Former One Direction member Harry Styles got attention recently for wearing a dress in the November 2020 issue of Vogue magazine. Many people who saw the magazine praised Styles for the cover shoot, but others expressed concern about this notable male celebrity dressing as “a woman.”
According to Controversial and Conservative commentator Candace Owens, “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.”
Owens shared her thoughts on Twitter, quote-tweeting Styles’ cover shoot photo from the magazine.
She was not the only one who saw the cover and felt this way, but some people voiced concern that these negative responses to men wearing women’s clothes are detrimental to both genders. If wearing women’s clothes shows that men are not strong, does this suggest that femininity equals weakness? Do men appear weak when wearing clothing that is traditionally considered feminine?
Many believe this perpetuates the culture surrounding toxic masculinity.
The truth is, how you dress does not dictate your gender. It might not even affect how you act. Throughout history, many powerful men have worn dresses. They’ve also donned makeup and grown their hair long. It was just a few decades ago that long hair was the height of masculinity and some of the world’s best-known rock-and-roll celebrities had long hair. Not to mention the Scottish Highlanders, Kings, and Pharaohs who were wearing clothing and accessories that are today considered “traditionally feminine” by many.
Of course, Styles isn’t the first pop star to challenge gender norms. Music artists have been doing things to shock people and make them rethink their approach to fashion and other issues for decades. In the past, celebrities like Prince, Freddie Mercury of Queen, and David Bowie have all taken an unorthodox approach to their public image.
According to Styles, “Any time you’re putting barriers up in your life, you’re limiting yourself.”
Many Gender Norms of Today Didn’t Exist 100 Years Ago – So Much for Considering Them Traditional
This isn’t the first time Styles has refused to conform to gender constructs in fashion. It’s also not the first time he’s received praise for his aesthetic sensibilities and open-mindedness and willingness to ignore gender norms.
This also isn’t the first time traditionally feminine and traditionally masculine norms have been challenged. What many people fail to realize is that many of the things considered typically male or female today only became that way in the last century or so.
Before World War I, the idea of pink being a feminine color and blue being a masculine color didn’t exist. No color was gender-specific. Likewise, dresses were gender-neutral, as were many hairstyles today that are considered masculine or feminine. There are pictures of President Franklin D. Roosevelt with long, curled hair wearing a dress. There are also photos of flappers with short, chic cropped hair that many would consider masculine.
Going back further, during the 19th-century, dresses were a sign of stature for boys and girls.
The truth is what is considered masculine or feminine, stylish or unstylish, or acceptable or unacceptable in fashion over the decades varies. What one generation accepts as a norm, the next generation rebels against those norms. The same generation of people who styled their hair in pompadours and beehives expressed offense when a generation of men younger than them grew out their hair, teased it, sprayed it, and whipped it around in “glam rock” or “hair metal” music videos.
Trends Change, Attitudes Become More Accepting Over Time
The ebbing and flowing of trends isn’t something that just started in the last century or so either. Consider how societal attitudes toward women’s bodies have changed over time.
Going back as far as 24,000-22,000 BC, statues showed women with large hips, well-rounded stomachs, and large breasts. The Venus of Willendorf depicts a woman who would be considered obese by today’s standards. The statute depicts strength and the ability to survive in a world that was much different than today. Big, healthy, voluptuous bodies were a sign of being capable and in many cases, affluent.
Flash forward several tens of thousands of years to the late 20th century when the “ideal” body type for women was lean and thin. People from the Venus of Willendorf’s time would consider those women at risk of death. And it wasn’t more than a couple of decades later that curvier bodies came back into favor. Now society claims to be opening its mind to all variations of body types from lean to curvy. This attitude could last for several hundred years or we could see a shift back in any direction as history has proven.
Trends come and go. Music stars, celebrities, and people coming of age have always sought out ways to shock society and put their generation’s stamp on fashion. Over the decades, it’s impossible to define what is masculine and feminine or what is acceptable in general. Styles, as they say, come and go, and Harry Styles is making sure everyone knows he’s a free-thinker and unwilling to limit himself.