By Olivia Moody
When Harry Styles posted an image of his cover for December’s issue of Vogue to his Instagram, I didn’t really think anything of it. It’s nothing unusual for someone of Styles’ status to feature on the cover of a magazine, and likewise pretty much expected that a publication of Vogue’s status should chose somebody as central to the celebrity sphere as Styles currently is.
However, although Vogue has been publishing for over a century (since 1892, to be exact), it’s with this issue that the magazine makes history with its first solo male cover. More than this, though, Styles’ cover proposes ideas of gender-fluid fashion. Styled by Camilla Nickerson, he models a piece from Gucci’s Fall 2020 collection – not a men’s shirt or jumper, but a pale blue dress from their women’s collection.
To quote from Styles’ own musical corpus, his gracing the cover of Vogue in a dress can be considered a sign of the times: it is evidence that the fashion world is slowly aligning itself with contemporary gender politics. So, not only is Styles breaking down barriers with regards to Vogue’s cover history, he’s also pushing through a set of perceived rules that assign certain trends and garments as exclusively male or female.
That Styles is wearing a dress in such a revolutionary cover isn’t too much of a shock, for he has been known to push conventional norms of gender with his fashion in recent years. Take the 2020 Brit Awards, for example: Styles wore a yellow, wide-legged Marc Jacobs suit paired with a sheer, purple pussy-bow blouse (an outfit that, it should be noted, was worn by a female model on the catwalk), and painted his nails lavender to match. Though he undeniably pulled the look off, it wasn’t one that many of his male contemporaries would dare to wear.
Ideas of gender-fluid fashion arguably aren’t entirely new to Vogue. A 2017 cover featured Gigi Hadid and Styles’ former bandmate Zayn Malik wearing a range of Gucci suits tailored both to men and women: fashion was explored as something to be shared rather than confined to gender, in turn working to establish the future of fashion as gender neutral. Unlike Malik, however, Styles takes an item that has traditionally only been seen as feminine and makes it his own, denying it an exclusively female identity.
He wears the dress with confidence and a cool nonchalance, and in a further image printed in the spread, he wears a second dress designed by Harris Reed. A British-American designer who identifies as gender-fluid, Reed outfitted Styles on his last tour. In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Reed explained that his pieces offer ‘way[s] of being, crossing, and merging masculine and feminine.’ It is exactly this notion that permeates Styles’ spread in Vogue.
The cover photo is teasing, though. Whilst there is undoubtedly something feminine about the shirred chest, gathered waist, and accents of floral black lace, Styles is only seen from the waist up – and it only becomes evident that he’s wearing a dress when the spread is observed as a whole. Also, the dress is styled with a structured black blazer: though blazers are now a wardrobe staple for women, too, they have traditionally been perceived as masculine.
With this pairing, though, Vogue may be portraying that fashion doesn’t need to be ‘either’/ ‘or’ – it can be both. By trusting in designers such as Reed, Styles is ultimately trusting in the future of fashion being gender-fluid. As a result, I would argue that Styles’ Vogue cover should be viewed as history-making in a way far more revolutionary than his being the magazine’s first male cover star.
Illustration by Verity Laycock