Singer and actor Harry Styles made headlines in November for becoming the first solo man on the cover of Vogue magazine. Donning a Gucci-designed robin’s egg blue frill dress and a black tuxedo jacket, Styles quickly became the subject of much media attention for breaking gender norms and fearlessly showing that clothing has no gender. However, in championing Styles as a protagonist of clothing— as fans, publications, and style outlets did almost immediately — the advocacy of dozens of minority creators and artists who fought before him quickly became lost in the flurry. The same fans and outlets who once turned a blind eye to the challenges set forth by BIPOC celebrities actively seeking to degender clothing and fashion were hypocritically quick to praise a cisgender white man’s work in the same movement.
To clarify: Vogue’s advocacy of Styles as a proponent in recognizing clothing as an agender concept is significant for larger societal and cultural reasons. It marks the progression of our gender-normative society towards a more fluid, freedom-of-expression culture.
As monumental as Styles’s recognition on the cover of a national magazine is for pushing the gender barrier, however, choosing a popular white celebrity with a considerable following speaks to a historical and systemic pattern of oppressing BIPOC artists.
In an article published in 2016, just after Louis Vuitton featured actor and singer Jaden Smith in a womenswear ad, Vogue suggested that as “shocking” as a “boy in women’s clothes” might seem, clothing without a gender was one of “fashion’s big themes in 2015.” Vogue grossly connotes that Smith — who was only 16 at the time — appeared in the ad to ride a “big theme” in fashion. Diminishing a decades-long fight started by BIPOC artists like Prince and continued by celebrities like Smith or Billy Porter to a passing theme in fashion underscores the publication’s hypocrisy.
Even simple searches for celebrities who break gender norms results in images, headlines, and articles of mainly white and cisgender creators. It’s clear that media outlets and the masses will continue to give preferential, performative support to white celebrities over BIPOC ones when pushing the gender barrier in fashion and style.
It isn’t as if society more easily accepted Styles as the face of a movement to break down gender norms. Many outlets and right-leaning individuals voiced their disapproval; most notably, conservative commentator Candace Owens received backlash over a Twitter statement urging the comeback of “manly men.”
However, the problem is that after the attention Styles received for wearing a dress on the cover of Vogue died down, fans went back to quietly ignoring minority creators who continue to fight gender and clothing inequality. The recognition that Styles received was nowhere near the recognition other popular creators of color like Smith, A$AP Rocky, Chella Man, and more deserve. And yet, in the same month people praised Styles’s fearlessness, the Human Rights Campaign reported the deadliest year on record for rates of violent crimes against transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals.
To reiterate, Styles’s accomplishment is not one that deserves minimization or understatement; rather, we must simultaneously acknowledge that defeating gender norms and establishing fluidity in fashion is not a fight that begins, or ends, with Styles. He’s a chapter in a book that’s been a work in progress for decades, and it’s time to give the authors credit where credit is due.
(Sources: Human Rights Campaign, Vogue)
Photo courtesy ABC