By Sriya Jampana
Art by Ella Benitone
Nov. 13, 2020: Harry Styles’s Vogue cover shoot is released. Styles is seen in the green Sussex countryside wearing a baby blue ruffled Gucci gown.
Though many came out in support of Styles’s artistic clothing choice, there was also a negative response.
“Bring back manly men,'' said Candance Owens, a conservative activist who is known for her work in the BLEXIT movement. In Owens’s eyes, as well as others, Style’s choice to wear a dress did not represent manliness at all.
The Oxford Language Dictionary states that manly means “having or denoting those good qualities traditionally associated with men, such as courage or strength.”
But, what does one’s clothing have to do with courage and strength?
Over the centuries, society has crafted this idea that men should not show any vulnerability. Toxic masculinity is this notion that men must “suppress emotion,” use “violence as an indicator of power,” and “maintain an appearance of hardness.” From a young age, boys are taught that being weak equates with being feminine. And for men, being associated with femininity is considered a threat to their masculine appearance as “macho.”
In Styles’s case, society’s assigned gender norms dictate that men shouldn’t wear dresses or skirts because they make men too “feminine.” However, men have been wearing skirts and dresses for centuries.
Starting in the ancient world, men would wear skirts because it gave them more movement. In 14th century Europe, “fashionable men” started to wear hosiery. In the 19th century, it was still accepted by society for men to wear skirts.
Styles was not the first man to openly wear a dress. But, he did open the door for the much needed conversation. Does society need to address the issue of the barrier between men’s clothing and women’s clothing? Why does society create this idea that men wearing dresses makes them weak? Is this idea true?
I believe that clothes are just materials, and gender is just a notion. Fashion is based on preference. People should be free to explore who they are and what makes them comfortable.
As 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.”
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