogue magazine, and that’s not the only thing making history. In the December edition of Vogue, Styles sports a lilac blue ball gown with black lace trimming, covered by a black blazer. The extravagant get-up was designed and created by Alessandro Michele, the creative director of Gucci.

It’s no secret that the cover of Vogue has seen many controversies or has upset people in the past. The cover that displays Styles sent many right wing ideologies into a state of acrimony, and many gender conformists are calling both Vogue and Styles out for breaking the gender binary.

Harry Styles’ statement dress on the cover of Vogue made people like Ben Shapiro, a conservative American political commentator, supremely bitter. Shapiro wrote on Twitter in response to the Vogue cover, “This is perfectly obvious. 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.”

Shapiro was echoing the sentiments of American conservative author, commentator, and political activist, Candace Owens, who started the angsty twitter thread against Styles. 

“There is no society that can survive without strong men. The East knows this. In the west, the steady feminization of our men at the same time that Marxism is being taught to our children is not a coincidence. It is an outright attack. Bring back manly men.”

Gender activists, the global LGBTQ+ community, and their allies met the tweet with severe backlash to voice the ultimate anger they felt by Owens’ tweet. Even actor Elijah Woods replied to Owens’ tweet commenting, “I think you’ve missed the definition of what a man is. Masculinity alone does not make a man.”

The magazine’s photoshoot with Styles was hailed by many as a step in the direction to break preexisting gender stereotypes. However, this isn’t the first time the former One Direction member has defied tradition. Even during his One Direction days, Styles wore what was considered “fashion-forward”, wearing things often associated with the feminine spectrum, such as sheer shirts, floral blouses, boots with heels, pearls, and a lot of pink. 

Inside the magazine, Styles talks about how much he loves to break down gender stereotypes in fashion. “What’s really exciting is that all of these lines are just kind of crumbling away.”

“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 told Vogue. “I’ll go in shops sometimes, and I just find myself looking at the women’s clothes thinking they’re amazing.”

RMIT fashion lecturer, Dr. Alexandra Sherlock, shared in conversation that Styles isn’t the first famous man to wear a dress, but his status as a cisgender Gen Z heartthrob sets him apart. 

“He’s not the first in terms of playing around with gender codes in fashion… but where we don’t see it as much is men who are perceived to be straight,” said Dr. Sherlock. “Over time, we’ve seen that men have been subject to quite restrictive notions of what it means to be a man, behave like a man, look like a man.”

“You start with an influencer or innovator who’s happy to step out of social conventions and do something different or daring. The more people there are like Harry Styles and the more people showing it’s ok to do it and you can still be popular and desirable, the more men will think it’s ok to do it,” said Dr. Sherlock.