In an act of end-of-the-week kindness we needed, Vogue revealed its December cover star, featuring none other than “charm-heavy style czar” Harry Styles, as writer Hamish Bowles calls him. In the cover story, the two banter about Alain de Botton novels, how Pilates has loosened up Styles’ hamstrings, and watching Clueless during lockdown (relatable). The revelation of Styles’ cover and profile is not in the text, however. The boy bander turned charisma-oozing solo artist and actor — who is the first man to appear on the publication's cover solo — wears a dress straight from Gucci’s fall ‘20 runway.
The choice of the dress is not unusual for Styles, who has been known to make fashion statements and push gender norms in the past. He painted his nails lavender (and paired them with a lace collar and Mary Janes) for the 2020 Brit Awards red carpet; wore a sheer, pussy-bow blouse and a women’s Marc Jacobs suit (previously worn by Lady Gaga) for the awards themselves; and stripped down to fishnets for a shoot in Beauty Papers magazine in March. Styles' affinity for pearls is, too, well-documented, as is his ability to send fans into overdrive after appearing in a new look. “There was such an insane spark of interest after he wore [an éliou necklace],” Cristy Mantilla, a co-founder of the Miami-based jewellery brand, told Refinery29 following the release of photos that showed Styles wearing a custom necklace from the brand at an airport in Italy. (He went on to wear another éliou necklace in the music video for “Golden,” and yet another in the Vogue spread.)
Per Bowles, Styles showed up for his interview wearing a pair of Columbia Records track pants and a sweatshirt he designed himself, but told the writer he wished he’d packed a muumuu for the occasion. According to Styles, his wearing of traditionally feminine garments started from a young age, when he’d dress up in “fancy dress” — British for costumes — for school plays. For his stage debut, he dressed up as Barney, a church mouse, which called for him to wear tights. “I remember it was crazy to me that I was wearing a pair of tights. And that was maybe where it all kicked off,” he says.
In other photos from the shoot, Styles wears a pleated skirt (courtesy of Instagram brand Chopova Lowena) and a lace gown. “I like playing dress-up in general,” says Styles. Alessandro Michele, Gucci’s creative director and a close friend of Styles, tells Bowles: “He is the image of a new era, of the way that a man can look.”
In July 2017, Vogue published a cover starring a different former One Direction member: Zayn Malik. Malik posed alongside then-girlfriend, now mother of his child, Gigi Hadid, for the cover — a shoot highlighting a “New Generation Embracing Gender Fluidity,” according to the accompanying story’s headline. Their interchangeable Gucci suits were meant to signify that the couple was not tied down by gender standards, according to Vogue. Following backlash over having a cis couple representing gender fluidity, a Vogue spokeswoman released an official statement: "The story was intended to highlight the impact the gender-fluid, non-binary communities have had on fashion and culture. We are very sorry the story did not correctly reflect that spirit — we missed the mark. We do look forward to continuing the conversation with greater sensitivity."
Three years later, and it didn't take an official gender issue to get there, but rather casting someone who doesn’t feel the need to confine himself in any way, especially in fashion. “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,” Styles tells Bowles. That’s not to say that Styles is the first cis man to wear a dress. Men have been dressing in an androgynous manner for decades. However, he is one of the first to do so on such a global scale. (The man has 32.6 million followers on Instagram.)
In another part of the interview, Styles revealed another relatable item he has been living in during the pandemic, describing his lockdown uniform as “sweatpants, constantly.” He was still wearing them when cameras caught him on the set of Olivia Wilde’s forthcoming thriller Don’t Worry Darling (which has since paused filming due to the coronavirus). In the photo that circulated, Styles wears tie-dye joggers by luxury knitwear brand Elder Statesman with New Balance 574 sneakers, and a T-shirt by L.A.-based brand Free & Easy with “Vote!” printed across the back in rainbow lettering.
Here is a man who wears Renaissance-inspired gowns on the cover of Vogue, wishes he had on a muumuu, and wears sweats that make the internet drool. This man doesn’t believe in gender norms. He contains multitudes. His last name is, after all, Styles.